Posts Tagged ‘Chris Branagan’

TMEA 2008

Monday, February 11th, 2008

We’re getting ready to head to San Antonio (although some of us area already there) and are looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting many new ones.

Once again, we’ll have Leonard Candelaria, Paul Tynan and Bill Takacs helping out with the trumpets. Chris Branagan, Christan Griego and Joshua Brown will be working with the trombone players that get too close to the booth. We’ll miss Paul Compton this year, as he’s too busy winning the Remington Choir Competition to join us.

Behind the Scenes at Alessi Seminar III

Sunday, October 26th, 2003

by Chris Branagan

NYACK, NY – The Alessi Seminar is now in its third year in the US. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Joe Alessi to discuss his motivations for doing a festival of this kind, and to gain a little insight into what goes into a workshop of this size and scope. My first question was what was the inspiration for the Alessi Seminar?

“Well, first of all, I love to teach. I haven’t been to too many events like this, I was a student in Snowbird, Utah, years ago and I’ve been to the ITA Festival.”

“I have a lot of confidence in my methods now, and I want to share those methods and pass them along to others. I also can run this in the way I want to run it. I think the forum of listening to other players play, even if you’re not up there playing yourself, you can learn so much by seeing and hearing others, player after player. I think the curriculum is designed to do that, so that people may not be up there participating themselves, but there observing what’s going on and I think you can learn a lot from that.”

Alessi Coaching Andrey Kharlamov“The bottom line is that I just love to teach. I love working with players and being a sleuth or an investigator and I enjoy trying to pick the right phrase or adjective to help that player. My teaching has changed in that I to look at the complete picture. If you strike a nerve with a player, in a good way, it can be a catalyst to change other things, and I try to find that one key thing.”

This is the third time the Seminar has been held at Nyack College, on the Hudson River just north of New York City. I wanted to know if there had been any changes that have been made to this year’s seminar.

“Well it’s always a work in progress, so of course I’ve learned more things this time than last time. The one thing that has really helped me is hiring an administrator [Roger Floreska]. Now I can focus on teaching and playing more efficiently.”

“Giving auditors and participants more time to practice I think is a very positive thing. We need to find more ‘chill’ time. I know some people want that. I feel more relaxed this year, mainly because I have somebody helping me, but I think people like the intensity. I don’t want this to be a vacation, I want it to be a really intense thing, and I think people like that.”

“But to improve it from here, we’ll need to question the facilities we have here. I know the college is trying to improve the facilities, and in two years this may happen.”

“As far as the teaching experience is concerned, I would like to improve trying to find more time for coaching trombone quartets. I think people enjoy that. It’s missing this year, but there’s only so much you can do. Ten days is the absolute limit, you can’t go any longer than that, or people will go crazy. Adding more days is not the solution.”

“The classes are important. We have to have all these classes, that is the focus of the whole seminar, to get together in a forum. I’m totally confident in Chris Houlding teaching the auditors, now I’ve found more time to get with the auditors and had a nice session this morning.”

Alessi conducts Auditor Trombone ChoirThe auditors are an important part of the seminar, and Joe makes it a point to spend time with them.

“Yeah, that’s important, I have to be there with them. The only other thing I’ve thought of, but it would be an enormous amount of work for me, is to give everybody a private lesson before the seminar starts; for instance, if I taught the lessons in four or five days prior to the start of the seminar. But that doesn’t work, because I have to get ready to perform. Really I don’t see how I could improve it that much from the way it is now. I’m always interested in hearing what people have to say at the final meeting, and I listen very closely. I know people are going to say, ‘I wish the food was better.’ You know, if you have time to eat and you’re going to take two or three hours to eat, you’re not going to eat in the cafeteria anyway, you’re going to go to a restaurant. Unfortunately there are no restaurants up there. I’m sure I’ll get other comments regarding the living situation in the dorms. But we’re here to work; it’s not a vacation. We’re here to think about the trombone and how to be better players.”

Joe keeps a demanding performance schedule throughout the seminar, presenting six different concerts of exceptional quality. One of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of the seminar is that Joe encourages attendees to record all concerts and master classes. I asked Joe for his thoughts on this important aspect of the Alessi Seminar.

“Well, this is a seminar. This is not some recording session. If it were a session like that, it would be different. It’s designed for people to learn. People are going to miss notes and we’re all going to make mistakes. It doesn’t bother me at all if people record it, I think they want to and they need to. I think if I were to not permit that, it wouldn’t be a seminar. A seminar is place where you exchange information, and that’s what were doing. This is not something were people are going to go out and make money on what I’m saying, people are going to take it home and study it.”

The Alessi Seminar takes place in the US every other year. In the off years, Joe takes the Seminar to Italy. I wanted to know if it was more fun to hold the seminar in a place like Italy.

“It’s fun in different ways. It’s fun here because I control the whole thing – I I’m the artistic director. There, I’m not really the artistic director. I run my classes, and basically we do similar things, but I don’t design the exact schedules and so forth. It could be that it might turn into that over there, but to be honest, I don’t know if that’s going to happen every year. And to do it every year, is a little hard on me. I enjoy doing this at home every two years would be fine.”

The biggest change in this year’s seminar is the addition of Roger Floreska as the Administrative Director. The task of organizing an event like this is monumental, and Roger has done an excellent job with a multitude of details involving scheduling, travel, accommodations, and music, to name a few. I asked Roger what he felt was the most difficult aspect of organizing this year’s seminar:

“I would say that would be maintaining contact between all the attendees — over 60 people. We figured out the most efficient way of doing it was through email. Keeping in fairly consistent contact with everyone has been the most difficult part. Everything else, once you start, tends to run itself. Of course, maintaining communications as the seminar approached was important as well. When someone asks a question, you have to get back to them in due time, and when you have ten questions and they’re all different, and trying to juggle the priority of each, I guess that’s the toughest thing.”

With a festival of this size, there had to have some unexpected that came up in the preparation process. Roger was surprised to see that coordinating the music turned out to be a little tougher than he had intended. “I’ve never been an orchestra librarian, and I had my own picture of what it would be like, but it was nothing like I thought. It was infinitely more difficult, in the sense of voicing all the particular parts to all the particular people. And it had to be right, because we have no time to readjust, and say “okay, you can play first instead of you. I have to assign all that before the Seminar starts, so I have to know all the individuals. I had to do background on the individuals so I’m giving the parts that are right for them.”

Chris Houlding, Alessi, Wycliffe Gordon & Chris Branagan“By the time they get here, there’s no time to change parts. So I guess that’s the toughest thing, knowing where to put everyone as far as the music is concerned, and then sending all the parts out electronically. All the parts had to be scanned, put into pdf format, and sent via email. There were a few people with computers that couldn’t open the files, so I had to send a link to download Adobe Acrobat. So I guess the library duties and voicing the parts were by far the biggest surprises. I only gave myself two weeks for that, and thought it would be a walk in the park, that I could do it in two days. But next time, I’m going to need two months for that.”

One of the most daunting aspects of organizing a Seminar like this had to have been choosing the performing participants. This year’s Seminar featured players from some of the country’s leading orchestras, students and professors from prominent music schools, and several international invitees. Roger spoke about the selection process:

“We received about 40 recordings, most of which were on CD, with the exception of those from Asia where the standard format is minidisk. I would say the level of all the entries was very high, and in some ways, Joe had a more difficult time than he had ever had in picking the right people. So there were a lot of runners up. For every spot there were two or three stand-bys. We established a first, second, and third place for each of the 17 participant spaces. So if this person couldn’t make it, we would call the first on the list. I would say maybe about 35% to 40% of those runners up are here as auditors. So it was good in the sense that we knew there were a good number of auditors at the same level, making the auditors classes more interesting. And you can certainly hear that in some of the auditor quartets.”

It took a tremendous amount of planning to put together the Alessi Seminar. For Roger, one of the most rewarding aspects of working on a project like this is to see it come together in a seamless way.

“My favorite part of the Seminar was seeing master classes starting when they were supposed to and ending when they were supposed to. Everyone knew exactly when he or she was going on and who was next, and we didn’t have to worry about any of that. Everyone had a schedule two months in advance. It was good that once we started everyone knew what to do. So I guess seeing the schedule come to fruition has been the best part. That took a long time, because there are a lot of things Joe wanted to cover. We gave ourselves a seven-hour window per day for master classes. So in those seven hours, we had to divide that time between seventeen people, over the course of eight days. So whatever big chunk of minutes we had, we would divide that by 17 twice over, and made some time for groups and so it was a matter of fitting everyone in. We’ve found the value of taking the time to do that. Had we not done that, had we just had blocks of time and not assigned people specific times, it would have been a mish-mosh. Everybody knew when they were going to play, no matter what.”

Joe Alessi has made a career of putting quality first in his performing and teaching. I asked Roger what is was like to have such an accomplished and quality-driven artist as a boss:

Alessi with the West Point Band“He’s been a buddy. I’ve had to stand my ground on a few things that he might have wanted to change last minute for musical reasons or for scheduling conflicts that he had. But there were a few times where I said ‘we have to end now, or this person has to be finished because the next person needs the same amount of time.’ He was always really good about that. I believe artists like Joe are on a different level than most, as far as how they’re thinking. They’re thinking about totally different things than I may be, as an organizer, at a particular point in a master class. It may be obvious to me that something needs to be taking place in the master class in terms of the schedule, but he’s thinking on a totally different plane and it may not be obvious to him. So I have to make it obvious, so when he doesn’t realize it, even though it may seem difficult, because I know that he’s in a different zone it makes it easier. I’ve had to deal with that with a few other people who are at the top of their field. I know Wynton Marsalis very well and work with him a lot. He’s kind of the same way with scheduling or certain things that have to be done, he’s just not thinking about that. You have to remind him, ‘you know to come down to earth for a second.’ So that’s kind of how Joe is, because he is who he is. If he skipped lunch to continue the master class everyone would just sit here, because everyone wants to hear what he has to say. Our personalities work together well, too. We’re very similar in terms of how we look at things. I didn’t realize that so much as I did in the last ten days. When something happens we kind of have the same reaction, and that’s good. I know when he’s getting frustrated. I didn’t know we were that a kin.”

This year’s seminar was a remarkably successful event, and was made more so by the great work done in preparation before and execution during the festival. The Alessi Seminar is an ambitious endeavor put together by one of the world’s finest musicians, and continues to be on of the most comprehensive festivals the trombone world has to offer. To read a full review of the concerts and master classes by John Whitaker, see the latest issue of the ITA Journal.

I offer my congratulations to Joe and Roger for another outstanding Seminar, and would like to take a moment to say thank you for their professionalism and hospitality.

ITF 2002: Tales from the Edwards Booth

Monday, June 24th, 2002

by Chris Branagan

From the outside, the College of Music at the University of North Texas looked like any other big music school. But once you passed through the doors, you could tell something was different about this place. There were no sounds of clarinets, vocalists, or saxophone players, but the building was not quiet. The only sound to be heard in the practice rooms, classrooms, rehearsal and performing spaces was – the T R O M B O N E!

Stefan Sanders talks with Henry Howey after his performance on Friday afternoonTrombonists en masse came from all over the country and different parts of the world to take part in master classes, listen to concerts, and spend some money on music and equipment. The schedule of the four and a half day festival was bursting with events and opportunities to hear some of the world’s finest trombonists; too many events, in fact, to go over in this review. Here then, are a few highlights from the 2002 ITF. [I should note that I arrived at the Festival on Friday afternoon, hence the exclusion of events from Thursday and early Friday.]

After spending time at the Edwards exhibit on Friday, I attended a shared recital featuring some of the world’s best orchestral musicians: Ian Bousfield, principal Vienna Philharmonic, Stefan Sanders bass trombone Buffalo Philharmonic, and Ben van Dijk, bass trombone Rotterdam Philharmonic. Each musician performed at the level you would expect from such players, but it must be said that the highlight of this recital was Austin, Texas native and Edwards Artist Stefan Sanders. Performing Bozza’s New Orleans and a new composition for bass trombone and percussion ensemble (yes, it works!), Sanders’ rich, even sound and clear musical ideas came through with assurance and class.

Trombones de Costa Rica performed at their second consecutive International Trombone FestivalThe evening’s headlining concert featured Trombones de Costa Rica, the only trombone quartet on the Edwards Artist roster. Trombones de Costa Rica are a very special group of musicians who have been performing together for over ten years. Performing a mixture of standard quartet repertoire, transcriptions from the orchestral literature, and amazing arrangements of music native to South America, Trombones de Costa Rica demonstrated an incredible sense of balance and blend, and a seamless sense of ensemble as melodies and motives were passed from player to player. After the concert, the group hung out back stage to greet the audience and catch up with friends.

As if a full day of classes and recitals wasn’t enough, the organizers of this ITF provided one more opportunity to max-out on trombone. In all seriousness, Jazz at the Radisson was an excellent way unwind, enjoy a few drinks, and to try to absorb as much trombone as the body would allow. Late-night jam sessions at your typical trombone festival are usually used as a proving ground for the superfluous yet time-honored tradition of incorporating standards of trombone solo and study repertoire into an improvised solo. While this scenario has the potential to end in heartbreak for the listener, occasionally an artist of remarkable talent can intelligently merge material that seems at opposite ends of the trombone spectrum. Bill Reichenbach displayed such intelligence and musical sensibility by deftly segueing from the prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 to Gershwin’s Summertime, much to the approval of the audience. Bravo Bill!

Chris Branagan and Christan Griego work the Edwards boothThe first concert scheduled on Saturday featured the winners of the various ITF Competitions. From a student’s perspective, nothing can be more daunting than playing for an audience of trombone players, but each of these very talented young players performed stunningly in the hot seat. A special mention goes to Jonathan Lombardo, who presented a wonderfully tailored rendition of the Grøndahl Concerto with well-developed lines and a musical maturity beyond his 20 years.

Saturday afternoon saw the British Invasion of the ITF, with a clinic by the English trombone quartet Bones Apart and a recital by Ian Bousfield. Bones Apart gave an entertaining clinic with anecdotes from the group’s past and plans for the future, mixed in with some absolutely stunning playing. Bousfield’s recital was informal only in its presentation, as the playing was outstanding. Known for his technically dazzling rendition of Blue Bells of Scotland, some of the highpoints of this recital came from the wonderfully delicate playing of hymn tunes like Walk With Me, an old Salvation Army tune. Ian’s lyric playing in very soft dynamic ranges is both delicate and assertive, and always musical

Don Lucas recognizes the photographerSaturday night’s Jazz at the Radisson was an open mic night featuring the first and second place winners of the Frank Rosolino Competition. Sunday night featured Edwards Artists Ron Wilkins of San Antonio and Bill Gibson of South Dakota. It was a treat to hear Bill Gibson for the first time. Bill offered the complete package with great solo lines, soulful blues choruses, and some outstanding plunger work that Al Grey would have been proud of! Ron Wilkins, known for using all 5 of his Edwards Fleet of trombones on a single gig, spent most of the night on the bass trombone, but showed the crowd no mercy with the pyrotechnics we have all come to expect in his playing.

Sunday brought a day of master classes and panel discussions, and included a consumer test of various trombone manufacturers. Concert highlights included an exciting performance of the trombone band Spiritual to the Bone and a wonderful concert given by the Cramer Trombone Choir conducted by Jay Friedman. The award for best master class of the Festival goes to Bousfield, for his Orchestral Excerpts Coaching. Ian focused on clarity, attention to detail with regard to printed articulation, and rhythmic accuracy, with an underlying thought to finding the meaning behind the printed music.

Ben van Dijk poses with Edwards webmaster Joshua BrownChristian Lindberg’s Trombone Unit 2000 made waves on Sunday night’s concert. Backed by five of Sweden’s most accomplished trombonists, Lindberg performed many of his own compositions including a collaboration with Swedish composer Frederic Högberg. Play ‘em High, a spaghetti-Western style theatre piece telling the tale of Kit Bones, Lindberg’s alter ego, was one of the most talked-about performances of the Festival.

Lindberg closed the ITF 2002 on Monday in a concert with the Fort Worth Symphony conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Lindberg was featured on Leopold Mozart’s Alto Concerto and SOLO for Trombone and Orchestra by Luciano Berio. Lindberg’s approach to Mozart was clean and musical, and the Ft. Worth Symphony provided graceful accompaniment. The highlight of the concert was the performance of the new Berio concerto, an ITA Commission. Special mention goes to the trombone section of the Fort Worth Symphony who met the challenge of not only a difficult piece of orchestral music, but also the challenge of trading solo lines with Christian Lindberg.

The ITF 2002 closed with an indoor barbecue (blame it on the weather), in keeping with the wonderfully social atmosphere of the entire festival. Kudos goes to the organizers and UNT student workers who kept the festival running smoothly. We here in Texas were very lucky to have the ITF in our own back yard. While somewhat exhausting, my experience at the ITF was inspiring and most enjoyable. Even after four days of non-stop, full-on trombone, I couldn’t wait to get home to practice!