In Holland, 'Bones Among the Tulips

With the world economy in recession, the Juilliard Trombone Choir faced an enormous obstacle in securing the funds needed for nine students and one alum to travel to Rotterdam in March for the European trombone festival known as Slide Factory. At one point, the outcome looked bleak; the group was short $5,000. They agreed to give themselves one more week to pull out all the stops and raise the funds. The next week, they met and tallied up the total: in just seven days, the group had managed to raise the remaining $5,000 to cover all their travel expenses. Instead of staying in a hotel, the Juilliard group stayed with students from the Rotterdam Conservatory—which not only significantly reduced the cost of the trip, but also provided more opportunities for interaction with other musicians and a better insight into Dutch culture. Those participating were master’s students Louis Bremer, Vanessa Fralick, Kyle Mendiguchia, Christine Purdue, and Ethan van Winkle; undergraduates Nick Hagen, Joe Peterson, David Westen, and Matt Wolford; and alumna Nicole Abissi.

The Juilliard Trombone Choir. Front: Nicole Abissi; second row: Vanessa Fralick, Kyle Mendiguchia, Christine Purdue; third row: David Westen, Joe Peterson, Jon Beard (not on the trip); fourth row: Ethan Van Winkle, Louis Bremer, Nick Hagen, Matt Wolford; back: director and faculty member Joseph Alessi. Not pictured is Sam Armstrong, also not on the trip.

(Photo by David Finlayson)


Slide Factory also invited the trombone studio of the Hochschule Berlin and the combined studios of Lyon, France, and Lausanne, Switzerland. The diversity of the group—about 50 students in all, from Berlin, Rotterdam, Juilliard, and the French schools—offered a great opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other. One of the greatest exposures to the differences between the studios was in the daily group warm-up, which was led by a different teacher each day. Peterson commented, “It was very interesting to see how each studio approached the instrument and their daily routine. I was able to take some ideas away from those sessions and have worked them into my own practice.” The events that were open to the public brought in about 150 trombonists, both young and old and of all abilities.

One of the most exciting and beneficial aspects of the festival was the opportunity for each student to perform in master classes. Students worked with Jörgen van Rijen of the Royal Concertgebouw; Michel Becquet, formerly with the Paris Opera and a distinguished soloist; Joseph Alessi of the New York Philharmonic and Juilliard; Stefan Schulz of the Berlin Philharmonic; Ben van Dijk of the Rotterdam Philharmonic; and George Weigel, respected pedagogue and retired professor of the Rotterdam Conservatory. Said Mendiguchia, “It was cool to hear our peers from the other schools, and the style where they come from and how they play. Also, getting to play for the best trombonists in the world was pretty amazing and easily one of the highlights of my time at Juilliard.”

The students from the various schools also came together for a large trombone choir, conducted by van Dijk. “The absolute personal highlight for myself was conducting all students together on stage; I could hardly keep my eyes dry,” van Dijk said. “We worked very hard during the week, and the concentration on the concert of all students was so special. They followed all my instruction and we achieved a very, very special sound.” That concert also featured the individual trombone choirs of Rotterdam, Juilliard, Lyon/Lausanne, and Berlin. The Juilliard choir performed several works, including James Kazik’s Declamation, written exclusively for our ensemble, as well as the premiere ofReflections, a work by Juilliard alum Anthony Barfield.

Another highlight of the trip was the Courtois Gala Concert on March 28, an all-star performance at the Jurriaanse Zaal that featured Swedish trombone virtuoso Christian Lindberg, Joseph Alessi, and the New Trombone Collective. Lindberg performed two of his own works: Bombay Bay Barracuda for unaccompanied trombone and film, and Kinky Creatures for trombone quartet. Alessi and the New Trombone Collective closed the first half with two works for solo trombone and trombone choir, Alessi dazzling all with his home-run performance and bringing the first half to a brilliant finish. The second half of the concert featured the New Trombone Collective. All of the works they chose were innovative and outside the box, with several accompanied by film—including Alice Meets NTC, which concluded the program. Composer Evert Josemanders based the work (being given its premiere on the concert) on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland but added a twist: “Every member of the collective portrays a specific role in the story. They each play the main theme according to their role,” he explained. “At that moment, they also appear in the film, but as a surrealistic figure. Each player wears headgear that associates them with their fictitious film character.” Fralick was very enthusiastic about the concert. “I was inspired by how devoted the New Trombone Collective is to new ideas and new projects, and the dedication and work they put in to see them through. Even though some of the projects were crazy, they still made music and the audience loved it.”

Reflecting on the trip, Alessi said, “It was a thrill for me to see and hear my students perform amongst the other international trombone classes. It was a great test for them, but it also gave me great pride to hear from the other teachers how impressed they were with our class.” The trip has also created some great opportunities for the future. Alessi has been in contact with Becquet about a possible exchange between the trombone studios of Lyon and Juilliard. The trip has also given the Juilliard Trombone Choir great momentum and confidence for its May 3 performance at the West Point Academy.

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