Bernard Playing Bernard Adelstein

Forty Years Under The Gun

In preparing for the performance, one must practice in short stints, as the lip tires very quickly. Too much piccolo playing can have an adverse effect on the finesse and soft playing needed for your regular instrument. The above notwithstanding, the first consideration is finding the proper instrument and matching mouthpiece that will enable the performer to get the notes out with satisfactory intonation and a lovely musical sound. The largest possible mouthpiece should be used to prevent the tone from resembling fingernails scratching on a blackboard.

The sound of our modern piccolo trumpet is too bright and does not blend with the other solo instruments. The original baroque instruments were much mellower and the pitch was considerably lower. In fact, recent theories suggest that the Brandenburg was not intended to be played on a trumpet at all. Regardless of all theories and authentic baroque or contemporary practices, the trumpeter must remember that the Brandenburg is not a trumpet concerto, and the trumpet is only one of four principal voices! He must use care not to obliterate the other solo voices–which is difficult, if not impossible, when playing in the high tessitura.

A perfect example of this was a performance of the Brandenburg with the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shaw, many years ago. Mr. Shaw was so concerned with the balance and blend, he had a screen constructed with a black felt cover, designed to reduce the brilliance and projection of the piccolo trumpet. He had me blow directly into the screen. My “unbiased” opinion was that this experiment was very successful, but one should check the archives or ask someone with a good memory who heard the performance for a second, “unbiased” opinion.

I will never forget this particular performance, because it was on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, and we didn’t now whether the concert would be canceled. It was not, and even though everyone was in a state of shock, we played an excellent performance. Perhaps each musician was, in his own way, paying tribute to President Kennedy.

As a youngster, I remember hearing a recording of the Gershwin “Piano Concerto in F” with Oscar Levant as soloist. The beautiful trumpet solo in the second movement was played by Harry Glantz as only he could perform it. Since then, it has been one of my favorite solos. It’s the type of solo in which a fine trumpeter can throw off the shackles that bind him, and play with a freedom and abandon seldom experienced. I always use considerable vibrato in the low register of that solo, even though I always admonish my students to “never use vibrato down low.”

In general, the style dictates a rather slow and wide vibrato. It should be played with considerable rubato and dynamic contrast. Intonation can be a real problem, especially on a C trumpet. But with thought and care it can be solved. The trumpeter must be careful to tune his high A-flat with piano as this note tends to be quite sharp, and the solo ends with three high A-flats in unison with the piano. There are several rather precarious two-octave skips which must be approached with considerable valor. The solo should be played with some sort of felt hat (preferably with many holes in it) over the bell. Even the most insensitive conductor will follow you if it’s played musically and with artistic conviction. I’ve always tried to make the solo sound like “a happening.”

Every aspiring young trumpeter spends many hours practicing the solo as well as the very demanding tutti passages in the Mahler symphonies. Practically every Mahler work has great parts for all brass instruments. I have always derived a great deal of satisfaction from playing the beautiful off-stage post-horn solo in the third movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony. It’s a lovely lyrical solo which starts out slightly detached, then changes to a ver legato style, which, unfortunately, is ignored by many students.

Endurance can be a problem because the solo occurs four different times within the movement. The lip is usually fatigued before starting the solo because the first movement contains a great deal of blowing. There’s a very soft skip of a tenth from second-line G to high B (B-flat trumpet) at the end of the second solo. The trumpeter can use some rubato, but must be careful, as he is far from the orchestra. Often, he will be following the conductor by watching a small TV monitor which is usually quite blurred. In several measures, the horns have five equal eighth notes, while the trumpet is playing in 6/8 meter. Therefore, certain spots must be played senza rubato.

It’s quite helpful to study the score and learn what the accompaniment is doing before attempting the solo. It can be played on a B-flat, C, or D trumpet or cornet. There is an old New York Philharmonic recording with John Ware doing a fine job with the solo on a D trumpet. A more recent recording with the Chicago Symphony is played superbly by Adolph Herseth on a C trumpet. I’ve always played it on a flugelhorn with medium deep mouthpiece, because, in my opinion, the flugelhorn quality is perfect for this solo.

In Cleveland, I always played the Mahler solo backstage. When Lorin Maazel conducted, however, he insisted that I play it from the top of the balcony. “In Europe, it was always done that way,” he persisted. At Severance Hall we had no problems because the hall is very small, but when we got to Carnegie Hall, it was a different story. They had an usher waiting for me backstage, and after the second movement, I rushed off the stage, ran to an elevator that was standing by, and was whisked to the top of Carnegie Hall. I then had to climb a long flight of stairs to the very top of the Hall. I barely got there in time. Luckily, I was in good physical condition. The trumpeter should get extra hazard pay for such situations! My colleagues said the sound seemed to float down from heaven. It was a great effect–which just goes to prove that the conductor is sometimes right!

I was recently very saddened to learn of the passing of Antal Dorati. I had the privilege of working under him in Dallas and Minneapolis. During this time I got to play much of the difficult and challenging repertoire with a very demanding conductor. We performed many works that would have been exciting for any young trumpeter to play. It was almost one continuous high. Mr. Dorati’s own arrangement of the “Rosenkavalier Suite” has many wonderful solo passages where the trumpeter can master his vibrato and smooth lyrical style as well as soar over the orchestra to a high D-flat and the total admiration or complete scorn of all the trumpet students. Performances of “Zarathuestra,” “Don Juan,” “Death,” “Pines of Rome,” “Roman Festivals,” “Pictures,” “Petroushka,” “Fireworks,” “Sacre,” “Firebird,” etc. were so numerous, the mere thought of them fatigues the chops. Dorati’s interpretations of his countrymen’s music, like Kodaly and Bartok, were especially exciting. The “Concerto for Orchestra” was a Bartok work he had a special affinity for, and it never failed to excite an audience.

As I reminisce about some of the great conductors I was privileged to work under, Fritz Reiner comes to mind. With the slightest flick of his wrist, he would control an entire orchestra. The more intricate and complex the rhythm, the smaller his beat would become. It’s a shame that some of our current crop of conductors weren’t around at that time to observe and learn from the GREAT MAESTRO.

Many famous recordings of this titan are still available, attesting to his command and interpretation of Strauss, Wagner, Mahler, Bartok, and many others.

The memorable works conducted by George Szell would fill a volume, but his performances of the four Schumann symphonies were a revelation. Anyone who was lucky enough to have participated in these performances will understand what I mean. His Mozart had a sparkle and clarity never achieved by anyone else. For the trumpet player, all Mozart was extremely difficult under Szell. This simply cannot be understood by anyone who hasn’t played under him. The Mahler “Das Lied (Song of the Earth)” was a moving experience, and the Wagner excerpts from “Dad Reingold,” “Valkyrie,” and “Gotterdamerung,” gave me the opportunity to learn to play with different tone qualities. We used rotary valve German trumpets with deep cup mouthpieces to achieve the darker, less brilliant sound.

Pierre Monteaux conducted Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe” at a tempo that the woodwinds could play all the notes and the brass could single tongue all the fast passages normally triple tongued. It was the slowest “Daphnis” I ever played, but the cleanest, most exciting, and elegant as well.

Stravinsky’s “Sacre du Printemps” has always been a very difficult piece for the trumpet. Especially challenging is the piccolo D-trumpet part, because of its extremely high range. The complex rhythmic patterns are difficult for the entire trumpet section. Pierre Boulez has such a fine grasp and feeling for all the rhythms that he makes this piece almost easy to play. His prize winning recording with the Cleveland Orchestra of the “Sacre” certainly proves this point.

Fortunately, the symphony trumpeter is not often burdened with the operatic repertoire which contains many extremely difficult licks. People who heard Lorin Maazel’s performance in Cleveland of Strauss’ “Electra”, many years ago, are still talking about it. Maazel was in complete command, cueing every entrance and whipping up a dynamic, exiting performance. As usual, he did it all without a score. The audience was spellbound throughout the entire concert!

No article about a symphony trumpeter could be complete without mentioning the Beethoven “Leonore Overture No. 2 or 3.” Neither bugle call in the overture is terribly difficult for the highly trained and skilled trumpeter, however, the problems involved are numerous. First is the question of synchronizing the initial entrance with the orchestra so that you don’t sound late. The great distance between the orchestra and trumpeter requires that the trumpeter anticipate the first entrance–but how much? The next problem is pitch, as the distance always makes the trumpet sound flat. So you must tune sharp to match the orchestra–but how much? These questions can only be answered by trial and error along with many years of experience.

I often recall the famous story of the policeman who wouldn’t let the trumpeter play his “Leonore” calls because “there’s a concert going on!” This story has been attributed to just about every trumpeter in the business. Fortunately, I never had the experience, but I do recall frantically trying to escape from a percussionist who had one too many and was pretending to be “the policeman” while I was trying to play the calls.

Every piece I mentioned as well as hundreds of others contain unique problems which the trumpeter can devote a lifetime to mastering. Although perfect performances are rare indeed, an excellent one is probably the most rewarding experience a musician can have.
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