Adventurous trombone quartet makes Bach fest debut

Published: Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 15, 2013 - 12:07 am

The trombone quartet is an elusive animal in the classical music world. Many musicians, even the most seasoned, have never heard a trombone quartet in concert. Few composers now write for it. And the classical music fan will see it as a novelty.

And yet the trombone quartet is no new development. In the classical era, the quartet was used when an organ or chorus could not be had, said Mark Broschinsky, founding member of the New York-based Guidonian Hand trombone quartet. The other members of Guidonian Hand are Will Lang, Sebastian Vera and James Rogers.

That quartet, highly regarded as new music interpreters, will be kicking off this year’s Bravo Bach Festival, which will parse the composer’s music over six concerts in different venues in Sacramento and Folsom. The Guidonian Hand also will perform works that influenced Bach.

For the performance Friday at St. John’s Lutheran Church, the quartet will be joined by noted organist Rhonda Sider Edgington. In turn, Edgington will perform a concert for solo organ Saturday at the same location. The festival, which runs from Friday to Sept. 29, will see such diverse acts as classical guitarist Antoniy Kakamakov, the Archetti ensemble, Camerata Capistrano and the Joe Gilman jazz trio.

“In my 20 some years here in Sacramento I have not heard a trombone quartet,” said organist and pianist Jack Miller, director of the Bravo Bach festival.

Typically, most musicians will hear the sonic palette of different ranges of the trombone – tenor, bass and alto – as part of a symphonic orchestra. As a quartet the emphasis is solely on the trombone.

“This is what attracted me to bringing them to the festival, because the quartet will have this rich sonority, and when they do the pieces with the organ you are really going to get this unique sound,” said Miller.

The Sacramento Bee spoke with trombonist Broschinsky about the uniqueness of the quartet and what it will perform at the festival.

What will your program offer?

We’ll be performing transcriptions of Bach or works that may have influenced or inspired Bach.

Tell me about the pairing of trombones and organ?

It may seem like an odd pairing, however, the trombone and organ have a very long and overlapping history. Both were church instruments for a very long time – and in places where they could not afford an organ, often times they would use trombones to accompany a choir. So, you would have the bass trombone accompanying the basses and the tenor trombone accompanying the tenors, and the alto the altos. For the sopranos, a stringed instrument like the forerunner of the violin or the coronetto – a recorder played like a trumpet – would be used.

Has a lot been written for both instruments?

There actually is a small, but attractive literature of original pieces written. One of the pieces we will be playing in Sacramento is a sonata by Daniel Speer that was written in 17th century. ... Speer wrote an encyclopedia on how to play certain instruments and he gave certain examples and this particular piece comes from that collection. It’s written for trombone quartet and organ.

What other works will you be performing?

We’ll be doing a couple of pieces by Giovanni Gabrieli, who is famous for writing polychoral music that was used in Venice’s Cathedral San Marco, where he worked most of his professional life. We’ll play one of the more famous ones of his — the Sonata pian’e forte.

How often does the quartet get to perform Bach?

As trombone players we don’t have much opportunity to perform works by Bach written for trombone, despite the fact that he wrote so much chamber music and cantatas. Only about 17 of the cantatas he wrote actually specify parts for the trombones. In terms of transcriptions, there are actually a lot of pieces by Bach that trombonists will end up playing because the music is so good.

So when you do perform Bach, which works do you do?

We like to practice the cello suites because the range is very similar. It helps us to work through certain aspects of our playing as trombonists, especially those that are difficult. We also do a lot of the fugues. We end up playing selections from the “Art of the Fugue.” We will be performing two at this concert.

What is your approach with them?

We approach the trombones as if they were like a set of registers on the organ. We try to blend the music as seamlessly as we can. There will be some passages where the trombones are featured as solo instruments. Otherwise, we’re trying to blend the two so that it becomes a little more difficult to tell the difference between the trombone and organ so that we can create a more homogenous texture.

You guys are well known for performing new music. Will you perform any at the festival?

In terms of programming we didn’t get a lot of direction. We tend to look further back into history instead of looking for newer things.

What piece will you look back with?

We’ll be doing a piece by Heinrich Schütz who was the preeminent composer in the generation before Bach. We’re playing from Sinfoniae Sacrae, the “Fili mi, Absalom.” The piece was originally written for string orchestra, trombone quartet and bass soloist.

With trombones and organ what do you perform, new music-wise?

Surprisingly, in spite of the shared history that these two instruments have together, there has not been a lot of contemporary pieces written for them. There is another concert that Rhonda and the quartet are performing in October that is a transcription of a piece by Messiaen, and also a piece by Ives written for organ and brass ensemble.

Where does the name Guidonian Hand come from?

That name is actually the name of a memory aid for church singers that helped them remember the different modes of the scales. It’s attributed to Guido d’Arezzo who was a music theorist in medieval times. He was a real forward thinker and innovator. He’s the guy who developed the five line staff.

Why did you chose the name?

D’Arezzo was at the forefront of his generation about musical thinking. In that same kind of way, ... we are trying to be innovative in the kind of music that is being written for trombone quartet and take that music out to the world, because it’s incredibly rich and a very unique sound.


Information: (916) 723-8092;

Guidonian Hand Trombone Quartet

w/ Organist, Rhonda Sider Edgington

Baroque Fanfares and Flourishes

When: 7:30 p.m., Sept. 20

Where: St. John's Lutheran Church, 1701 L St., Sacramento

Tickets: $25

Rhonda Sider Edgington, organ

The Art of the Fugue

When: 8 p.m., Sept. 21

Where: St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 2391 St. Marks Way, Sacramento

Tickets: $25

Camerata Capistrano

Baroque Concertos

When: 4 p.m., Sept. 22

Where: St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 2391 St. Marks Way, Sacramento

Tickets: $25

Antoniy Kakamakov, classical guitar

Classical Guitar and Lute

When: 7:30 p.m., Sept. 27

Where: Harris Center for the Arts, Folsom Lake College, Folsom

Tickets: $25

Joe Gilman Jazz Trio

Baroque Jazz Interpretations

When: 7:30 p.m., Sept. 28

Where: St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 2391 St. Marks Way, Sacramento

Tickets: $25

Archetti baroque string ensemble

Baroque Concerto Grossi

When: 4 p.m., Sept. 29

Where: St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1701 L St., Sacramento

Tickets: $25

Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz

Read more articles by Edward Ortiz

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