ITF 2002: Tales from the Edwards Booth

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!

Henry Howey and Stefan Sanders

Trombonists 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 RicaThe 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 GriegoThe 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 LucasSaturday 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 and 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 backyard. 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!