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ITF 2003: A Review
Michael C. McDonough

One of the largest department stores in the nation of Finland is Stockmann’s. They have a motto that says, “If you can’t find it at Stockmann’s then you don’t need it”. Much the same can be said for the 32nd International Trombone Festival that was recently held in Helsinki, Finland. This festival included non-stop learning and listening from 8:00 AM until the wee hours of the morning from August 5th through the 9th, 2003.

This review will include just a few selections from the magnificent buffet that was this festival attracting over 500 trombone players to as the sign in the airport read “the other side of the world”.

There are many-strengths to the International Trombone Association (ITA) but one of its greatest is the solo and ensemble competitions. Belonging to an organization that promotes the future of its profession is unique. The ITA does just that with the nine competitions. The only drawback was deciding which venue to attend. Even that problem was avoided when the winners put on their own concert later in the week.

I attended the Quartet and the Frank Rosolino competitions. The Group from Budapest, Hungary were the winners of the quartet competition. They were energetic; each member did some fine solo work but their greatest strength was the blended sound they produced when they worked as a unit. In the Frank Rosolino competition Johan Lauer, the winner from Germany, stood out for several reasons. First was his programming. In a competition where louder, higher and faster seemed the norm this young man played a ballad and demonstrated his mastery of the plunger mute.

When the winners concert took place later in the week it was clear to see the players in all categories were equally as talented. The future of trombone playing in the world looks bright in deed if these young people are any indication.

One of the main themes of this festival was the celebration of the Nordic style of trombone playing. This theme was well represented at the 4:00 PM concert on Wednesday. Pieces covering the entire range of classical and modern trombone playing made up this program. One of the most interesting was “The Blackhawk for Bass Trombone and Tape” In this piece Jorgen van Rijen played various motifs which were instantly repeated a number of times on tape. He then introduced a new motif on top of the repeating ones. A very effective piece indeed.

The New Trombone Collective on Thursday was, as the program predicted, an almost non-stop concert featuring mostly Dutch music. Bart van Lier’s beautiful tone just seems to improve with age. The Thursday concerts had a few surprises but expecting the unexpected is the norm in any programs involving Nils Landgren. The man with “the red trombone” can excite an audience in many ways. His solo piece involving the complete disassembling of his trombone was no exception.

As any hold over from days gone by can tell you there is a sound produced by a big band including five saxes, four trombones, and four trumpets and a full rhythm section that is truly unique. The UMO Jazz Orchestra lived up to the finest of Big Jazz Band traditions but at this festival there was a bit of a twist. This group backed up and enhanced the performance of one fine trombone player after another. Jiggs Whigham, Conrad Herwig, Nils Landgren and Tony Baker were just a few of the people who were featured in this concert. All the soloists were exciting to watch and hear.

All the above events were witnessed in the main hall of the Conservatory of Helsinki. This hall was just the right size for such events. It was large enough not to feel cramped but small enough so that each concert had an intimate feel.

Friday included different venues. The Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki was a truly unique concert setting. Named the “rock church” Temppeliaukio is constructed into solid rock and has unfinished granite walls and a rolled copper roof. The acoustics were splendid. At this venue performed the Young Trombone Ensemble conducted by Tom Bildo. The ages of this group ranged from primary school through high school. What an opportunity for young people to get exposure before an international audience. They also played a wide variety of music very well.

Also at Temppeliaukio performed the “Weekend Warriors” conducted by non other than Denis Wick. Jorgen van Rijen was featured performing the solo on Leonard Bernstein’s “Simple Song” from “Mass”. This group also provided stirring renditions of Jean Sibelius’ “Andantino” and two movements from the Gordon Jacob “Trombone Octet” which was written for the ITF in 1981.

The concert concluded with the Cramer Choir conducted by Heinz Fadle. This group’s major intent was to include college professors from around the world who play well. The group plays only original works written for them. At this performance, they played several pieces including Ian Mac Dougall’s “Nostalgia I” dedicated to J.J. Johnson and played passionately by Bart van Lier.

The evening’s musical events concluded with a short walk to Finlandia Hall. The Helsinki Philharmonic was lead by Mikko Frank and featured traditional works by Rossini, Sibelius and the Jukka Linkola Trombone Concerto. The second half was anything but traditional with the word premiere of Christian Lindberg’s “Helikon Wasp” trombone concerto. One knew things were going to be different in this work when the orchestra came on stage and the strings sat with their backs to the audience.

Remember the above events and concerts represent only a small slice of what took place in Helsinki: a clean, safe city where, at this time of year, daylight lasted until well after 10:00 PM.

In other gatherings involving large groups of professionals, the divisions within the groups were obvious. No such divisions appeared during this festival. The classical trombone players were visible at the jazz events and the reverse was true as well.

This writer highly recommends this event to trombone players of all abilities the world over. If it is anything like this festival in Helsinki the 33rd festival in Ithaca, New York from June 15th through the 19th, 2004 should not be missed.

Michael McDonough was trained at the Philadelphia Musical Academy. He studied with Robert Harper, Bass Trombone with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Richard Genevese, and currently lives in Bermuda and continues to play in the brass quartet Brassorks and for the Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

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