Five minutes that changed the lives of TSO musicians

Take 5 with Alain Trudel

Published Friday, June 26, 2020 9:00 am

by John Fedderke

What basketball player doesn’t conjure up “The Shot” from 1992 when Grant Hill threw a perfect pass the length of the court to Christian Laetner who spun and sank the winning basket to put Duke over Kentucky in the NCAA Regional Final?

Athlete or musician, everyone who performs in public, in the moment, must imagine excellence as the performance or game begins.

The first time I heard our new Music Director, Alain Trudel, speak, he raised this very question by saying that every TSO musician steps on stage with the skills to, and the goal of, delivering an excellent performance.

Trudel said that his job is to create a stage where each individual can attain this goal of excellence as a member of the orchestra.

Just as “The Shot” distills the essence of basketball excellence, imagine that every musician has experienced an encounter that propelled them to dedicate their lives to a particular instrument.

As they walk on stage at the Peristyle, can you imagine a hundred different strains of melodies coursing through a hundred hearts, ringing in two hundred ears and tingling in a thousand fingers as the orchestra assembles?

I had just that thought, so this blog will ask the question of our musicians, “What five minutes (give or take) of music changed your life by unveiling the passion you have for your instrument?”

You can read the answer to that very difficult and revealing question here.

You can also “Take Five” by clicking the link below to listen to the music on your device.

Take Five with Alain Trudel

Alain Trudel is effervescent. His energy and enthusiasm fill any space he is in. As I waited at lunchtime to meet with him in the Toledo Club’s Founders Dining Room, he stopped at each table and spoke to everyone as if they were long-lost friends.

Speaking with him, I could imagine that paring down his love of music to five minutes was going to be quite a task. This was not made easier by the fact that he loves jazz as much as classical so he has one foot rooted in each genre.

Oh yes, one of the world’s pre-eminent trombone players started out wanting to play the drums. Quite by accident, he was handed a valve trombone at age 12 when he joined a neighborhood band. He landed at 16th out of 16 trombone players. Good thing they didn’t have 76 trombone players in that band!

Just two years later, Alain auditioned for the Conservatory of Montreal and took 4th place. Happily, numbers one and two decided not to attend, so he made the cut.

By age 16, Alain played with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra for the first time and leapt onto the international stage as the principal trombone with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra at 18.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Trudel is, “Widely considered the best trombonist in the world.” Yamaha has designed a trombone mouthpiece to his specifications. As a soloist, he has performed with more than 20 orchestras in America and Europe. So, of course, classical music wasn’t quite enough for such a prodigy.

At age 20 he turned to jazz and played with a quartet named Bellows and Brass. He also played with a group dedicated to 19th century band music. Those who heard Alain perform jazz classics with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra in March experienced a masterful and moving evening.

Which brings us to the 5 minutes of music that lured Alain back to the classics. It has it all – excitement, sorrow, aspiration, and depression all wrapped up in one piece.

The album is the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Shostakovich’s 1st Cello Concerto featuring Mstislav Rostropovich. You can listen to it yourself at the link below.

In the playing of the cello, with all its emotion, Alain said he instantly reconciled the freedom and emotion of jazz with the possibilities of classical music. He said that he would never see performing classical music as business as usual.

Rather, he sees each performance as an opportunity to be excellent by feeling the emotion in the music while being free from fears of making a mistake or miscue.

This liberating attitude extends to every member of the orchestra he now conducts. He says emphatically, “I don’t care if you miss a note once in a while as long as you feel the emotion.” He firmly believes that if musicians don’t take a chance, if they just play not to make mistakes, the music will not be interesting.

You may be wondering what Alain’s favorite five minutes of jazz might be. As a virtuoso jazz trombonist, I expected him to have a favorite moment featuring that instrument. But no.

His favorite jazz moment is by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Such a lovely piece, Naima, on Coltrane’s 1959 album, Giant Steps, again spotlights Alain’s love of emotion in music. Feel for yourself the liberating freedom and beauty in this iconic performance on one of the greatest jazz albums of all time.

I hope everyone who reads this will have the opportunity, as I did, to sit down with Alain Trudel. You will see opportunities open in your own life with his optimism and openness to free expression. I can only envy the musicians who work and perform with him.

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