Thursday, April 04, 2013

TubaMania and the Future

At nearly 75 years old and with 68 of those years involved with brass instruments (I started playing trumpet at age 7), I have seen a lot of change in brass instruments and brass playing and accumulated a fair view of the brass evolution in the world.

At the end of the 19th century, brass playing was already developing to a high level in Europe. Many of those great players of that time immigrated to the “New World”. Players from Italy, France, Germany, England and other countries went to America and Canada, took positions in North American orchestras and bands and became teachers. With the influence of the great bandmasters like Sousa, Clark, Pryor and others, North America became a center of brass virtuosos. Soon many of those North American Virtuosos returned to their homelands in Europe, influencing the very European countries that brought great brass playing to the "New World".

Of course, this very short view of brass playing includes euphonium and tuba. Perhaps because the tuba is the youngest instrument of today’s brass family, its growth has been the most noticeable. In the course of the last 50 years and there has been virtually an explosion of tuba virtuosos in Europe, first in Scandinavia, then Hungary then all of Europe, and this “Tuba Explosion” seems to still be accelerating. Tuba and Euphonium symposiums began to take place frequently around the world and, of course, this included Asia.

From March 25-29, was perhaps the finest of these euphonium/tuba symposiums, year 14th of TUBAMANIA took place in Bangkok, Thailand. This event was conceived and organized by American tubist, now playing in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia, Steven Rosse. Mr. Rosse created an event this year that brought together participants from Thailand, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Korea; all together approximately 200 hundred students.

The featured artists were Steven Mead, Steven Rosse, Tim Buzbee, Mathew van Emmerik, and myself, Roger Bobo.

Contributing artists were, Misa Akahoshi, Manit Buchachanok, Satit Chomchewchan, Hidehiro Fujita, Paul Luxenberg, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Kitti Sawetkittikul, Bret Stemple and Kazumasa Yamagishi. The ensembles represented were the E-Tan Tuba Quartet (Thailand), Low Fat Tuba Ensemble (Thailand), Sydney Conservatorium Tuba Quartet (Australia), Mahidol University Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble (Thailand) and the Mahidou Brass Band.

As one who has taught and taken part in Symposiums in Europe, North America, Australia and Japan for the last 40 years I can say not only are these, plus the 200 students, a impressive array of artists and talent but it puts into prospective that the center of the euphonium and tuba world is now moving in the direction of Asia and Australia.

As in Hungary twenty years ago, I was amazed to hear the huge potential of talent that is developing here in Asia and Australia; it was evident in in all the countries that were represented at TUBAMANIA and it is absolutely a sure thing that these countries will be (many players already are) at the highest international level we have of euphonium and tuba performance.

One might ask; “How can you be so sure the Asian countries will be at the highest international level?” Fifty years ago there were very few tubists and euphoniumists to look to as references for high level playing; we had to look to other instrumentalists for examples. Twenty years ago there were much more, and today the numbers are stunning. However, the talent today is as high as ever; with the abundance of wonderful players we have as references today, it’s inevitable that the Asians will be at least as good as the best we have at present and probably better. Leonardo di Vinci said, “It’s the student's duty to become better than the teacher”. Personally, I have, with great joy, experienced that with several students and I expect to experience it many more times, most likely in Asia and Australia.

Since I started writing, it’s been my policy in my blogs and articles to avoid writing reviews, however, there were several performances at TUBAMANIA that were so amazing something has to be said.

Of course, we expect anything we hear from Steven Mead to be superb and certainly his recital was that, but as a man who has been listening to brass players for a very long time I feel a need to point out that the Puccini aria, Vissi d’art from Tosca, was as beautiful and moving as any soprano I’ve heard. It was unforgettable!

Steven Mead is a superstar but there is an emerging new superstar in the Euphonium world. Remember this name: Misa Akahoshi from Japan. She has the musicality, virtuosity and charisma to assure her place in superstardom. One amazing moment: Steven played one of the most virtuosic pieces on his recital I’ve heard, Hummingbird by Steve Bryant. For an encore, he invited Misa Akahoshi to come on stage and play it with him in Unison. It was perfect, and except for a few passages where they split into octaves one could have suspected it was one person. The audience exploded with applause and bravos.

Japanese tubist Hidehiro Fujita played his arrangement of Introduction, Theme and Variations by Johann Hummel, it was beautiful playing and Fujita san used at times a remarkable pianissimo that was clear, high energy and very very soft.

We expect tubist Steve Rosse to be great but to be great on six different occasions and with the added pressure of organizing TUBAMANIA was beyond belief.

It was my honor and pleasure to conduct the TUBAMANIA Artist Ensemble; all I will say is that it was really good! With great players like that a conductor can’t go wrong.

Thank you Steve Rosse for your vision, and thanks to coordinators Mananya Chitteerahandu and Daren Robbens for causing everything to go smoothly and enjoyably.

And personal thanks to Yamaha for being my sponsor and making it possible to attend.

April 3, 2013, Tokyo