GOOD TO THE ‘BONE
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
Evanston resident and historical trombonist Paul Von Hoff has performed at a wide range of venues, from a spacious music hall in New York City to the cozy confines of a room at a local elementary school.
But if you think he’d wing it in front of fidgety youngsters and take the concert in front of unmoving and appreciative adults much more seriously, think again.
“I treat all opportunities to play music the same, because I want to make every performance special,” Von Hoff, 45, says. “The amount of attention I give to a musical presentation never varies.
“And I still get a little nervous before I play the trombone, no matter the size of the audience or the ages of the audience members.”
A native of San Antonio and a 1996 Northwestern University graduate, Von Hoff will serve as a guest artist of The Newberry Consort on September 24 (4 p.m.) at a North Shore venue that is smaller than a city auditorium and bigger than an elementary school’s theater space—St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston. He and 12 other musicians, including trombonist/The Newberry Consort Artistic Director Liza Malamut, will present “In the Castle of the Moon: The Music of Sophie Elisabeth, the Duchess of Brunswick- Luneburg.”
Others scheduled to perform are singers, violinists, a gambist, a theorbist, and an organist.
“Many have to fly in, so we’ll rehearse for an intense week the week before, and I don’t want the preparation to last a second less,” says Von Hoff, adding all of the artists during the week will spend two three-hour sessions, daily, in a room at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing, where he earned a Master of Music degree with a focus on orchestral studies.
Sophie Elisabeth (1613-1676) was a composer, poet, translator, arts patron, and impresario who transformed Lower Saxony into a thriving center for music and the humanities. The program features selections from more than a hundred surviving pieces, including strophic songs, instrumental sinfonias, dances, sacred concertos, and music she referred to as “song-ballets.”
The Newberry Consort—in its 37th season as a musical ensemble that brings together singers and instrumentalists of the highest caliber to create historically informed performances of music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque, and beyond— is thrilled to collaborate with Haymarket Opera Company to reintroduce Sophie Elisabeth’s musical works, many of which have never been performed in the United States.
“The music reflects the tragedies of the era,” Von Hoff says, referring to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in Europe. “But the audience will hear celebratory music, too, such as the duchess’s piece to mark her husband’s birthday. The first Golden Age of brass took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, when trombone music flourished. There’s loud trombone music and soft trombone music, the soft sounding super beautiful.
“The Newberry Consort events are narrative based, so concert attendees will get to feel the moments Sophie Elisabeth experienced, to step into another time,” he adds. “When the brass musicians go all out, it’ll be exciting, emotional. I’m hoping that the people, as they’re leaving the church after the concert, will talk about their favorite instrument and piece, all while feeling refreshed and energized.”
Von Hoff handled a trombone for the first time at the age of 11, thinking it would be an easy instrument to play. He found out rather quickly that it was not.
“It was the hardest instrument,” he recalls. “But, right away, I loved the sound and it was fun to learn. Music was taken seriously when I was a grade-schooler; we had band class every day. I later realized there was a huge world of music out there, deep and vast. There was so much to learn.
“I wanted to explore.”
In the summer before his senior year at Tom C. Clark High School in San Antonio, Von Hoff traveled north to attend a chamber music program held at what would become his undergrad home, Northwestern University.
Von Hoff taught music for three years in Nashville, Tennessee, while his wife, Carrie, attended law school at Vanderbilt University. She’s now serving as assistant VP, claims counsel manager at Zurich Insurance in Schaumburg. Paul and Carrie are ranked among the top 100 amateur wine reviewers in America on the online wine community Vivino.
They’re also the proud parents of three musicians—cellist Christopher, 17; violinist Chloe, 15; and harpsichordist Anna, 12.
Paul Von Hoff, a founding member of the modern brass quintet Gaudete Brass, has been an adjunct music professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, since 2008, the year before he bought a copy of a 1632 trombone that was made by a Swiss company.
Von Hoff found a teacher to help him understand the best way to approach the various challenges of playing the vintage brass.
“I remember thinking, when I started playing it, ‘Wow, this is a musical expression like I’d never felt before,’” says Von Hoff, the son of Arizonans Ann and Dan Von Hoff, a renowned oncologist who played the clarinet in high school. “It was like going from being in a family sedan for years to suddenly driving a sports car.”
Formed in 2004 and based in Evanston, Gaudete Brass has released four albums and given master classes at schools such as Juilliard and Eastman. It performs all over the U.S., with 10 more concerts scheduled for 2023.
It has also been active with the Evanston In-School Music Association (EISMA), a nonprofit arts and education organization that inspires elementary and middle school students.
Gaudete once enthralled schoolchildren at 29 concerts in a 30-day stretch.
“I’m constantly learning from Gaudete members Scott Tegge (tuba) and Bill Baxtresser (trumpet),” Von Hoff says. “And none of us hesitates to point out something that isn’t working. In music, there’s always more to learn—I love that. I will never stop trying to get better as a trombonist. I will always challenge myself.
“I find challenges fun.”
For more information about Paul Von Hoff, visit paulvonhoff.com. For more information about The Newberry Consort, and to purchase tickets for the concert “In the Castle of the Moon” and other performances, visit newberryconsort.org.