The Woman Behind the Trombone, Principal Trombonist Donna Parkes

April 12, 2019

If you had the opportunity to attend a performance of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony during the 2018 season, you would remember the unrelenting, forceful trombone line Adams wrote to depict Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project. The woman behind the trombone, CMF principal trombonist Donna Parkes, is a powerhouse in her own right and has led the CMF low brass section since her 2009 appointment as principal trombonist.

Hailing from Australia’s capital city of Canberra, Donna began her trombone studies at the age of nine, and by age twelve was accepted on scholarship to the city’s prestigious music academy. As a young professional, Donna was awarded opportunities to perform with several fine ensembles such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Australia Opera and Ballet Orchestra but quickly came to realize performing opportunities were scarce in her homeland. Inspired by the illustrious brass sections of America’s New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, Donna was determined to make the move.

Donna was offered a position with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and studied with Charles Vernon of the famed Chicago Symphony brass section. Within a few years, she was offered a position in the New World Symphony (Miami, FL). Both the Civic and New World are prestigious “training orchestras” revered for their prominent mentors and successful alumni. Surrounded by musical excellence and under the batons of maestros Barenboim, Boulez, Rostropovich and Tilson Thomas, Donna began to achieve a level of music-making that she had only dreamed of attaining. Taking note of her burgeoning talent, the Virginia Symphony offered Donna a full-time position. Soon after, at the request of Michael Tilson-Thomas himself, Donna replaced a member of the San Francisco Symphony trombone section while on sabbatical.

Today, Donna holds the principal trombone position with the Louisville Symphony (KY). Her performance abilities have taken her across the world as she’s concertized with many of the world’s top orchestra including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony, National Symphony, Baltimore Symphony as well as the Marlboro Festival and Grand Teton Festival orchestras.

Q & A with Donna Parkes

Q: What has drawn you to become/remain a member of the CMF orchestra?

A: Initially I came to audition for CMF in Boulder because I heard it was a fantastic orchestra. When I saw the town and the surrounding mountains I decided I had to win the audition! I hiked Royal Arch right after playing the audition and fell in love with Boulder right then and there. The CMF orchestra has become my summer family over the years. Over the ten years I have performed with CMF I have developed meaningful relationships with many people in the community surrounding this festival. I love reconnecting with my friends from across the country and sharing both the stage and our summer adventures. Hiking has become a passion and every chance we get, musicians gather to adventure in the gorgeous Colorado outdoors. The level of the musicianship and intensity with which the CMF orchestra creates music is fantastic. To play with people you care about in a stunning environment means there is only one place I plan on being each summer!

Q: What about the 2019 season are you most excited about?

A: Repertoire the CMF orchestra plays is always exciting and there is plenty of it as we perform many great works each season. I love having the chance to play fantastic works with this orchestra but this year is particularly special for me with the upcoming 2019 season. Maestro Oundjian has programmed one of the most incredible pieces in the repertoire for a trombonist to play – Mahler’s third symphony. This work has an amazing role for the trombone – it is a chance to really show artistry and character in a solo capacity which does not happen that often for trombonists. I can’t wait for the opportunity to perform it with the CMF orchestra under the baton of such a great conductor.

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