Thomas Stevens

Instrumental Virtuosity: Favorite Quotables

  • General Quotes

Some Personal Favorites.

“Many of today’s players play fast notes. Dizzy [Gillespie] played fast
music.” - Latino jazz band leader/percussionist,Tito Puente, 1994 (radio broadcast interview).

[Moussorsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition,“Bydlo” ] This piece is not about a tuba virtuoso [it] is about a large animal pulling a ...ah, ... [an oxcart] - Carlo Maria Giulini, 1978. [Maestro Giulini frequently spoke in incomplete English sentences.]

Commenting on a technically flawless trumpet concerto performance, offered here as a Quotable: “When you missed the whole idea of what the music was about, then, as far as I’m concerned, you missed all of the notes.”-Charles Schlueter, Principal Trumpet (ret.) Boston Symphony Orchestra

In 1983, after a woodwind player executed flawlessly an astoundingly difficult long technical passage, something which caused his colleagues to shuffle their feet and applaud, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas offered the following Quotable: “Other than the fact not one note lined up vertically with anything the rest of the orchestra was doing, it was great.”

My all-time favorite: In the 1950s, Milton Cross, the overly stuffy radio commentator for the New York Philharmonic radio broadcasts interviewed William Vacchiano during the intermission of a live concert/broadcast. As the interview proceeded, Mr. Cross asked Mr. Vacchiano if, during his more than two decades as the orchestra’s solo trumpeter, there was any one piece in the orchestral trumpet player’s repertoire that stood out as the most difficult. Vacchiano’s response was a curt, “yeah” (In Bill’s inimitable combination Al Pacino-Marlan Brando-as-Don Corleone-voice). Mr. Cross then asked him what that might be? “The Rienzi note,” replied Vacchiano. Cross, thinking he was being put-on (Vacchiano was most definitely capable of doing such a thing) remarked, “I don’t understand. Surely you aren’t referring to the single-note, middle-of-the-staff ‘A’ that opens Richard Wagner’s Rienzi Overture?” “Yeah, that’s the one,” Bill replied. Like so many otherwise knowledgeable musicians, Milton Cross could neither comprehend nor accept the idea that the execution of a single note could be a difficult task.

Vacchiano wasn’t kidding; the following, in italics, is excerpted verbatim from my “Rienzi at La Scala” piece for the Brass Bulletin: “Rienzi” is one of the symphonic trumpeter’s demons. The overture begins with a long, single-note trumpet solo on the ca. 440 Hz series “A” that is played in a call-and-response format with the orchestra, three times in succession. The trumpet sound must emanate from nothing, crescendo and return, in a manner comparable to one’s setting the volume control [slider] on an audio amplifier [sound board] at zero and slowly increasing it to a certain point at which the volume is then decreased by reversing the process, all the while being careful to be unwavering in pitch and also being careful to match the intonation of the other instruments in the orchestra. It’s one of those things one easily can do, out of context, either at home or in the practice studio, but which is incredibly difficult to do in real time.

Another incidental Quotable from my personal collection: "Cut the virtuoso crap."-member of a famous string quartet to another member of the group during a rehearsal. Names omitted here to protect the innocent and this writer's physical well-being.