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Last year I was privileged to perform the
Rimsky-Korsakov Concerto for Trombone
and Band at Air Force Band’s concert at the
Wyndham Cultural Centre, Werribee. This
was the realisation of an almost lifelong
dream for me, as it was the first concerto
I ever learnt many years ago, but up until
then I had never actually performed it with
One of the interesting facts about this piece
is that it contains two cadenzas, or solo
sections, for the trombonist. This is not
unusual in a concerto, but they are normally
placed in the first and third movements,
rather than the second and third as they are
here. Not only that, but Rimsky-Korsakov
actually composed the cadenzas – rather
than leaving it up to the soloist to improvise
them – and punctuated various phrases
with band ‘stabs’, or short chords.
This left me, the performer, with somewhat
of a dilemma – should I play the written
cadenzas, or should I improvise them –
and if the latter, then what happens to the
stabs? Cadenzas are traditionally a way to
display the full range of a player’s technique
and mastery of their instrument, combined
with their ability to develop themes from
the piece into something spectacular.
Analysis of different recordings of the
piece showed many different approaches
international trombone soloist Christian
Lindberg for example plays an almost
completely rewritten cadenza in the third
movement, while many others were content
to play the original notes.
I felt a compromise was in order – I would
play the second movement cadenza as
written, but add to the cadenza in the third
movement in such a way that the basic
shape of the solo remained the same. This
meant working out which sections of the
solo could be extended without ruining
the musical ideas. The first one was easy
a fast arpeggiated Bb chord became a
slightly faster and wider-ranging Bb chord
by adding an extra octave onto the top. The
next change was just to lower two notes by
an octave, thus making the end result of
the first section a virtuosic display of the
trombone’s extremes in range.
So, with the high and low notes taken care
in a little magic. The second section – the bit
Flight Sergeant Andrew Heading
with the band stabs – I kept pretty much as
Rimsky-Korsakov had composed it, save for
a couple of bridging notes to get from the
end of the first section into the new one.
However, here was my chance! You see,
Rimsky-Korsakov is one of my favourite
composers – his works Capriccio Espagnol
and Scheherazade especially leap to mind,
as does his most popularly known work,
The Flight of the Bumblebee, and I wanted
to pay tribute to the composer by quoting
from those pieces.
Fortunately, the melody of the last
movement contained a repeated fragment
where one note was followed by another
a fourth lower and back again – the same
fragment which begins one of the main
themes from Scheherazade. I was in!
This Scheherazade melody ends quite
chromatically, which meant that I could
quite easily shape it to lead into the opening
of Capriccio Espagnol, which I did, and it
was a natural finish to go back into the end
of the original cadenza. I had one challenge
left – how to get from the end of the second
section into my lovely ending?
There are two techniques on the trombone
that require, let’s say, a substantial amount
of practice – lip trills and multiphonics.
Having put the time into these techniques,
I was determined to use them as my bridge.
Realising that lip trills, which is essentially
two notes played very quickly after one
another, would follow on nicely from the
fast opening of The Flight of the Bumblebee,
that gave me my start. After that, it was just
a question of harmonic progression, to get
from a tonic Bb chord to a dominant F chord
via descending chromaticism – which is
where the multiphonics, playing two notes
at once, would be ideal. Done!
So there we are – one new cadenza displaying
range, trills, multiphonics and a tribute to
the composer, while remaining very close
to the original cadenza. Incidentally, I had
planned – and even practised – inserting
another Rimsky-Korsakov quote – the Song
of India; however, in the spirit of improvising
cadenzas, on the night I simply left it out.
Of course, I just improvised cadenzas
during the rehearsals – I couldn’t have the
band members knowing what was going to
happen, could I?
Flight Sergeant Andrew Heading performing the Rimsky-Korsakov Concerto for Trombone and Band.
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