National Brass Ensemble

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Burgerbob
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National Brass Ensemble

Post by Burgerbob »

Managed to catch the concert last night.

Wow.

I'll write more later on a real keyboard.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/Ap3pKmqT7vXG3WHo8
fsgazda
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Re: National Brass Ensemble

Post by fsgazda »

I'm jealous. The documentary on their Gabrieli recording is great.

Frank S. Gazda
Professor of Music, Delaware State University
Freelance Low Brass, Mid-Atlantic
www.firststatebrass.com
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Burgerbob
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Re: National Brass Ensemble

Post by Burgerbob »

Alright, back from 13 hours of driving.

I have many thoughts about this performance, as you might expect.

First of all, the sounds. I expect nothing less than stellar brass sounds from a group of this caliber, and guess what? they delivered on all fronts. The only problem is hearing it so much that it sounds normal, like it's the average sound you should hear... which will be very disappointing for my ears in the next week.

Just for reference, the trombone section was Tim Higgins, Toby Oft, Joe Alessi, Randy Hawes, and Jim Markey. Yes, 3 principals and two of the best bass trombonists alive. (and yes, the principals were great at playing inside parts)

The ensemble playing. This was the most standout aspect of the ensemble, I think. It should be obvious- you're talking about the principal brass from the top tier of American orchestras, of course they have amazing ears, time, musical ability. But I think this is the hardest one to nail down, even at a high level. I've heard all-star ensembles of different shapes, including career orchestras have much, much worse ensemble feeling than this. The way they could simply start and end notes at EXACTLY the correct time. The way dynamics were not simply loud, soft, thoughtless- they were immaculate and purposeful. An audience member could hear exactly what was supposed to be happening at any given moment. And that range of dynamics was massive, from pitch-centered ultra softs to earsplitting highs (hello, Michael Sachs!!!). I feel like there are similar groups of musicians that could produce similar sounds, pull off similar repertoire, but perhaps not achieve that level of ensemble. It reminds me of the Concertgebouw brass section recordings, which always have a sparkle to them that I don't hear often from larger brass ensembles.

The music itself:

Vienna Fanfare, a standard. Played very well, just always disappointed there aren't more high Bbs in the horns. Oh well. Good warmup for the ensemble so good programming.

New piece by a young composer, Jonathan Bingham. Very cool use of brass. I find similar threads to the John Williams they played in 2014 in some of the colors evoked, but definitely his own sound and thoughts. Little solos sprinkled throughout in many instruments. Nothing devilishly hard except in the top trumpet parts, I think, but it's hard to tell with musicians of this caliber! I enjoyed this.

A premiere of a work by Arturo Sandoval. The less said the better: I will leave you with the image of a stellar, world class performance of a high school band piece.

Tim Higgins' arrangement/transcription of the Ring Cycle, a full 70 minutes of Wagner was the second half. Well, for one, if you weren't sure about the Sandoval piece before the intermission, your mind was made up by this. Tim wanted to hit all the major moments throughout the Ring Cycle, so he put in many of the choicest moments of the 14 hours available. To augment and fill in the gaps created by the brass, organ accompanied in a few of the movements. This has got to be one of the hardest works ever attempted by a brass ensemble- 70 minutes of nearly non-stop face time, covering every part in the orchestra for all these big Wagner moments. I think the arrangement and ensemble pulled it off through pure determination and the simple fact that Wagner is actually a pretty good composer. Many of those insane ensemble moments I mentioned above were in this work- some movements ending on a staccato, tutti chord that was perfectly placed and played, on a level I have heard only a few times in the past. The trumpet section trying their hardest to vibrate my inner ear out of existence with pure tone. Markey manhandling a contra for 70 minutes deserves an award of its own, actually. Except for a few moments of me zoning out in a couple of the slow bits (hello, 7 hour drive), I thoroughly enjoyed this.

However...

In my opinion, and I mean this with all due respect, Tim, I think Wagner was spot on with his original orchestration. I love a brass ensemble, and I do like transcriptions of previous works (including this one), but the real thing is almost always the best in the end. What this performance made me want was a great opera orchestra playing the same arrangement. Or maybe even a full 14 hour Ring Cycle peforma... no, I don't quite need that. But I think you know what I mean- the way that the orchestral brass and winds augment the string section is something that is not replaced by more of the same instrument, no matter what it is. Instead, I'd love to hear Wagner-level composing for brass ensemble (like the 2nd piece on the program).

Oh, and a National Woodwind Choir would be a really cool project, too.
jeremyesmith
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Re: National Brass Ensemble

Post by jeremyesmith »

Jealous indeed!

Thanks for the thorough write-up!
Jeremy Smith
Founder/Editor - www.lastrowmusic.com
Bass Trombone - Huntington Symphony Orchestra
Low Brass Professor - Ohio Wesleyan University, Kenyon College, Mount Vernon Nazarene University
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EdwardSolomon
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Re: National Brass Ensemble

Post by EdwardSolomon »

If you want to hear Wagner-level composing for brass ensemble, then you should definitely investigate the music by Paul Gilson for La fanfare Wagnérienne.

From Doug Yeo's review in the HBS Journal:

"Paul Gilson (1865–1942) composed six pieces (or seven, depending on how one counts them) for the “Fanfare Wagnérienne”, a brass and percussion ensemble organized in 1894 at the Brussels Conservatory by Henri Séha. The ensemble’s instrumentation was patterned after the brass scoring of Richard Wagner in his Das Ring der Nibelungen and called for trumpets (including bass trumpet), horns, Wagner tubas, trombones (including contrabass trombone) tubas (including contrabass tuba) and percussion. These are important, substantial pieces, the longest of which, Variations Symphoniques (1903) clocks in at about 20 minutes."

https://www.historicbrass.org/21-featur ... eric-crees
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