A sweet and delicate Virtuosity

November 14, 2002|by MEG H. PARTINGTON

Audiences at this weekend's Maryland Symphony Orchestra concerts will hear the softer side of the slide.

Trombonist Wayne Wells will be the featured soloist in the MSO's MasterWorks Series performances Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at The Maryland Theatre.

Wells will be in the spotlight during Henri Tomasi's Concerto for Trombone, a piece he describes as "a grab bag of different styles," including those of Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Tommy Dorsey. In fact, while noodling on his trombone one day, Wells discovered that the opening theme of the Tomasi piece is one note off from the main theme of Dorsey's "Getting Sentimental Over You." He isn't sure if the parallel was intentional, but wouldn't be surprised if it were.

"The nice thing about the Tomasi is it's very lyrical," said Wells, principal trombonist with the MSO since 1997. The piece also features the high end of the instrument's range, where he enjoys playing, though it's tough on the lips.


"It's kind of a tightrope walk. Fatigue becomes an issue," said Wells in a telephone interview from his Woodbine, Md., home.

Wells said the Tomasi concerto might help debunk two common misconceptions about the trombone: That it's primarily a supportive instrument and that it is not a lyrical one. While German music often uses the trombone to represent the underworld, Wells said the instrument can be played with a very sweet, delicate sound.

"It's a virtuosic piece," MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze said of Tomasi's concerto.

Schulze also described the rest of the program as virtuosic, giving the whole orchestra a chance to shine.

"This concert is sort of an orchestral showpiece," she said.

Joining Tomasi's work on the program is Zoltn Kodly's Galnta Dances, which Schulze described as a "brilliant, heavily rhythmic kind of festive piece for the orchestra."

The third piece, Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90, by Johannes Brahms, is one of the shortest of the composer's pieces but one of the most difficult.

She said this weekend's concerts, the second in the MasterWorks Series for this season, are probably the most difficult. Schulze said audience members will likely be surprised by the agility of the trombone as they watch Wells work his magic on stage.

While trombones don't always have a chance to solo, Wells has had the opportunity on numerous occasions. In 2000, he performed Paul Creston's Fantasy for solo trombone and orchestra with the Frederick (Md.) Symphony. Also that year, he was one of the MSO soloists in Frank Martin's Concerto for Seven Winds. He also has done some solo performances as part of his doctoral studies at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Wells applies his knowledge of the trombone not only to performance but to educating others. He served as an adjunct member of the Towson (Md.) University faculty, as well as assistant professor of trombone at the University of Kansas. He has been an assistant professor of trombone at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va., since September.

Wells, 45, started playing trombone in the fifth grade because his best friend took it up. When he was about 10, he heard a recording of jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson and was hooked, though he has never been much into playing jazz.

"I wasn't ever particularly good at improvisation," Wells said. "I don't pretend to be a jazz musician."

While studying for his bachelor's degree at Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, he performed frequently with Pro Musica Rara and the Baltimore Symphony. He described himself as a "one-trick pony" because he has always focused his energy on the trombone, not learning how to play other instruments.

Wells said he is excited about showcasing his instrument alone in front of the orchestra.

"I feel really lucky to get to do this," Wells said. "I love playing chamber music. I'm certainly going to have a gas doing the concerto."

If you go:

Maryland Symphony Orchestra

featuring principal trombone Wayne Wells, a MasterWorks Series performance featuring Galnta Dances by Zoltn Kodly, Concerto for Trombone by Henri Tomasi and Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90, by Johannes Brahms

Saturday, Nov. 16, 8 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m.

The Maryland Theatre

21 S. Potomac St.


Prelude, a pre-concert discussion with MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze, begins one hour before each concert.

Tickets cost $12 to $50 and are available at the symphony box office, 13 S. Potomac St., or by calling 301-797-4000.

For information, call 301-797-4000 or go to on the Web.

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