Thursday, October 6,2011:Well? Did He?

Illustration: The mouthpiece for a tenor trombone

Well? Did He?

Did solo trombonist Jiří Novotný play The Frog in full frog costume, as some musicians have done? Mr Novotný took center stage for his solo as part of the program featuring Czech masters, Sun, Oct 2 in the Prague Symphony Orchestra’s Family Concert series.

And he wasn’t wearing a frog costume.

He tells Opus Osm that he didn’t need to. Judging by the little girl sitting in the front row, he was right. Her face lit up with smiles like it was Christmas, the moment she heard the first soulful “wah-wah” of Mr Novotný’s virtuoso trombone playing.

“You know – The Frog is still a composition even if various props are used to help complete the atmosphere,” he says. “It’s a complete composition, so nothing more is needed.”

He makes an important point, as a kind of unofficial, positive mouthpiece [Czech: mluvčí] for this trombone music: “It’s a work which sparks children’s imagination significantly better and more realistically than any costume.”

Composer Václav Trojan (1907-1983) was best known for his film music, especially scores accompanying popular animated puppet movies by director Jiří Trnka. “Václav Trojan had great musical range,” Mr Novotný tells us. “He loved jazz, but also wrote a children’s fairy tale opera, Kolotoč.”

Trojan was working during the prime Socialism years, and was one of the people who didn’t accept the regime, the symphony trombonist says. “So it’s very fortunate that he could work under the protective wing of Jiří Trnka’s film studio where he could freely fulfill his talent, and also where he could create more and more music for various films and the theatre.”

A Little Frog Irony

Mr Novotný says The Frog is “a real jewel” from this era (1948). He recalls the first time he heard it, sometime in the 1970s, played on television by Professor Zdeněk Půlec. Ironically, půlec is the Czech word for tadpole.

Jiří Novotný

“His masterful playing impressed an entire generation of trombonists,” he explains, “so always, when I play this composition for children I think of this memory. He was an extraordinary human being and musician.”

Mr Novotný clearly has inherited extraordinary musicianship and a great love for the trombone, which was obvious from the entire range of frog emotions – from sadness to irony to delight – he pulled Sunday from the shiny metal instrument with the long, sliding tube like a giant paper clip.

“The trombone is a wind instrument which requires – like every human activity – a lot of talent, work, and effort,” he says. “If someone decides to learn to play it, he will give his whole heart to it. And he will experience the beauty and nobility of this instrument which is irreplaceable for any composer who wants to express the drama of sadness or the joy of victory.” – oo

– Mary Matz

About the Family Concert series: The next program in the Prague Symphony Orchestra’s series is scheduled for Nov 27 and will feature works for full orchestra by Dvořák, Fišer, and Britten.

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