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Arts + CultureMusicSliding, and sipping, in style: Timothy Higgins debuts Trombone...

Sliding, and sipping, in style: Timothy Higgins debuts Trombone Concerto

SF Symphony's Principal Trombone—a passionate mixologist—turned frustration at limited pieces for his instrument into "alchemy."

When band directors came to Timothy Higgins‘ elementary school in Houston to demonstrate instruments, the flutist played “Star Wars.” 

“I thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” Higgins said. 

So, understandably, when he got to middle school, Higgins wanted to play the flute in the school band. Fatefully, he ended up with trombone, the only instrument left. 

Things have worked pretty well in the end for Higgins, now a teacher San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Northwestern University, and Principal Trombone of the San Francisco Symphony. On Thu/18-Sat/20, his “Trombone Concerto” will premiere at the Symphony

Higgins decided to start writing music a few years ago, after complaining about how few composers wrote music for his instrument and thinking he should give it a shot himself.  In January 2020, Michael Tilson Thomas, then the music director of the SF Symphony, asked him to write a concerto. (Like everything, the process was delayed by COVID.) 

Having the beloved and respected MTT ask him to write a piece was incredible, Higgins said. “It was thrilling, just unbelievable,” Higgins said. “It’s like hitting the lottery.”

The opportunity was too good to pass up even though Higgins and his wife were expecting their first child in a month. They talked about it, and decided he had to accept. He threw himself into getting as much done as possible and managed to write the entire 25-minute concerto in just three weeks. 

Higgins said he had no agenda in writing the piece other than to show the versatility of the trombone and explore where he was. And, not surprisingly, a lot of his feelings about becoming a parent came out.

“Much of my son is in the piece,” he said. “The excitement and anticipation and playfulness as well as a little bit of salt.” 

In a short profile video from the Symphony, Higgins reveals another passion besides the trombone— mixology. Every trombonist needs a hobby. He talks about going into a bar in his old neighborhood where the bartender told him some of the history of cocktails, and he became fascinated. 

“It’s like alchemy,” he said. “You get different liquors together and if you do it right, it’s delicious, and if you do it the wrong way, it’s terrible.”

Is it similar at all to playing the trombone? Just a little, he thinks in terms of getting the elements right. 

“With any drink, you need a balance and then all the flavor opens up,” he said. “It’s the same with writing a piece. If you get it right, the whole piece lights up. But when I hear a symphony, it’s not like I’m listening to it and going, ‘Oh, that’s a Manhattan.’” 


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