Saturday, November 11, 2017

Old Style – New Style

During the mid 90s I was engaged to present a masterclass and conduct a concert with the brass section of a medium sized city orchestra in Sweden. Things were going well for the first five minutes until one of the older gentleman, a trombonist, asked me if they should play in the old style or the new style. Very quickly the question erupted in to energized discussion amongst the brass players, which style they should play, new or old. As I listened I could easily see that it was a discussion between the older and the newer generation. I clearly remembered similar situations in the Rochester Philharmonic in the 50s and I acutely recall the stinging encounters that took place in the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in the early 60s. In all cases it was clearly a disagreement between the old guys against the young guys; the old guys always won these encounters because they were absolutely unable to change from their, “Old Style”. One stinging statement I can remember coming from one of the ‘Old School’ player friends was the words “Real Men Don’t Play That way”.

Perhaps one man’s verbal description of the old style would be interesting: It was rough, out of tune, unbalanced, unnuanced and musically unsophisticated. It’s not difficult to understand, brass players 70 years ago were largely from a different part of the population, the coal miners and factory workers, it took another generation and longer for them to join the contemporary musical community on a equal bases. Sometimes it was quite frustrating to go out in to the hall to listen and to discover that occasionally the old school players sounded pretty good!

There is an exquisite example of the ‘old school/new school’ differences in a recording made by my extraordinary basstrombone colleague in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Jeff Reynolds, in the 1980s. Jeff was acutely aware of the old and new styles and he beautifully exemplified them both in his Album of Orchestral Excerpts for Basstrombone. Jeff played the Beautiful lyric basstrombone solo from Richard Strauss’s Ein Helden Leben two times; once staright in the old style and once with nuance, expression and personality, both were beautifully played but the difference was stunning.

The new school has become dominant now and the old school players generally no longer fit in with the new generation, however, they still exist. I have observed while taking part as a judge in many competitions in the last years with many (other) older and retired players and have come to the conclusion that to many of the old school people, the newer styles just didn’t sound right; the old fashion players won the prizes.

I was astonished during my ten years of teaching at the Musashino Acadamia Musicae in Tokyo, to have been criticized for diverting from what they called the Japanese style, and later in this ten year period, I was told please keep my teaching in the Tokyo style. I’m still working on that! I was very happy a few days ago to have learned that two of the winners of the recent Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow were Japanese. This is very important and very good news.

We all have different performance needs; where we play, what we play, with whom we play and equally important is the development and expansion of our individualism. We are all unique and we are all special.

Roger Bobo, November 11, 2017 (In preparation for spending the next month in Japan)

Oaxaca, Mexico