There is no telling how you first may have encountered the incredible musician Ralph Sauer. It may have been in print, as Sauer is among the most prominent transcribers and arrangers for brass instruments-more than 275 offerings and counting. Or perhaps your first encounter was with Sauer in his role as trombone section leader for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he served as principal trombonist and more than an occasional soloist from 1974-2006. A teacher of numerous students, including Christian Linberg, at institutes and workshops, festivals and universities, Sauer himself was a student of the legendary Emory Remington at the Eastman School of Music. The virtuoso trombonist is a founding member of Summit Brass, and recorded an album of orchestral excerpt demonstrations and performance tips for the tenor trombonists. Please join “1385” tm in its maiden voyage as a short, written interview series with some of today’s most outstanding musicians who happen to play tenor trombone. “1385 AD” scratches the surface with Ralph Sauer…enjoy!
1. Which are your three or four favorite tenor trombone solos? (1st or 2nd..). How would you personify or depict each-& how does this inform your phrasing?
a.) The Mahler 3rd Symphony has to be at the top of the list because of its length and exposed passages. I see the louder sections as an oration by the god Pan.
b.) Ravel’s Bolero is on the list because of its popularity and difficulty. I think of Tommy Dorsey and cross my fingers!!!
c.) Maybe a strange choice, but Sibelius 7th Symphony is one of my favorites. The symphony (in one movement) climbs three mountains–each one higher than the previous one. The trombone plays a solo role in each of these climaxes. It’s a very thick orchestration at those peaks, over which the trombone has to soar without sounding harsh.
2. Only Maurice Andre, and perhaps a handful of other brass players have reached a level occupied by dozens, if not hundreds, of soloists on piano, violin or cello. What are we brass soloists missing?
But there are some brass players today who perform at the highest level. I won’t try to name them, because I might inadvertently leave someone out. Those top musicians have something the rest of the pack doesn’t have. It’s not enough to play in tune, in time, and with a great sound. The top players have a fourth dimension. This includes a complete understanding of the composer’s style, and the ability to go beyond just playing all the notes perfectly. Their phrasing is natural and appropriate; their rhythmic sense is elastic, but never distorted; and they can vary their tone quality to suit the style of the music. They are natural communicators.
During most of my career, I used one instrument–the Elkhart Conn 8H. It was able to do anything I wanted it to do. In the ’80s, I started using the alto trombone for everything that was appropriate–Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, etc. For the last 5 or 6 years of my time in Los Angeles, I switched to a 525/547 bore slide that gave me the best of both worlds–a large bore sound with a medium bore effort. Very few people realized I was playing on a slightly smaller setup. In fact, I received the most compliments from non-brass players after switching.
4. What is you approach to playing in the upper register?
The upper register requires embouchure strength, less volume of air, and faster air. I focus the air stream farther and farther down as the notes get higher.
5. What is your secret to a great legato?
I use the sound of a perfect natural slur as my model for all other slurs. Perfect legato on the trombone requires exact coordination of slide and tongue. The slide is not early or late–it is on time. How each individual thinks about achieving this can vary. Some people think of the slide being ahead. Others achieve good results by waiting in each position. A third way of thinking would be not to move the slide until the tongue says to move. Sloppy legato is usually the result of the slide moving too soon.
6. Which classical soloists inspire you, and why?
Anne-Sophie Mutter is at the top of my list of current performers, but I have drawn great inspiration from Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, etc. Why? Because their performances always sound fresh and vital. I can listen to them over and over and hear new things every time.
7. As principal trombonist, how do you differentiate leading versus accompanying? Are there times you must accompany in a leading fashion?
Fitting into and blending in a symphony orchestra is not leading or accompanying. It’s knowing when to be more prominent and when to be transparent. For example, a fortissimo is not as loud as you can play. Loudness depends on many factors: size of hall, musical time-period; importance of your part; conductor preference, etc.
8. Why are the cello suites so special? Why do you and other trombonists seem to have such a strong affinity for them?
I was introduced to the Bach Cello Suites by my teacher Emory Remington. I think of them as “private music” rather than “public music.”
They are important pedagogically, of course. But more importantly, they give us a chance to play the music of the great master on our beloved instrument.
c. 2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved www.davidbrubeck.com
Photo courtesy of Ralph Sauer
Interested in more great Interviews?
Charlie VernonJames MarkeyChris BrubeckDoug YeoJeremy MorrowTom EverettGerry Pagano Ben van DijkRandall HawesDenson Paul PollardThomas MattaFred Sturm Bill ReichenbachMassimo Pirone Erik Van Lier Jennifer WhartonMatyas VeerStefan Schulz