Guest artist, faculty showcase competent collaboration
Where some musicians rely on cutthroat competition to propel to the top, the trombone collegiate community of Michigan relies, instead, on cooperation – this being culminated in a joint recital, held yesterday in the Cook-Dewitt Center on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus.
The recital featured Ava Ordman, an associate professor of trombone at the Michigan State University College of Music and Mark Williams, associate professor of trombone at GVSU, collaborating with Derek Polischuk, associate professor of piano at MSU and Helen Marlais, associate professor of piano pedagogy at GVSU.
“(Ordman) has an outstanding reputation as a performer and a teacher, and she has strong ties to the Grand Rapids area,” Williams said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in music performance and a master’s of music from the University of Michigan, Ordman was the principle trombonist of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and an adjunct professor at GVSU for 24 years. She has also received numerous performance accolades and opportunities, including a solo debut at Carnegie Hall in NYC with the American Symphony Orchestra. She has since affiliated with MSU as an associate professor of trombone, and as a chair of the brass and percussion areas.
Ordman and Williams met through mutual friends in the GRSO.
Williams said the idea for a joint recital was the brainchild of Ordman. For the past two years, she’s asked MSU alumni what professional trombonists live in Michigan and would share a recital with her.
“Mark is a great guy and terrific trombonist,” Ordman said. “But I also thought it would be particularly good because we both teach at universities and could perform on both campuses.”
Williams and Ordman have worked together before. As colleagues, they frequently communicate, inviting each other’s students to master classes held at both MSU and GVSU. Through this communication, their students gain exposure to a varied group of professionals.
Following the success of last night’s recital, the same program will be presented at MSU this weekend.
The recital was divided into two parts, separated by an intermission, with the first half featuring Ordman and Williams playing solo pieces, accompanied by Polischuk and Marlais respectively. Ordman played several movements from “Concerto,” written by Ida Gotkovsky. Williams then followed with movements from Gustav Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer,” transposed by Eric Carlson.
The varied repertoire left the recital without a definitive theme, though the music performed was largely of the 21st Century.
“These are works we enjoy performing,” Williams said.
The second half of the recital opened again with solos by both performers and concluded with Ordman and Williams playing three unaccompanied pieces, “Three Bipperies” by Lowell Shaw, originally written for the French horn.
The way both performers playfully interacted throughout these short and lighthearted pieces showed off their professional relationship – one of mutual respect and enjoyment in playing together.
The recital was a comprehensive demonstration of both players’ skills, showcasing multiple techniques, including multiphonics, where a player hums or sings over a low note that they play. Through their use of tightly controlled dynamics and focused resonance, it was clear this was the recital of seasoned professionals.
Chris Petersmark, a senior music education major, was well aware of Ordman’s stellar performance reputation before the recital. He expressed his excitement to see her work with his teacher, Williams.
“She’s an absolutely flawless trombone player,” Petersmark said. “It was two amazing players getting together and putting on an epic concert.”
Seeing her perform live was an excellent model as Petersmark grows in his own technique as a trombone player.
“I’m at a stage in my trombone playing where I’m developing as a player. Seeing (Ordman and Williams) play together helped me in my musicality,” Petersmark said.
As a teacher, Williams believes in the importance of demonstrating one’s capabilities in recitals such as these.
“Any opportunity to model performance concepts for students is a vital part in the pedagogy of teaching instruments,” Williams said.
This recital was a demonstration of that competency.
“Ava’s a consummate professional,” Williams said. “It’s always exciting to have the opportunity to collaborate with other professional musicians, such as (Ordman), Dr. Polischuk and Dr. Marlais.”
Ordman was excited to perform at GVSU again and to be back on the Allendale Campus.
“I performed in (the) new chapel a few years ago for the memorial recital for Robert Shechtman and did a solo recital long, long ago in Louis Armstrong Theater” she said. “The campus has really evolved since my time here as adjunct faculty way back in the 1970’s. It’s beautiful.”
After watching, Petersmark summed up the performance perfectly with, “I need to go practice now.”