The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Renee Fleming and Van Cliburn contest air on TV tonight; Nay Palm Bones trombone quartet plays Friday night at UW

September 1, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

A reminder: Tonight on Wisconsin Public Television you can see superstar soprano Renee Fleming from 8 to 9:30 p.m. and then the 13th Van Cliburn piano competition, won by a blind Japanese contestant, from 9:30 to 11 p.m. Here’s a backgrounder to the latter: Happy watching and listening!

Forget about references to Vietnam – though the name Nay Palm Bones certainly sounds suggestive and evocative of a certain era in American history.

The unusual chamber music group -– a trombone quartet – will make its Madison debut on this Friday, Sept. 3, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Admission is free and open to the public.

After six years at the UW, trombonist and professor Mark Hetzler has earned a reputation for creative and unusual collaborative work that often explores contemporary American culture.

He recently spoke to The Era via e-mail about the group and the music.

What is the history of the group?

Nay Palm Bones is made up of me, Mark Hetzler (UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet), Jeffrey Peterson (Principle Trombone, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra), Jeffrey Thomas (Principle Trombone, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra) and Harold Van Schaik (Bass Trombone, Florida Orchestra).

Nay Palm Bones (below) was formed in 2002 by four friends who wanted to get together, play great music and have an excuse to hang out for days at a time (without their spouses). Tenor trombonists Jeff, Jeff and Mark have each performed as the Principal Trombonist of the Florida West Coast Symphony – these sentences were served consecutively from 1987-1996.

How did the group get its name and what does it mean?

Nay Palm gets its name from the musical direction that orchestral trombonists generally see most often- the palm of the conductor’s hand (“Trombones! Too loud!”).

Truth be told, the members of this quartet enjoy discovering great chamber music — originally for trombones and assorted stolen works — and performing before curious, yet appreciative audiences.

Does the group have future plans?

Nay Palm Bones had an active playing schedule when I lived in South Florida.  In 2004, I moved to Madison to start teaching at UW.  After that move, Nay Palm took a break (for geographic reasons).

I am currently working on a recording project that will feature ALL of the trombone music of Seattle-based composer David P. Jone.

Dave is a long time friend who has written a lot of music for me and for the various groups I have played in through the years. As a thank you for his compositional output, I am recording all of his works that feature the trombone.

In 1991 he wrote an outstanding trombone quartet called “Strong Water,” and the upcoming concert appearance by Nay Palm is in preparation for the recording of this work.

Our concert is on Friday, Sept. 3, and then afterward we will spend the next three days recording the work here in Madison at the university.

What kind of music do you do?

Nay Palm plays a mix of classical, jazz and new music.

Drawing on original works, as well as arrangements and transcriptions, we try to create programs that show off the groups as well as the individual members in a variety of musical settings.

On my 2004 Summit Records solo release titled “20th-Century Architects,” (below) Nay Palm is featured playing two of my arrangements: Igor Stravinsky’s Concertino for String Quartet and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet.

What will be your program in Madison and can you comment on the works?

Since we have limited time to rehearse as a quartet, I programmed the concert to feature each member as a soloist on the first half and then the entire group will perform David P. Jones’ “Strong Water” on the second half.

First-half selections will include Alexie Lebedev’s Bass Trombone Concerto (Harold Van Schaik on bass trombone and Kirstin Ihde on piano), Carl Maria von Weber’s “Romanza Appassionata” (Jeffrey Thomas on trombone and Kirstin Ihde on piano), Emmett Yoshioka’s “Extase” (Jeffrey Peterson will perform this unaccompanied work by the Hawaiian composer) and Enrique Crespo’s “Improvisation No.” (me on trombone).

David P. Jones’ “Strong Water” is the featured work.  As a four-movement work that lasts about 20 minutes in length, this piece is a musical depiction of four inspiring places in Jones’ native Northwest.

Dave (below) wrote this work in 1991 when we were students together at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Mass., as a gesture of friendship for the members of a trombone quartet that I was in at the time.

The piece has always inspired me and is quite demanding for the players, yet extremely exhilarating for the audience.  The movement titles are:

I. Deception Pass: Deception Pass is a strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island, in the northwest part of WA. It connects Skagit Bay, part of Puget Sound, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  This introductory movement displays powerful chords and slowly unfolding melodic ideas.

II. Yakima Canyon Road: Yakima Canyon Road is a scenic road between Yakima and Ellensburg, Wash., that cuts through centuries-old basalt cliffs under a vast sky.  Rhythmically complex, this movement grooves in a variety of odd meters.

III. Neah Bay: Neah Bay is part of the Makah Indian reservation in Clallam County, Wash.  With a strong spirit, this movement serves as the ballad-like slow movement.  A soaring first trombone line is accompanied by muted colors in the other parts.

IV. The Gorge: The Columbia River Gorge is an 80-mile geologic wonder that forms the border between northern Oregon and southern Washington.  Glacial floods thousands of years ago carved this 1,200-mile-long river, which is the only sea-level passage to cross the Cascade Mountains. With cliffs rising as high as 4,000 feet, the Gorge acts as a funnel for North America’s fourth largest river, whose tributaries include the mighty Snake River.  This movement requires seatbelts as the group screams along in 12/8 time, bouncing between classical tarantella-like passages and hard swinging bop licks.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

This is a rare opportunity to not only see the Nay Palm Bones live, but also to hear a very exciting and well-crafted composition.  Come hear what a trombone quartet is capable of.

Posted in Classical music

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