Bones Apart gave a GREAT concert in Germany. This ensemble clearly is committed to making a go of it. They combine fantastic playing with charm, wit and sensitive musicality. They transcend the stereotype of their instrument!
Following on from the students who make up the Royal Academy of Music Trombone Choir the platform looked quite empty with just the four music stands as the all-female quartet Bones Apart took the stage. There's nothing like jumping in at the deep end and they did just that with their first contribution, an arrangement of Bach's "Toccata & Fugue in D minor" (now thought to be based on a piece not by Bach, originally intended for the violin!). Bach was an inveterate arranger and re-arranger, and one suspects he would have approved of the craftsman's efforts in producing this version - he would definitely have marvelled at the technique and musicality shown in the playing.
The movement between the parts was seamless, with chords building up from the bass, and the occasional lip trill for good measure. The fugue itself started very quietly, with each line deftly articulated, and answering phrases dove-tailing in with each other - it made one quite breathless just listening to them.
Following the introductions, given informally by each player in turn throughout the programme, they turned to one of the relatively few pieces writen for the trombone in the classical period. Beethoven's "Three Equali" were performed at his funeral, as befits the role of the trombone on solemn and stately occasions. With alto trombone on the top part, the parts were evenly balanced, with a marked uniformity of approach to attack and dynamics.
Staying with original works, they next presented the "First Trombone Quartet" by Apon, a harpist whose husband plays in the trombone section of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, for whose trombone section the piece was written. "Part One" opened with the melody in the 3rd part, set against a flowing accompaniment with the two top trombones muted. It was a poignant melody, with more than a hint of nostalgia. In "Part Two", shot notes from each player in turn built up an intricate pattern across the group, calling for very precise note placement, before moving into a jazz-tinged theme in triple time. The day before the Regent hall concert, they had performed the work in an underground mine in Germany, described in a humourous manner in the introduction.
"Connopy" by Rick DeJonge, proved to be rather jolly, with some fast semiquavers articulated very smoothly, and a jazzy feel, particularly in the fugato section. The slower central passage showed the influence of film music, and also recalled the brass music of Alec Wilder (such as the "Effie Suite") with bright, open chordings.
Chernetsky is widely regarded as Russia's equivalent of John Philip Sousa, having written numerous marches for the various branches of the Soviet forces. His "Tank Corps March" was introduced by Lorna, who also took the opportunity to try out the few Rusian phrases she had learnt, and which were not wholly relevant! It was a lively composition, with the melody switching between the parts and the bass trombone constantly on the move keeping the momentum going.
For the final item and of the first half of their recital, they moved ino the sphere of music theatre with music from Gounod's opera "Faust". Having outlined the story, involving Faust selling his soul to the devil, they each took on a part in the drama - Faust, the Devil, the girl and her brother, with appropriate wigs or hats. The music selected was largely from the ballet that Parisian audiences demanded of their opera composers, and included ample opportunity for choreography a la Canadian brass, bobbing up and down, parading around and the like, but all without disrupting the musical flow, which continued unabated.
After the interval, where there was an opportunity to mix with the players, they returned to the stage having changed from black trousers into white, and opened with the "Overture to The Magic Flute" (Mozart arr Hammond). With an alto once more on the top part, they made light of the semiquavers and gave a very crisp rendition, with secure pitching, particularly the top Cs on the alto trombone.
The alto was to the fore once more in Anton Bruckner's "Locus Iste", which they often use as a demonstration of ensemble playing when conducting master classes, sometimes playing with their eyes shut to underline the need to listen to one another. It was a fine demonstration of mostly subdued and controlled playing, with a powerful climax all the more impressive because of the restraint in the opening section.
Handel's "The Harmonious Blacksmith" is a set of variations originally written for keyboard, with each one becoming progressively harder, faster and more intricate. It certainly offered the opportunity for each player to show their skill, with the third variation shared out neatly between 3rd and bass, and all four taking part of the triplet section.
Lorna McDonald, on bass trombone, was featured as soloist in Grieg's "Elegy, Opus 47 No 7". The melancholic nature of the music suited the darker sound of the bass trombone, and Lorna's playing was smooth and restrained, even when at the bottom of the register. This was followed in total contrast by "Another Openin' Another Show" (Porter arr Challis). With a fanfare at the start it was played with no copies, the group standing right across the front of the platform, complete with the judicious use of slide vibrato and unison glissandi.
" Latinole!" was a group of three Latin American numbers by Jobim: "Wave", "Girl from Ipanema" and "No more Blues". With a narrower bore trombone taking the top line, the Latin rhythms were captured from the start, even thought there was no rhythm section to help them out. Solos flowed smoothly, as if improvised, and the last number again featured a very busy bass trombone part.
Due to shortage of time, they had to cut out one of the three numbers listed under the heading "Frankly my Dear". "My Funny Valentine" saw each player entering in turn, muted, over the bass trombone, and made the most of the poignant character of the song. With "New York, New York" it was hard to tell that there were only four parts on the go, with intricate harmonies and chordings, while the melody and bass parts kept going. There was a real big-band feel to the music, with the rhythmic impulse being maintained even through the rallentando into the last chorus and change of key.
As they stood at the front of the stage to receive their applause it seemed that there may be an encore, even if one of the group had to encourage the audience a little, and so they launched into a rip-roaring account of Kabalevsky's "Comedians' Galop", complete with flutter-tonguing adding to the excitement. With their relaxed, informal presentation, coupled with such first class playing and a well-balanced programme of original works and transcriptions, they would have won many new friends, including, no doubt, the numerous other trombone players present in the audience.?
Those of you unable to make the concert this weekend of Christian Lindberg in recital with Bones Apart missed out. They worked so well as a combination that whoever thought up the concert needs a gold star. Lindberg's experience and class as an individual shone through, whilst Bones Apart brought their own magic in their unity of interpretation and fantastic ensemble sound.
The Wigmore Hall was certainly buzzing with excitement before the show. Most of the seats were filled which must be a sign of progress in comparison with Lindberg's previous recital there 20 years ago where a famous London critic turned down the invitation saying he'd have to be drunk to go to a trombone recital! There was no clue of whether he'd been reinvited, but it probably wasn't the guy from the Independent, who previewed the concert most favourably.
Lindberg opened the concert with the earliest known pieces for solo trombone - three anonymous medieval dances. My friend said in the interval that Lindberg looked very imposing on stage, until he realised Lindberg was in fact playing an alto trombone and the great man is actually quite short! Well the dimension that matters: the quality of the music, was magnificent. They had spirit, playfulness, and all with beautiful execution.
Lindberg introduced the four ladies of Bones Apart and in they walked with their bold white suits. In fact every time they played they had different clothing - a really stylish touch.
Becky Smith took the lead on their first item - the Beethoven Equali - and demonstrated some really fine alto trombone skills. Although it's written for a funeral, performances of this piece often deteriate into a boring dirge, so it was great to hear Bones Apart play it more like a respectful celebration of life. With little fuss they made their opening statement and it captured nearly everything that's great about the group - togetherness, blend, sound projection, balance and bold and really stylish phrasing, right down to the golden sounds of Lorna McDonald. The tempos kept moving, the lines really sang and they gave a great deal of shape in a really thoughtful and musical way. Their really warm and broad sound quality never ventured into foggy or lumbering. All in all, I've heard and played this Beethoven many times and wasn't particularly looking forward to it, but these talented ladies gave a really persuasive performance and set the bar very highly for the rest of the concert.
The Berio Sequenza V is probably the other one of the landmark pieces in the repertoire and well known to Lindberg and his audiences. With the tails, bright red tie thrown around his neck and clown-like swimming cap he drew the audience in with class acting and humour. He had fun setting his stool out, got us laughing with game of the first few notes, and race through the feeling of mounting frenzy to the spoken "Why?". Avoiding the common mistake of labouring the depressed second half, he demonstrated supreme technical skill while managing to absorb our attention in the fine music.
The finale for the first half was the premier of Lindberg's quartet "Vivències" for Bones Apart. It was a substantial piece with lots going for it. Lindberg wrote especially for the girls and, as we heard in John Kenny's pieces for female performer, Lindberg makes good use of the voice. The excellent opening section made good use of soft harmon muted sounds accompanying gently outbursts of sung vowels - surely there was a word somewhere in there. The music builds and the mutes are gradually removed (beautifully choreographed!) and although the tempo stayed slow, the outbursts were now clumps of demi-semi-quavers. The girls passed off these flourishes with great accuracy and seemingly no effort, giving a rather unique feel to this section. The middle of the work was much more vigorous, making great use their sure pitching skills and later on we heard more substantial lines sung, culminating in a taxing solo from Becca Harper.
Despite these touching spotlight moments, right through the piece there was a feeling that the music has been shared out among the four performers, which showed Bones Apart in their best possible light. Also, for a composer which knows every sound effect you can get from a trombone so it was really nice to hear a modern composer to take the listener on a journey with more traditional musical gestures. The audience and Christian were massively appreciative of this piece and the first half, requiring an almost embarrassing number of curtain calls at this point in the proceedings. But they had certainly not played their best cards yet.
After a swift half in the interval we were treated to the five performers together in a rendition of Folke Rabe's Bolos. For the first time, the less serious side of the trombone was in evidence and the audience did enjoy the outbursts. Bones Apart's acting skills were perfectly fine, but somehow lacked the supreme confidence of Lindberg. But I would encourage Bones Apart to take away this piece to include in future performances with just the four of them as their individual stage presence matures.
The ladies of the quartet continued the programme with a work they have been playing across the country and on tours to the USA - Gary Carpenter's Secret Love Songs. It's probably big hassle taking this one on tour though since it requires five or six mutes each! They gave a really secure performance and the audience was really appreciative.
The big finale was Lindberg's arrangement for the five performers of several of his compositions for himself and Swedish trombone group "Trombone Unit 2000". The parts looked like a cut-and-paste effort, there were a couple of nervous looks at one transition and the structure of the piece was indeed as Christian described "like the path of a dog". But the item worked surprisingly well. Lindberg took the lead in nearly all the tunes which was fortunate not only for his fantastic lyrical playing but because his sound was so dominant. There were a couple of duets with other members of the group and Bones Apart just couldn't quite match his power. But this is nit-picking - this extended romp through some of the most exciting music written for the instrument showed another level of group virtuosity and the hall loved it.
Lindberg and Bones Apart are both known for putting on a real show at every performance they give, so with an audience full of appreciative brass players they were always going to do get a good response. But their pairing was genial and with an exceptional programme which they excelled in performing, no wonder there were so many satisfied listeners. It bodes well for the future of the trombone - with Lindberg quickly diversifying as he knocks on the door of his 50s, will Bones Apart take up the mantel of inspiring the next generation of trombonists?
Bones Apart recently visited the 2004 "Summer Trombone Course" in Muro of Alcoy in the Alicante region of Spain. The Course was organized by Javier Colomer. Ben van Dijk and Jörgen van Reijen were other notable presenters. The following is a review of the girls' visit by van Dijk.
Thursday, right in the middle of this year's summer course, a welcome interlude was the visit of 4 lovely ladies, the wonderful quartet from England, Bones Apart. In the afternoon they gave a clinic in which they introduced themselves with both music and text and they coached the Young Trombone Quartet led by Javier Colomer. It was quite special to see them work with these youngsters, especially the way they showed them to listen more to each other was very interesting for all participants of the summer course.
The evening brought the ladies back on stage but this time for a full concert. Although the concert hall had very dry acoustics, the quartet showed their incredible talents. The ensemble playing of this quartet is on a high level and their presentation is original and very entertaining. The repertoire was diverse from Beethoven's Drei Equalen to a free-style Jazzy arrangement of My Funny Valentine starting with an improvisation on the theme. The concert also brought a Bones Apart premiere of Derek Bourgeois well-known trombone quartet - a very difficult composition in which the girls showed their great virtuosity and lovely sense of melody-playing.
Bones Apart were greeted with much enthusiasm and appreciation from students, parents and educators alike. They are an attractive, entertaining and energetic ensemble and their music-making is educationally valuable and accessible... their audience had a wonderful time.
Congrats to the members of the quartet for their fine playing and obvious commitment to the instrument we all love. I give them my highest recommendation.
After the concert of Bones Apart there was a short encounter with Jacques Mauger who just started his summer course that day. A good Spanish beer gave some refreshment and then it was off for another Spanish Tapas session at restaurant "Conte" in Concentaina. A good night's rest was on the cards but the ladies dragged both Jörgen and Ben with almost all participants of the course into the local disco. Fiesta time!
Thanks to the girls for an unforgettable day!
Below are four reviews of the girls' appearance at the Los Angeles Trombone Day Clinic, help on April 17, 2004.
Bones Apart is a fabulous group! They made a wonderful contribution to Trombone Day 2004 at California State University, Fullerton. The feedback from my students and the local trombone community has been ongoing and universally positive. They play great both as individuals and as a completely cohesive ensemble with poise, showmanship, virtuosity and impeccable artistry.
Pacific Symphony, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Opera Pacific Orchestra
It was a great pleasure to see a recent clinic given by Bones Apart at Trombone Day in Fullerton, CA. These young women have created a very well functioning, musical ensemble by doing the hard work. One can tell that they are comfortable with one another as players and as people. They exibited good humor and demonstrated a relaxed approach to the "art of the clinic". I certainly look forward to hearing more from them in the future.
Los Angeles Recording Artist
In the spring of 2004, the four ladies of the trombone quartet Bones Apart performed a stunning concert at California University at Fullerton in which I happily attended. Before hand they visited a rehearsal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and were introduced to us by Ralph Sauer. Later that day they gave a mini concert and although I was not in attendance, the report was they sound good! Seeing as though they were quite chummy I made it a point to hear their official concert in Fullerton. I met them before the concert and proving themselves to be excellent Euro ambassadors we exchanged pleasantries and they went off to prepare for the show.
Perusing the program I recognized many old and new favorites starting with the daunting Toccata and Fugue in D minor. As soon as they began I was to settle into a rare event indeed. This was by far the most musical reading I have heard from a brass ensemble and was amazed at how well the exchange of the long musical lines were effortlessly executed. What osmosis! Not only was the ending performed flawlessly but with grace and power. Without much of a "chop" break they launched in Three Equali and then into a work by composer Gary Carpenter entitled Secret Love Songs. Six short pieces that featured an intensive musical scope ranging from atonality to theatrical whispers. A few movements could have qualified for the Sordino Olympics as they expertly juggled between three and four mute changes (no drops!) Such a captivating presentation by the quartet, the well oiled machinery was engaged and committed to the music. I saw the manuscript afterwards and no joke, it was difficult to play! A well placed modern work and by far my favorite of the evening.
Now on to theater!
The Finale from Gounod's Faust gave a presentation that men may not have pulled off as convincing, I myself could not look as good in a dress or as sinister in a devil outfit (Lorna)! All in all, good fun and good music with a warm introduction by the bass trombonist.
More favorites: Allegro from the A Minor Concerto by Vivaldi and The Harmonious Blacksmith were again stunning displays of artistry wedded with the paragon of technique. In a nutshell, they keep playing without signs of fatigue and maintained a warm and beautiful sound throughout the entire 90 minute program! And yes, they CAN really play Fortissimo, but choose to sparingly which adds to the creation of much more excitement without the dullness of brass 'jockdom'.
They finished the show with My Funny Valentine including costume changes and a swinging All The Things You Are.
Encores included Stars and Stripes Forever - flawless, with vigor and memorized!
Bones Apart is four utterly fantastic trombonists (musical, too!) who play exceptionally well together as a chamber group, blend their sounds to where they appear as one player (C.G. Conn would be proud) and are a damn nice bunch of ladies!
James T. Miller
Trombonist, Los Angeles Philharmonic
I'm kind of a picky professional, and when Trombone Day Co-Host Jeannie Little kept telling people all day, "You are going to be blown away by this concert!", part of me kept saying,"Yeah, sure."
Then I attended the clinic in the afternoon. Great sounding players, actually incredible players. So I was happy to go to the concert expecting a good show.
I was blown away!!
Their CD is real good, but they are even better in person. They started with Toccata and Fugue in D minor, and kept playing equally impressive stuff. It was not only one of the best trombone concerts I have ever heard, not only one of the best brass concerts I have ever heard--it was one of the best concerts I have ever heard.
Besides the outstanding technique, the impeccable intonation, the precise rhythmic phrasing, the power of the fortes and the sweetness of the pianos--the incredible expressiveness and communication brought the house down.
This was playing as good as you can get, they were all fantastic.
Freelance Bass Trombonist
San Diego, California
Bones Apart is the best trombone quartet that I have ever heard!
Principal Bass Trombonist, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
IWBC Board of Directors
Bones Apart are a class act. The idea of four well-dressed female trombonists may arouse various thoughts and expectations, but these musicians play seriously well and their programmes have such variety that they must appeal to audiences on many different levels.
Richard Philips, Artistic Director
Warwick Arts Society
11 & 12 November, 2003
Wednesday 8 October 2003
Swinburne Hall, Colchester Institute, Essex
The Colchester Institute’s laudable effort to raise the profile of the trombone in the area was given a considerable boost with the appearance of Bones Apart at the prestigious Wednesday evening professional concert series. From the moment they stepped on stage, and before a note was blown, they had won over the audience with their highly skilled presentation and collective sparkling personality. These attributes were reflected in the performance. The programme was demanding and displayed wonderful contrasts in range, dynamics, genres, emotion and theatre (the ballet sequence in Gounod’s Finale from Faust was hilariously elegant!).
The music was magical miscellany, ranging from the sombre Beethoven Equali (played with an almost monastic intensity) through the fiendishly difficult First Quartet by Saskia Apon (though Bones Apart made it sound easy!) to a brilliantly entertaining new arrangement of Blaze Away by Helen Vollam (Colchester Institute’s trombone/low brass teacher and inspiration behind the entire project). I had had reservations about a trombone quartet playing on large bore instruments. My doubts were literally blown away in a stunning evening of power, passion, panache and pulchritude.
George Reynolds, DRSAM
Head of Brass Studies, Colchester Institute
It is not often I get the chance to listen to a concert of purely trombone music, and as a result I jumped at the chance to go and hear Bones Apart, the female trombone quartet. Of late they have established a name as a leading UK chamber group and are now internationally renowned and will be travelling to Germany, Switzerland, Tenerife and the USA later this year.
Dressed in white suits and black open neck shirts, they started with a fanfare written buy principal of the RNCM, professor Edward Gregson. It was actually written for his secretary, Pat Woods for her wedding in 2002. Bones Apart performed the fanfare at the wedding, and enjoy playing it so much they decided to start the concert with it, played from the back of the hall and without music.
Next it was straight to the premiere of a work by Gary Carpenter entitled Secret Love Songs. The piece is in six movements, the first two in each group played without a break. As with most trombone quartets, Gary could not resist the temptation of writing glissandi in the early part of the work. As the piece progressed there was effective use of soft tone mutes, bucket mutes, plungers and harmons, producing contrast that certainly kept the listeners’ interest. Some parts of the piece reminded me of the quartets for trombones by Judith Bingham and Gareth Woods. An effective work that I am sure will be played often.
Next was a piece by Saskia Apon entitled First Trombone Quartet. Saskia is a Dutch harpist and a self taught composer and arranger. She is now composer in residence for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Brass Ensemble and has written two more trombone quartets. The piece was in two contrasting movements. The first very dark and lyrical, the second very aggressive with spiky rhythms from the accompaniments and the odd lyrical tune sailing over the top. This is a great piece that I have heard Bones Apart play fairly often, but nevertheless very enjoyable.
Diversions, by Elizabeth Raum, was the next piece on the program. A renowned Canadian composer, she is an active oboist and actually comes from Boston, Massachusetts. The piece consists of several sections each with its own personality. It opens with a signal call from the 1st trombone that is answered in turn by each of the other trombones. This builds to a rather contrapuntal theme using three muted trombones that play a dance-like accompaniment to the sound of the unmated 1st trombone part. Finally all four trombones unmated join together to give a rousing finish to end the first half of the concert. The second half saw another world premiere, this time by Paul Clay. Gen was initially conceived as a fanfare. Paul was then persuaded to extend the pieces into a suite containing a scherzo, slow movement and finale. Gen can be interpreted in several ways, and in this piece it is concerned with growth, generation or genesis. It was interesting that the 1st trombone used a practice mute in the third movement, the 2nd trombone a plunger, 3rd trombone a cup mute and bass trombone a bucket mute. The finale again relates to the opening fanfare and is a sequence based on two repeated intervals.
Next up was an arrangement by Paul Hunt of The Harmonious Blacksmith. Paul Hunt was ITA President 1998-2000, and is head of the Department of Music at Kansas State University. This very tricky piece was played with much finesse by Bones Apart, each of the variations getting more and more difficult and showing off the groups talents to the full.
No More Blues is also the title of the group’s new CD. Known as Chega de Saudade, by Antonio Carlos Jobim, this arrangement by Kim Scharnberg is fantastic. The group really captured the mood and I could tell enjoyed playing the piece a lot.
Ray Premru’s In Memoriam is a fabulous work; I have always been a fan of Ray Premru and his music. Strangely, High Anxiety Bones, the group Ray played in near Cleveland, never performed this piece. For me this really showed off the control of Bones Apart and the more sensitive side of trombone playing.
Lorna McDonald is not a founder member but joined the group when Camilla Tveit returned to Norway. However, as well as being a fabulous sounding bass player she is also a very good arranger. The groups played her arrangement of the Finale from Faust by Gounod, and what a great arrangement for trombones (I wonder if she has published it?)
The group finished with All The Things You Are, which is also the final piece on their new CD. It is an impressive arrangement by Peter Maunder, a trombonist and arranger who studied at the RNCM and now lives in New Zealand.
The second half of the concert felt far more relaxed and I felt that Bones Apart feel more at home with the jazz arrangements compared to new contemporary works. Attention to balance, intonation and ensemble at all times illustrated why this group is one of the leading British chamber groups.
For their encore Bones Apart, once again without music, played an exciting arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever.
A great concert. If you have not heard Bones Apart it is well worth attending what will be an enjoyable evening.