Trombonist takes the spotlight in New World Symphony’s chamber opener

By David Fleshler

Ian Bousfield performed the Albrechtsberger Trombone Concerto in B-flat major Sunday afternoon with the New World Symphony.

The trombone emerged from the depths of the brass section and took center stage Sunday afternoon, as an eminent performer on the instrument joined members of the New World Symphony for the orchestra’s season-opening chamber concert at the Lincoln Theatre in Miami Beach.

Ian Bousfield made history in 2000 as the first Englishman accepted into the exclusive club of the Vienna Philharmonic, leaving the London Symphony Orchestra to become one of the great Austrian ensemble’s two principal trombones. At a New World concert that emphasized brass music, he performed the Trombone Concerto in B-flat Major by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, a contemporary of Haydn.

For the performance, Bousfield used an alto trombone, a Classical era instrument about half the size of a modern trombone. As he explained from the stage, many European conductors today prefer the alto trombone for Beethoven, Mozart and earlier composers, a practice that yields a more authentic sound but that causes difficulties for performers who must lay aside their modern instruments. “The intonation is variable, shall we say,” he said. “It’s a bit like playing the lottery.”

The tone that emerged from the toy-like instrument was close to that of a trumpet, only deeper, with a satisfyingly throaty, gritty depth.

The concerto was clearly intended as a showpiece, and while Bousfield missed a few notes—understandable considering the antique instrument used—he negotiated the trills, arpeggios and rapid passagework of the outer movements adroitly, making the trombone slide move as fast as most people will ever experience.

The second movement consisted of long song-like phrases, and was played with buttery smoothness and an apparent lack of a need to breathe by the soloist. The chamber-sized New World orchestra, led by Bousfield, provided admirable support, playing in an energetic, strongly marked style, with lots of sweep and vigor.

The concert opened with Handel’s Trio Sonata in C Minor for oboe, violin, cello and harpsichord. The most notable element of the performance was the skillful work of oboist Kristina Goettler, with quick and articulated passagework and naturally phrased melodies in a full, rounded but penetrating tone.

An unusual work on the program was The Omens, a 1958 work for eight brass instruments, tenor saxophone and percussion by the late Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi. As Teddy Abrams, the New World’s conducting fellow, explained before leading the ensemble, “It’s not a friendly piece. It’s aggressive and kind of scary. In 2012, if we hear this piece being played and there are no visible players, it will mean that it’s the end of the world.”

The piece was as advertised. Harsh, with dense clusters of notes, quarter tones, sudden silences and few obvious signs of order, it resembled many of the avant-garde works that emptied concert halls in the 1950s and 60s. The ending was harrowing, a crescendo in the brass over a percussion instrument that made the sound of a howling wind, as if announcing the end of the world. While it’s hard to imagine listening to this work for pleasure, if the composer took a pessimistic view of the future, he expressed it effectively.

The program closed with Richard Strauss’ Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme for small orchestra. Abrams led the ensemble skillfully through this suite about an ordinary man who wants to become a nobleman, drawing out the humor without turning it into slapstick. Particularly notable was violinist Ko Sugiyama in several virtuoso solos of the sort Strauss liked to insert into his compositions, playing double-stops, runs and rhapsodic passages in a burnished concertmaster tone.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Trombonist takes the spotlight in New World Symphony’s chamber opener”

  1. Posted Oct 13, 2010 at 6:50 pm by Itziar

    I love NWS! I was so impressed with Ian Bousfield, his performance, the way he explained the instrument… and the way he handled the cell phone.

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Sun Oct 10, 2010
at 8:50 pm
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