At most trombone auditions, one can expect to see excerpts from Rossini’s overture to La Gazza Ladra and/or William Tell. These excerpts consist of extended fast articulated passages and are a good indicator of a candidate’s technical ability. However, far too often, people who can play the fast runs well still are eliminated because of their performance on these excerpts.
The reason is quite simple: these excerpts are not about playing loud or fast (despite the fact that they are loud and fast). They’re about playing loud and fast while maintaining a light, humorous, quirky style appropriate to early 19th century Italian opera. If you play every note very loud with a great articulation, you’ve completely overlooked half of the requirements of the excerpt and demonstrated musical immaturity.
In determining an appropriate style for these excerpts, the first important fact to notice is that they are not trombone soli lines. In both overtures, they are doubled in the bassoons. During this time period, the trombone was still an extremely recent addition to the symphony orchestra, and was in fact more related to the Baroque sackbut than anything like our modern orchestral instruments. The instruments were smaller, brighter, and quieter. Bassoons were well established in the orchestra, so it seems likely to me that at least conceptually, this would have been seen as a bassoon line with added trombone color. Given that, consider how the bassoons play this excerpt, and keep that model in your head. The staccatos are short and biting, the articulations are clean and bouncy, and the volume never exceeds a comfortable level.
It is worth pointing out a few specific details in each excerpt. In La Gazza Ladra, make sure not to take this too fast; it is not as fast as William Tell. When choosing a tempo, remember the sixteenth notes in the woodwinds. These are not pitchless flourishes, but rather clean scales in which each note speaks clearly. Take a tempo slow enough to allow for that motive. For me, I find the right tempo is the one that I can feel equally well in one beat to the bar or three. It’s probably a little above 60 bpm for the bar, but that’s not a helpful number since you can’t take a metronome into the audition room.
The slower notes are at least as important for showing style as the eighth notes. Make sure the three quarter notes before each run build to the top note; if there is no direction, there’s no interest. In the first excerpt, if you are asked to play the octave quarter notes following the runs, make sure they stay in time, and make sure they stay light. How long you want them to be is an interpretive decision, but each note must taper elegantly in order not to come out sounding like Bruckner.
In William Tell, count the long note very very carefully. While you’re playing fast notes, it’s easy to keep your tempo steady. When you hit the long note and are desperate for your next breath, it’s rather common to lose track of time. I like to turn on my metronome and feel each click as an afterbeat. It forces me to subdivide the long note and stay in time all the way through the breath and the following run. It also helps me time my breath; I like to end the note right on the last afterbeat, so I have a full quarter note to breathe before I have to be set for the next bar.
The ending passage of the excerpt is easier to produce, so often it gets overlooked. Because it is easier to produce, however, I think it’s an ideal time to model style. Crescendo down the short run, put an accent on the first quarter note of the next bar, and diminuendo away from the second one (even if you’re playing the bass part and have to jump down the octave). Keep subdividing, because there will be a tendency to rush as the technical demands decrease!