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Schubert on the Trombone

Among his colleagues, the unclassifiable bass trombonist David Taylor is both famous and notorious. I happen to have known him for something like 25 years. We occasionally play together in my living room. David sight-reads Beethoven cello sonatas and German Lieder. One day, I introduced him to the harrowing late songs of Franz Schubert. I though they might be a fit for the Taylor temperament. They were. He has since made Schubert’s “Der Doppelgänger” a signature piece, performing it on home turf in cities like Vienna, Linz, Zurich, Innsbruck, and Salzburg (the “Anti-Music Festival”). In general, he finds that Europeans are more open to his type of music-making than Americans. “The first time I played Schubert in Europe was at the Musikverein in Vienna, with the Tonkünstler Orchestra. I was a little afraid to hand out my arrangement of ‘Doppelgänger’ to the players. At first they were skeptical, especially when I began playing it. Then the smiles broke out.”
Our new century has produced, in ever growing numbers, “post-classical” musicians who migrate serendipitously among musical worlds once treated as distinct. In rare cases, they are restless virtuosos who concomitantly explore new instrumental possibilities and new repertoire. Taylor is a questing post-classical musician of this type: edgy, flamboyant, reckless, experimental.
While studying at Juilliard, Taylor was a member of Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony, and occasionally played with the New York Philharmonic under Pierre Boulez. Shortly after, he joined the Thad Jones Jazz band. He recorded with Duke Ellington and with the Rolling Stones. He has since been closely associated with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Gil Evans Big Band, and the Charles Mingus Big Band. He has performed chamber music with Winton Marsalis, Yo-Yo Ma, and Itzhak Perlman. Alan Hohvanness, Charles Wuorinen, George Perle, and Frederic Rzewski – important composers from all points of the compass — have all composed for him.
With Post-Classical Ensemble, in DC, Taylor two seasons ago perforemd three late Schubert songs – “Doppelganger,” “Die Nebensonnen,” and “Der Leiermann” — with instrumental accompaniment, in juxtaposition with performances of the songs as Schubert wrote them, with the baritone William Sharp. Taylor sang “Nebensonnen” (in English) in a rough whisper somewhat akin to what passes for singing by Tom Waits: an audacious tour de force. But it was “Doppelganger” (under a red spotlight in a pitch-black auditorium) that most transfixed and amazed.
Next season, with Post-Classical Ensemble, Taylor will premiere his Arpeggione Concerto for bass trombone and strings – a commissioned arrangement of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata – on a program called “Schubert Uncorked.” A few weeks ago, at the Kennedy Center, he offered another “Doppelganger” with Post-Classical Ensemble, this time accompanied by six double basses. The performance was filmed — see what you think. Here’s the text (Heinrich Heine) in English translation:
Still is the night, the streets are at peace.
In this house lived my darling;
she has long since left the city,
But the house still stands in the same place.
A man stands there, gazing up,
Wringing his hands in torment;
I shudder when I see his face —
The moon shows me my own form.
You doppelganger, you pale companion!
Why do you affect the anguish of love
Which racked me in this very place,
So many a night, in times past?

an ArtsJournal blog