Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Some Upcoming Events I'm Excited About

We're fully in packing mode now, with suitcases, clothes, and North American outlet adapters strewn all over the house. And it's all because we're heading home for the holidays! We haven't been home at Christmas since 2007, so I am really looking forward to being around our family and friends, relaxing instead of playing a million performances of The Nutcracker and Die Fledermaus, and eating Nanny's chocolate gravy and biscuits. Mmmmmm.

I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging while we're there, but I'll try to do a couple posts, probably recapping stuff that happened months ago. In the meantime, I thought I would let everyone know about some upcoming events I'm involved in.

First, as I alluded to in a previous post, I have been invited back to my alma mater, the University of Tennessee, to do a week-long residency at the School of Music. It will take place February 7th-12th, and I'll be teaching and performing in a variety of ways. On Monday & Tuesday of that week, I'll be giving several masterclasses on various topics. On Thursday I'll be performing a concerto with the UT Wind Ensemble, on Friday I'll give a solo recital, and on Saturday I'll do another concerto with the UT Symphony Orchestra. There are also some events involving local high-school students interspersed throughout the week.

I also just found out this last week that I've been officially invited to be a featured faculty artist at the 2011 International Trombone Festival, which this year just happens to be in Nashville, TN. It will be in late June, and I'm planning on giving a solo recital and a masterclass. The ITF was held for many years in Nashville, and now they're bringing it back there for the 40th anniversary of the festival. It will be held at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University.

I'm really, really excited about these two events. Before I moved to Vienna and immersed myself in opera and orchestra, my musical life consisted of solo playing, small ensembles, teaching, and jazz. I'm thrilled that now after 3 seasons in Vienna, I'm slowly but surely getting some opportunities to "re-branch" out and involve myself in some other areas of music besides orchestra. Although I love my job beyond words, it makes me feel sometimes a bit one-dimensional. But now with these upcoming opportunities, I am feeling like my old musical self again. It is so nice to have a thick stack of solo works on my stand in the office, and to spend my practice time digging into pieces which I haven't played in years, or in some cases have never played.

I've also got an opportunity coming up to play some jazz in Vienna, if you can believe it. One of our principal trombonists, Dietmar Küblböck (don't try to pronounce it), is an avid jazz performer, and he had an idea several months ago to put together a jazz trombone group based around me and him. We've now got a concert planned in March in one of the recital halls of the Musikverein for a 5-bone ensemble with rhythm section. Though if I'm truthful, it's not really 5 trombones... it's 4 bones and a cimbasso! There's a local tuba player who is an unbelievable cimbasso player (cimbassist?), and he's apparently got lots of jazz experience. Should be fun! I've really missed playing and hearing jazz in Vienna, and I am SO looking forward to pulling out my King 2B and wailing on these Wieners!

I'll post more exact schedules of all these things as they get closer.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Back in October, just before the long tour to Tokyo, the Philharmonic did a miniature tour, or 'tour-let', to Rome. I think almost every year the orchestra travels to this same giant church near the Vatican City to play a concert for the upper-ups of the Roman Catholic church. I've been once before, in 2008, and the pope himself was in attendance.

This year, it was a much smaller deal (no pope, and only one short piece with trombones), but I made sure to take my camera because the place where we played is one of the most awe-inspiring church buildings I've ever seen.

It's called the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and you can follow this link to read more about its history. The orchestra always enters through a secluded rear door, and from that perspective the building looks somewhat like a run-down old warehouse. You would never think that waiting inside was this absolutely breathtaking and gigantic space.

The gold-inlayed stucco on the ceiling is my favorite part.

They set up a stage for us in front of the altar, with thousands of chairs that dissolved into the horizon at the back of the nave. The above photo was in the middle of rehearsal, Andris Nelsons conducting. If you look close, you can see the part for the one piece I played, the prelude to Wagner's Parsifal.

They have friezes of all the popes in a row above the hundreds of tall columns. Below you can see they have a spotlight on the portrait of the current pope, Benedict XVI.

The orchestra dressed and warmed up in an area just outside the main hall. It had a beautiful and peaceful courtyard with these really beautiful columns all around.

Behind the orchestra's stage is the literal and also spiritual centerpiece of the basilica, the tomb of Saint Paul. Yes, THE Saint Paul. According to church tradition, Paul was interred here after his martyrdom and a memorial was erected at the site, which eventually became the basilica. Below you can see the altar, and just in front of it is a pit which leads to Paul's alleged sarcophagus. Kinda creepy and cool at the same time.

Musically, the concert felt like a bit of a joke, mostly because the place is just too large. The quiet stuff probably can't be heard by the back half of the audience, and the loud stuff just bounces around the ginormous nave for 18 minutes. Everything sounds either anemic or completely muddled. But it was still a neat place to visit, and I hope to take Kristi there sometime to show her around.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back to school

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I had a cold throughout the weekend (as did Kristi & Eli), but had a good holiday anyway. Luckily, I've not been working that much, so I was able to get well pretty quickly.

Not much is going on in the opera. We've had a run of pieces that don't have interesting trombone parts, but a real surprise for me has been Puccini's Manon Lescaut. I've played it a couple times before, but for some reason I didn't remember how good it was. Two nights ago was my second performance for this run, and I enjoyed it immensely. Many times it's hard to pay attention to the content of an opera the first few times you play it, especially if you're performing it without rehearsal. It takes so much concentration to play (or NOT play) at the right time, and sometimes I don't actually 'hear' the music until I have some performances under my belt.

Well, in the absence of exciting things going on now, I thought I would share with you something coming up in the future.

As many of you know, when I auditioned for my spot here in Vienna, I was pursuing my master's degree in trombone performance from the University of North Texas. And ever since I interrupted my studies to come to Austria, people have been asking me if I would ever be interested in complete my degree. I think most people in my situation would just forget about it. After all, the end goal of a master's performance curriculum (theoretically) is a job just like the one I already have. I don't 'need' a degree to do what I'm doing.

But I feel differently about it. To me, a graduate degree is not about putting letters beside your name or earning a diploma, but rather continued learning and becoming more of an expert in your field of study. I've written and talked a lot about the fact that in my first couple of years here I had to put my head down, work hard, and learn how to survive in a major professional orchestra. When you come in the way I did, with no prior experience and from a different continent, it's almost all you can manage to simply make it through the season without massively embarrassing yourself. The mantra becomes: "Don't lose this job! Don't lose this job!"

Well, I'm ready to start challenging myself again. The timing and circumstances are now such that I can poke my head out of the foxhole and begin to cultivate a broader musical existence outside the orchestra. I believe that finishing my master's degree would be a great way to kickstart that.

Some other major reasons I want to do this:
- I'm already SO close! As I look back at my transcript, I only have four more courses remaining.
- There's a huge 'finish what you started' component. This is a life value that was instilled in me, and that I would like to pass on to Eli.
- A little bit of pride. It would feel nice to hang a master's diploma up in my office. (My brother Jacob is currently working on his MBA, so I just need to finish before he does!) :)
- A little bit of school pride. I think it would also be great for me and for UNT for me to be an alumnus rather than just an attendee.

So, how do I accomplish this goal? Well, first off, with a lot of help and cooperation from the UNT College of Music. I began discussing this idea with Vern Kagarice (my trombone teacher at UNT) several months ago, and he put me in touch with Dr. Warren Henry, who is a high-ranking administrator in the College of Music. As luck would have it, Dr. Henry, who is also a Professor of Music Education, had planned a visit to Austria in late October. He brought 20 UNT music education majors to visit the Orff Institute in Salzburg, and then they came over to Vienna to sightsee.

The whole group had tickets to an opera I was playing, so I met with Dr. Henry beforehand and discussed how exactly I might be able to finish my degree while living abroad. We worked it out so that I will complete special projects on my own time, working under the supervision of several UNT professors, and each special project will then count as one of my remaining courses. I could not do this without the help of Dr. Henry, as he is able to cut through most of the red tape so that I don't have to try and deal with it from another country. I am planning on doing two classes this Spring semester and two more next Summer.

I really enjoyed spending some time with Dr. Henry and the UNT students. I got to meet them all after the performance of Salome, and I invited them to watch one of our Philharmonic rehearsals on the third day they were here. I think they really enjoyed it. I remember in particular a couple horn students that I watched melt in their seats every time our horn section played something awesome.

Me and Dr. Henry at the Musikverein

With the students at the opera.
No, we don't have malformed hands. That's the UNT Eagle Claw!

I actually registered for my first two classes today, so I guess it's official. I'm a college student again! I'll keep you all posted on my progress, and by this time next year I'll be a North Texas grad!