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Beethoven's Eighth & Simon's Trombone Concerto

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Beethoven's Eighth & Simon's Trombone Concerto

Friday, May 5—Sunday, May 7, 2023

Friday, May 5—Sunday, May 7, 2023
Orchestra Hall
2 hours

Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony is one of his most jovial works, and contains some of the composer’s cleverest musical humor as well as bouncy dance rhythms with unexpected accents. Principal Trombone Kenneth Thompkins performs the world premiere of a concerto written for him by Carlos Simon, based on Underground Railroad conductor William Still’s account of the hardships and struggles of the enslaved seeking freedom at any cost. The program opens with Brahms’ imaginative variations on a majestic theme.


Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Troubled Water for Trombone and Orchestra (world premiere)
Symphony No. 8


Jader Bignamini


Jader Bignamini was introduced as the 18th music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in January 2020, commencing with the 2020–2021 season. His infectious passion and artistic excellence set the tone for the seasons ahead, creating extraordinary music and establishing a close relationship with the orchestra. A jazz aficionado, he has immersed himself in Detroit’s rich jazz culture and the influences of American music.

In December, Bignamini returned to Detroit to lead a triumphant performance of Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst, Strauss’s Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica.” He returned again in May 2021 to conduct four programs including performances with violinist Midori and pianist Orli Shaham.

A native of Crema, Italy, Bignamini studied at the Piacenza Music Conservatory and began his career as a musician (clarinet) with Orchestra Sinfonica La Verdi in Milan, later serving as the group’s resident conductor. Captivated by the operatic arias of legends like Mahler and Tchaikovsky, Jader explored their complexity and power, puzzling out the role that each instrument played in creating a larger-than-life sound. When he conducted his first professional concert at the age of 28, it didn’t feel like a departure, but an arrival.

In the years since, Bignamini has conducted some of the world’s most acclaimed orchestras and opera companies in venues across the globe including working with Riccardo Chailly on concerts of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony in 2013 and his concert debut at La Scala in 2015 for the opening season of La Verdi Orchestra. Recent highlights include debuts with the Houston, Dallas, and Minnesota symphonies; Osaka Philharmonic and Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo; with the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, and Dutch National Opera (Madama Butterfly); Bayerische Staatsoper (La Traviata); I Puritani in Montpellier for the Festival of Radio France; Traviata in Tokyo directed by Sofia Coppola; return engagements with Oper Frankfurt (La forza del destino) and Santa Fe Opera (La Bohème); Manon Lescaut at the Bolshoi; Traviata, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot at Arena of Verona; Il Trovatoreand Aida at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera; Madama Butterfly, I Puritani, and Manon Lescaut at Teatro Massimo in Palermo; Simon Boccanegra and La Forza del Destino at the Verdi Festival in Parma; Ciro in Babilonia at Rossini Opera Festival and La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Elisir d’amore at La Fenice in Venice.

When Bignamini leads an orchestra in symphonic repertoire, he conducts without a score, preferring to make direct eye contact with the musicians. He conducts from the heart, forging a profound connection with his musicians that shines through both onstage and off. He both embodies and exudes the excellence and enthusiasm that has long distinguished the DSO’s artistry.

Kenneth Thompkins


Kenneth Thompkins was appointed Principal Trombone of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra by Neeme Järvi. Prior to this appointment, he held positions in the Buffalo Philharmonic and The Florida Orchestra and performed with the New World Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. A former participant in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s African American Orchestra Fellowship program, he has served as a mentor to several orchestra fellows.

Thompkins has been invited to perform and conduct masterclasses at many music schools including the Curtis Institute of Music, the Mannes College of Music, the University of Michigan, and the Interlochen Arts Academy. An active chamber musician, Thompkins performs frequently in recitals and is a member of Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings. He has performed concertos with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and New World Symphony.

Thompkins has toured Europe with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He can be heard on recordings with the Detroit Chamber Winds, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. His solo trombone recording; Sonatas, Songs and Spirituals, features the music of Alec Wilder, Philip Wharton, Stephen A. Taylor, and William Grant Still. Sonatas, Songs and Spirituals is a 2018–2019 winner of The American Prize in Instrumental Performance. He has also contributed a chapter to The Brass Player's Cookbook: Creative Recipes for a Successful Performance.

Thompkins received his bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University studying with the late Frank Crisafulli of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and his master’s degree from Temple University studying with Eric Carlson of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

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The DSO brings Carlos Simon’s new work to life

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Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn – Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin (excerpt)

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