written by Sason Bishope Parry
The SF Symphony is one of San Francisco’s musical treasures that embodies traditional and classical music first and foremost. In recent years, the symphony has evolved to showcase and encompass a wide variety of modern music as well from new age conductors, to musicians performing 20th-century bodies of work to recent shows that have included singer-songwriter Seal. Special events like the exciting and experimental, SoundBox series, have also looked to attract a younger audience where music and sensory overload take place on a late night, out of the box-setting.
One fine musician and composer that fits the symphonies new mold is revered trombone player Timothy Higgins, who hails from Houston, Texas and made his SF symphony debut in 2008, being appointed to the position of principle Trombone player by the great Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT). Tim studied music at Northwestern University and has multiple accolades performing with symphonies all over the country. Given such a busy and rewarding schedule, most would be content, but Tim’s aspirations go beyond just performing with the Orchestra, he is also a sought-after composer, writing and arranging pieces for CT# Trombone quartet, National Brass Quintet, The San Francisco Conservatory of Music Brass Ensemble and was the sole arranger of the National Brass Ensemble’s “Gabrieli”.
Tim is also a music teacher, passing on his talents in master-classes locally and Internationally and has won multiple Trombone awards and competitions.
On March 15, 16 & 17th Tim will be showcasing his Trombone talents alongside the rest of the SFS brass section when the SF Symphony performs Copland’s symphony number 3 amongst other numbers.
Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas will be conducting what will surely be an epic and exciting night of music. Copland 3 has been called, “The Great American Symphony” being completed by American composer Aaron Copland in 1946 just after World War II and Copland himself refers to it as an end- of – war piece. The composition, one of the composers longest pieces of work, was greeted warmly at its premiere and it received the New York Music Critics Circle Prize as the best orchestral work by an American composer played during the 1946-47 season.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Tim Higgins about his musical work, the SF Symphony and also the upcoming Copland 3.
Sason Bishope Parry: How is life treating you in general and in music?
Tim Higgins: Life is very good! Living in SF is a thrill, and being part of a world-class orchestra every week is a dream come true!
SBP: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into music?
TH: I grew up in Houston, TX and moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern for music. After NU, I moved to DC for three years to freelance before being appointed as principal trombone of the SFS. My parents had all of us kids play the piano when we were younger, and I started at age ten. I was hooked on music ever since.
SBP: Why classical? Did you always want to have a career in music?
TH: Classical music was at the heart of my lessons on piano and trombone. I was always surrounded by it. As I grew up, I felt a connection with the wide range of emotions expressed through the repertoire. It seemed richer and more honest than pop music, at least to me. I chose to pursue music while in high school when I realized I was good at my instrument and enjoyed performing. It seemed like a natural progression in my life.
SBP: You were appointed by music director Michael Tilson Thomas to principal Trombone in 2008, what does that mean and how did that come about?
TH: I auditioned for the position when it was posted back in 2007. The last time my chair was vacant was in 1973. I began playing in the orchestra at age 26, and I was the youngest player in the orchestra at that time. It was pretty terrifying!
SBP: Give us some of your histories with the SF Symphony and what you love most about playing with this orchestra?
TH: Among American orchestras, SFS has a unique sound. During the Blomstedt’s era, the orchestra adopted a brandished European sound. The orchestra played with precision and subtlety. When MTT joined the orchestra, it was like lighting an expressive firecracker. The orchestra plays with an incredible vibrancy and enthusiasm, while still maintaining its previous precision. This city is lucky to have such a great orchestra.
SBP: Do you do solo numbers with the SF Symphony as well and if so, what do you enjoy more playing with the orchestra or solo?
TH: There are numerous solos written into the orchestra repertoire, some of which are happening this season. Two of my favorites are Sibelius’ 7th Symphony and Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Sibelius wrote a glorious and expansive solo, and Mahler’s solo is pained, reflective, and mournful. Both are rich with expression.
SBP: Describe the feeling you get every time you step on stage at Davies Symphony Hall?
TH: Depending on the piece, anything from pride to terror! Each night is different, and it depends on what a composer expressed in any given piece. I feel the oppression and isolation in Shostakovich’s symphonies and the love and warmth in Brahms’ music. Each night, a performer must experience the composer’s world in order to express it to the audience. Every season of orchestral music can be quite a wild ride.
SBP: Your also a composer and arranger, tell us about some of your work?
TH: I compose mainly chamber music (music for a handful of instruments to be played without conductor). As a bass player, my works have generally been focused on brass and percussion instruments. I have a Sinfonietta for brass and percussion that has been performed by the Chicago Symphony brass section. It is a miniature symphony of 12 minutes duration. I have aspirations to write string quartets and woodwind chamber pieces as well. As an arranger, I arranged all the music for the National Brass Ensemble’s Gabrieli CD. I continue to arrange music of all composers for prominent ensembles (Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, LA Philharmonic, and our own SFS).
SBP: The SF Symphony will be doing an epic 3-night performance of Copland 3 which has been called the Great American Symphony, do you agree and why?
TH: Copland’s music has been associated with the “American sound” for quite some time, and you can hear his influence on movie, tv, and commercial music even today. His 3rd symphony explores many aspects of the American spirit: hope, triumph, playfulness, struggle, etc. This piece has lighthearted moments and moments of deep.
SBP: Michael Tilson Thomas is known for his commitment to programming American music. Is there anything that stands out to you in his approach to conducting American works, such as Copland’s Third Symphony?
TH: It is very easy for this work to turn into a marching band contest in the brass section! Luckily, MTT is bringing lyricism and gentle/kind expression to the piece. The performance will sound very intimate and personal.
SBP: Whats next for Tim Higgins and also the SF Symphony?
TH: Whatever the world has to offer! I will continue to compose for whatever opportunity arises, and look forward to what the orchestra programs for my instrument.
Copland Symphony 3 takes place March 15, 16 & 17 2018 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco at 8 pm each night.
Tickets for Copland are available at:
For more info on the SF Symphony go to: www.sfsymphony.org