“I’d rather be lucky than good” is not an expression you are likely to hear from Jeremy Wilson, the 29-year old trombonist and University of Tennessee alumnus who is now in his fourth season as the second trombonist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. Clearly, Wilson has been both lucky and extremely good. But his kind of luck has meant having the right preparation, as well as the right ability, when opportunity pounded quite loudly on his door.
Originally from McMinnville, Wilson began the trombone at age 11, later studying with Tom Lundberg as a teenager in Nashville. As a undergraduate in the UT School of Music, he became a student of now-retired UT professor Don Hough and quickly made a name for himself. Between 2003 and 2006, he won the Eastern Trombone Workshop’s annual National Classical Solo Competition four times. He also threw himself into the usual ensemble work; Wilson played in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band as well as the trombone choir and the Tennessee Trombonery. After graduation with dual bachelor’s degrees in music education and trombone performance in 2005, Wilson headed to the University of North Texas to enter their master’s program. But fate soon took him on another path.
Ian Bousfield, the principal trombone with the Vienna Philharmonic, had heard a CD that Wilson had submitted for an International Trombone Association competition, was impressed, and subsequently invited him to audition for the open trombone position with his orchestra. Against a field of 17 international competitors, Wilson won the position in his first-ever major orchestral audition and joined the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in 2007. In October of 2010, Wilson became one of the few Americans ever to have been made a full member of the Society of the Wiener Philharmoniker and is currently the only American in either orchestra.
Wilson has returned to Knoxville this week as the featured guest performer for the UT Trombone Symposium, a series of lectures, demonstrations, classes, and performances open to the public. Among the performances will be a concert with the UT Trombone Choir and the UT Wind Ensemble on Thursday evening at UT’s James R. Cox Auditorium, and a solo recital (assisted by pianist Judith Bible) on Friday evening.
The final big event of trombone week takes place on Saturday evening with Wilson’s appearance with the UT Symphony Orchestra in a concert Maestro James Fellenbaum has titled “Celebration With Jeremy Wilson.” This concert will offer works from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, with Wilson being the featured soloist in Danish composer Launy Grøndahl’s 1924 work Concerto for Trombone.
To emphasize the Viennese connection, Fellenbaum has included two works on the program from composers who spent notable years working in Vienna: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johannes Brahms. The concert will open with the Overture to The Magic Flute, one of Mozart’s last works.
The Brahms work on the second half of the program is one that Fellenbaum is anxious for the orchestra to play and also one that he is excited for audiences to hear: the Symphony No. 1 in C minor from 1876. To conclude the concert the orchestra will offer Berlioz’ “Hungarian March” from The Damnation of Faust. For these works, concertgoers with a sharp eye might just spot Wilson there in his familiar back-row spot in the orchestra, right there in the trombone section. I understand the view is great from there.