Friday, August 27, 2021


It was 1952, the New York Philharmonic was in Los Angeles for concerts and I was solo driving my fathers 1952 Chevrolet to the Wilshire Hilton Hotel to take my first lesson with my hero William Bell. I remember that lesson, he taught me take short sniffs through my nose so I could play through a long passage of fast notes without distorting the rhythm when I took a breath; it worked. He also suggested that I puff my cheeks a little to avoid the corners of my lips creating a “smile” embouchure; it also worked.  

After the lesson Mr. Bell invited me to go with him to the concert so I could listen from back stage. I was aware what an enormous privilege this was and I was very excited. Programed on the concert that afternoon was Brahms 1st Symphony, the trombone section, Gordon Pulis, Louis Van Haney and Allen Ostrander, had found the quietest place they could find backstage to rehearse the famous trombone choral in the fourth movement. I had never heard anything so beautiful in my life, the intonation was perfect, it was perfectly together, and the balance was perfect, it was beautiful and it left a life long impression on me; that happened 69 years ago.

As with so many retired symphony musicians, since I took my sabbatical in 1989 I had almost stopped listening to any symphonic music. I don’t know the reason for this, but at the same time COVID hit and forced me to cancel an extended USA and Europe tour, I found myself listening to music, particularly symphonic music ….. and particularly Mahler symphonies.

After searching and listening I finally discovered a list of all the Mahler symphonies performed by the Lucern Festival Orchestra with Claudio Abbado conducting. I was amazed by the superb level of playing throughout the whole orchestra particularly symphonies 2, 3, 7, and 9. The strings were great and the basses were the best I had ever heard. The woodwinds were perfection and the brass were awesome as were the percussion.

I’m struck by many great orchestras today where a potentially great section has one player that plays louder than the others or one player plays softer than the others. The Lucern Festival Orchestra seemed to me to be perfect in balance whether in ff or pp. 

I spent a great deal of time going through the online performance and specifying specific passages in the brass that serve as wonderful examples of perfectly balanced section playing. However, it seems much more respectful to just recommend, to my readers, to listen to to that recording of Mahler 3rd Symphony played by Claudio Abbato and the Lucern Festival Orchestra and enjoy the abundant excellence. 

However, I can’t refrain from mentioning the beautiful choral which starts at the coda 1 hour 30 minutes in to the recording; it starts pp with four trumpets and one trombone and crescendos to mf with four trumpets and four trombones all with a felt cover on their bells; it’s absolutely as magical to this old symphonic veteran as that New York Philharmonic trombone section was back stage in Los Angeles to that 15 year old, 69 years ago.

Roger Bobo August 27, 2021, Oaxaca, Mexico