Trombonist Jeremy Wilson almost canceled the terrific recital he presented Sunday night at the Blair School of Music’s Turner Hall. Wilson’s longtime friend and mentor, University of North Texas trombone professor Vern Kagarice, died two weeks ago after a long illness. A celebratory service for the revered trombonist was scheduled for the same day as Wilson’s recital.
“The last thing Vern would have wanted was for me to cancel a performance because of him,” Wilson said Sunday night in an emotional statement. “That’s just the kind of musician he was.”
So instead of canceling the concert, Wilson dedicated the program to his former professor. No doubt, Kagarice would have approved of that decision and been pleased with its results. Wilson played brilliantly. And his program, presented with pianist Mark Wait, included some of the most original and demanding works in the trombone repertory.
Richard Peaslee’s Arrows of Time proved to be an appealing opener. Originally composed as a concerto for trombonist Joseph Alessi and the New York Philharmonic, “Arrows” is a jazzy three-movement work that explores the trombone’s broad range. Wilson and Wait were spot-on, performing with color and rhythmic vitality. Wilson was especially impressive in the work’s long slow movement, which came across as a kind of soulful meditation.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Six Studies in English Folk Song was originally arranged for cello and piano, but it was just as effective on Trombone. Wilson and Wait performed these short and mostly slow songs with flexibility, making them sound like sweet, colorful improvisations.
Kazimierz Serocki’s three-movement Sonatina for Trombone and Piano was as lyrically pleasing as it was short – about eight minutes. Wilson and Wait tossed melodies back and forth with the spontaneity of two friends engaged in animated conversation. They reveled in the finale, which ended with a quicksilver glissando.
Hindemith’s Sonata for Trombone and Piano was surely the most substantial and demanding work on the program – the pianist gets an especially grueling workout. Wilson was pitch-perfect in this four-movement work, playing with warmth and a beautifully burnished tone. Wait rose to the occasion, playing blisteringly fast chords and octaves with seeming effortlessness.
Wilson was initially planning to end his concert with an arrangement of Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” but in light of his mentor’s recent passing that song seemed inappropriate. Instead, Blair senior lecturer in music literature Michael Hime read a deeply felt tribute to Kagarice.
The Blair Trombone Ensemble then played one of Kagarice’s favorite arrangements – Tara’s Theme from Gone with the Wind. The group – Sydney Allen, Sam Anderson, Chase Coffey, Brian Entwistle, Emma Gibson, Matt Herrmann, Isaac Johnson, Liam Long, Andrew Plassard and Josiah Williams – joined Wilson in a palpably emotional performance. The audience, as requested, sat in respectful silence until the players left the stage.
MIDDLE PHOTO: Vern and Jan Kagarice with Wilson at Carnegie Hall after a Vienna Philharmonic performance, March 2008.