Wednesday morning, 24 June 2015 between 8:30 and 9:00 am, a free TROMBA-the Ultimate Plastic Trombone will be given away via drawing at the International Euphonium and Tuba Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
Thanks to the great folks at Tromba, the lucky winner in attendance will receive a black Tromba, two mouthpieces, a trombone stand, a padded trombone case, and a cleaning kit. Other prizes to be given away are a free copy of Introductory Stereograms A-M courtesy of Gordon Cherry at Cherry Classics, and a free 30 minute lesson with Dr. David Brubeck courtesy of www.davidbrubeck.comWinners to be selected by a random drawing of euphonium players present at warm-up. Must be in attendance to win. What euphonium player wouldn’t want to try out the trombone? It gives you more options of musical expression and even access to additional ensembles where euphoniums are sometimes not found. But who wants to shell out major bucks to learn a new double? Tormba-The Ultimate Plastic Trombone to the rescue. With ultra light, ultra colorful and ultra affordable trombones, exploring the slide and maybe even getting your foot in the door with a Soca band are suddenly within reach. Enjoy! c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
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The Rutter-Brubeck Duo is scheduled to perform at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida as part of the clinic’s innovative Arts & Medicine Program on Tuesday the 16th of June. The 4:00 pm performance is free and open to the public and scheduled to include “The Swan” by Sain-Saens, “Vocalise” by Rachmaninoff, “Cello Sonata in E minor” by Brahms, and the vocal works of Reynaldo Hahn, Chausson, Wolf, and Faure as well as Claude Debussy’s “Beau soir”
The duo will appear as part of the Distinguished Artist Series at the Clinic, for which they were the first artists to perform. This recital falls on the heels of a crowded and very well received concert by the duo at a private home in the Redlands.
The following week, Brubeck will present the first movement of the Brahms’ “Cello Sonata in E minor” and Debussy’s “Beau soir”, by invitation, at the International Euphonium and Tuba Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
Special guests at the Cleveland Clinic concert will include the Miami Dade College “Romero” Brass Quintet and the MDC Low Brass Quartet, who are also to be featured in Atlanta at the International Euphonium and Tuba Conference.
c. 2015 David William Brubeck. All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
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As the musical world continues to mourn the loss of one of its brass treasures, Rolf Smedvig, two book ends of his professional life have agreed to share some of their thoughts. An International soloist, principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and recipient of the International Trombone Association Lifetime Achievement Award, Ronald Barron is a towering oak of brass expertise. His experience with Rolf at Tangledwood and with the BSO predates the Empire Brass. To capture the final years of Rolf’s tenure with Empire, we have sought out his longest serving sideman-Ken Amis. The rock solid anchor of Empire Brass for the past 22 years, Amis is still with the group and is contributing towards its continued efforts. “FIVE!” is proud to present the thoughts of this outstanding tubist/composer and legendary trombonist as they more fully color the musical personality of Rolf Smedvig. Enjoy!
KEN AMIS 1. What was Rolf’s concept of time like for the group?
Rolf always wanted the time to be dominant property around which all the expression was made. Expressed through an fast articulation, the time always established a groove in every piece we played.
2. Do you feel that the tuba is under utilized in most brass quintet literature? Why do arrangers seem reluctant to allow the trombone to carry the bass function and allow the tuba to sing? I don’t feel that the tuba is under utilized in most brass quintet literature.
Writing tuba solos that don’t sound pretentious, gimmicky or musically unbalanced is difficult and doesn’t lead itself as readily to many pieces. It’s not that composers are reluctant to allow the trombone to carry the bass. It is often the difficulty of including a tuba solo in the music that limits such a rendition.
3. What were the distinct aspects of the Empire Brass approach which separated them from other groups?
Empire Brass Quintet davidbrubeck.com
Empire Brass has a style of playing that produces a big sound and the very front of an articulation that differentiates it from most groups. The groups commitment to establishing a musical, metronomic pulse also makes its sound unmistakable.
4. Which other brass groups have inspired you?
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
A Ray Charles performance at Tanglewood in the mid-90’s.
5. What are your favorite EB recordings, and why? Class Brass and Class Brass: Firedance are my favorite recordings due to repertoire and clarity and balance with which the playing was captured by the microphone placement and recording techniques.
6. What are your favorite memories of Rolf?
Playing Sleepers’ Wake and the 3rd movement of the Elizabethan Dance Suite were my favorite moments.
7. How many years were you with EB, did your playing change as a result of your EB experience?
I have been in Empire Brass for 22 years. Hopefully, I have shown some improvement in the way I play for non-musicians.
8. What were some of the most memorable live performances you experienced with EB?
Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan is memorable because of the venue. A concert we played in Taiwan is memorable because of the audience. The concert we played in Wilton, CT is memorable because it was Rolf’s last performance with the group.
RONALD BARRON 1. Please describe Rolf early in his career as a symphonic player and the birth of the Empire Brass.
When I heard of Rolf at BUTI in 1971, everyone said he had the sound to be a star soon. This turned out to be true. His warm lyric beautifully resonant quality made him an easy standout at his BSO audition, and he followed Roger Voisin in the assistant position, though not playing first in Pops as Andre Come had taken over that in the year after Roger, and Andre kept that spot during Rolf’s time in the BSO. I always enjoyed blending with Rolf, it was easy. I had more opportunities for that after getting the principal position in 1975. I was not an original member of the quintet when they formed and I was a bit skeptical about the future of such a group. Canadian had begun only the previous few years and trying to do brass chamber music full time was a new concept. However, through extremely devoted hard work, they made it happen. Any road life style is not easy and they needed to do the BU residency and association and the teaching component to be stable. I think the history speaks for itself, they made it happen.
2. What was your involvement with Empire, and your favorite recordings? My involvement with Empire started in Sept. 1975 and lasted for three weeks. My life was simply too full for the demands of the group, so Norman joined and had a great run with them for six years or so. Afterwards, I was part of some recording projects when they wanted larger ensembles. Many fine recordings: the Ewald quintets were a new and great presentation; after Rolf’s death, I listened to Bernstein’s Simple Song from the Mass featuring Rolf, just marvelous, great touch and feeling, just as I want it to be.
3. Having recorded with both Canadian and Empire, how would you describe the differences in their approach.
I had the unique pleasure to be part of three recordings of similar repertoire with Canadian, Empire and Summit Brass all in the same year, 1988. These recordings are different enough to discuss your question. The repertoire was Venetian, 16th and 17th century, Gabrieli, etc. The Canadian one was grand in a cathedral way, it was 15 players, Boston Symphony, New York Phil. and Canadian brass. Very sonic and grandioso. The Empire one was perhaps the best raw brass playing, very brilliant, polished, driven and exciting. Neither of these were restrained or particularly stylish for the repertoire, but they sounded terrific. The Summit Brass example was more elegant, nimble, not as much in your face as Empire. All were wonderful for what they were, but it was an excellent opportunity to compare feelings and style. I would not suggest which one was best, as each has their merits and appeal. Certainly the Empire one was exciting! As for direct comparisons with Canadian and Empire, the Canadian approach soon became quite commercial and led to their success. Empire tried to keep it more serious and did for a while, but eventually realized the need to be more broadly commercial to remain in business. I think any brass ensemble eventually needs a strong commercial component if they wish to be financially self sustaining. After all, the instruments sound great in commercial music, jazz, etc. We were not intended for the delicate gentile salon; and there is simply not a dearth of great repertoire from the great names of what we call classical music.
4. Can you address your solo experiences as a brass player, and Rolf’s? How do you believe it informed the underpinning philosophy of EB?
I felt the need to pursue a solo career to the extent I could while in the orchestra as a balance to the routine parts of the job. It helped, and kept me sane through many years. Rolf decided that the solo and chamber world was essential for him and he needed to leave the orchestra to fulfill that desire. He made the right choice in that he was successful for a long time. The other members had their own ambitions naturally, but I can not say with any authority how extensive a solo career all of them had or have now. Probably somewhat, one would have to do an analysis. Many have gone on to orchestra positions, many have not. I feel the example set by Rolf and his comrades in starting and maintaining the EBQ for so long made the next generation of brass players have hope for such an ensemble and its future. Things evolve, tastes change, and nothing is static, but it opened a new avenue for an aspiring young person. Between Canadian and Empire the standard was set and so many of today’s brass ensembles own a debt of gratitude to them.
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
Images courtesy of Ken Amis
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The Miami Dade College Brass Quintet has accepted an invitation to perform at the 12th annual International Euphonium and Tuba Conference Festival. The student group plans to premiere a brass transcription and arrangement of Bach’s Fugue in C minor by world renown electric bassist and MDC professor, Rafael Valencia. This years version of the quintet features the euphonium in place of the typical use of tuba/bass trombone.
The festival features recitals by internationally recognized low brass soloists and numerous opportunities for further interaction with the faculty through lessons, masterclasses, warm-up gatherings and chamber music coaching sessions. The IET festival takes place on the campus of Emory University at the end of the month.
The 2015 Guest Artists and Teachers include:
Brian Bowman – University of North Texas
David Childs – Royal Welsh College of Music
Lauren Veronie Curran – The US Army Field Band
Adam Frey – Georgia State, Reinhardt & Emory Universities
Brian Meixner – Highpoint University
Dave Brubeck – Miami Dade College, Miami City Ballet Orchestra
Ron Davis – South Carolina Philharmonic, USC
James Gourlay – Artistic Director, River City Brass Band
Jay Hunsberger – Sarasota Orchestra, Univ of South Florida
Igor Krivokapic – Composer and Helicon Specialist
Patrick Sheridan – International Tuba Soloist, The Brass Gym
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Scott Hartman is a trombonists trombonist, and musical to the core. In the debate between valves and slide that is often the brass quintet, Hartman has proven to be one of the slide’s most articulate and eloquent spokesmen. An impressive soloist in his own right, Hartman served for nine years as the trombone counterweight to the stratospheric solos of trumpeter Rolf Smedvig in the Empire Brass. He is in a unique position to address “FIVE!”, and does so….
1. You are one of the masters of matching trumpet AND horn articulation. How do you change your approach to the front side of the note to match trumpets? Horn?
I think about articulation – and most technical – in mechanical/acoustic terms. So an articulation is the dynamic shape which begins a note and I picture it in my mind like this example:
“Articulation” S. Hartman davidbrubeck.com
Each instrument/player has a palette of articulations that they use and the more they have available, the more variety and nuance you bring to the music. Once I identify the sound I want I use the mechanical processes that bear on articulation, i.e., air, tongue, slide, using the partials/overtones in transition to achieve the result. If it sounds right – it is right!
2. You can play really clean, or let it rip! How do you think of “hiding the slide”-(or its smears) when matching trumpets as opposed to your vibrant yet very rhythmic approach to glisses, scoops and falls?
Related to the previous comment on articulation, I have to imagine a sound first, then figure out how you make this sound on the trombone. Oftentimes, I find that people don’t feel that it is correct or appropriate to do something – mechanically or musically – so they restrict their musical palette in the process. I leave the door open to try to make any sound that comes to mind and use any technique that achieves it.
Technique is whatever I do in the process of making a sound. Again, if it sounds right – it is right!
So, a more succinct answer to your question. I think about the air, embouchure, tongue, slide, overtones, valve and how they interact as I make a sound.
3. What are your fondest memories of Rolf?
There are so many Rolf stories! My favorites are the ones that capture his uniqueness as a person. Here are several!
A. We toured the Soviet Union in 1987 as Glasnost was implemented as a policy to open up and soften the Cold War. While in Leningrad (now returned to its previous name of St Petersburg) we toured some of the amazing buildings and institutions left behind by Peter the Great. We saw l’Hermitage, the palaces and his chapel. After several hours of sight seeing these marvels, Rolf showed his true colors by asking the tour guide “How do you get to BE Czar?” Rolf thought big!
B. We did a lot of skiing together on many tours and finished each day with a concert. Rolf was an excellent skier and loved being outdoors. We shared some fun times this way.
C. My good friend, Don Robinson, came out to serve as our Road Manager/Driver for a couple of
Smedvig & Hartman davidbrubeck.com
tours. Rolf liked to sit in the back of the van and was always quick to offer criticism of peoples driving. Don made a couple of abrupt turns and stops the first day out and Rolf made the comment that Don drove like the bass trombone player that he is…whatever that means… “Phrase it, Don!” was a common call from the rear of the van. So Don tried ‘Phrasing’ his stops by taking ¼ mile to come to a stop at a light – Rolf didn’t like that, “Use your brakes, Don!” – so the next time, Don pumped the brakes ABS style. Rolf almost lurched out of his seat this time and launched into Don, who replied that he’s just following instructions! That was it, Rolf gave up. That was the quickest and most obvious concession I ever saw Rolf give!
D. Also in the Soviet Union, we had several Soviet handlers and a lot of contact with the US Embassy since this was one of the first cultural trip to the Soviet Union under glasnost. Rolf started dating a Soviet woman that he met at the hotel which was espressly forbidden by the Embassy. The Embassador became concerned and gave Rolf and the group a lecture about our being cultural and national representatives and that the Soviets may try to use us to create a scandal of some sort. Therefore, no socializing with unauthorized women, no dealing with contraband of any sort. We were all asked if we’d had anyone approach us offering us contraband…Rolf was adamant that he’d certainly not! Afterwards, on the bus, Rolf asks… ‘What’s contraband?’
E. ON and on…
4. How did your approach to music change as a result of your time in EB?
I learned how to listen much better and to be more aware of everything. I remember realizing that I need to have an opinion of rhythm/tempo/momentum at all times. Playing with others, this is necessary. I didn’t understand that before my time with the EBQ! We also taught chamber music at Tanglewood and Boston University, as well as numerous masterclasses. I learned from listening to the others teach/talk and also by having to formulate answers to questions that would achieve the proper result.
5. Were there moments in EB when you fully absorbed the music making at its best and thought to yourself, “this is as good as it gets!”?
During excellent concerts and hearing recordings, we’d hit a home run sometimes and congratulation ourselves. And after concerts, the audience made us feel appreciated, of course! Now, watching and hearing recordings of live performances reinforces what a great group the EBQ was!
6. What were the best and worst parts of life on the road with EB?
Everything-except rehearsal (and sometimes recording), was great! (Rehearsals could get rather tense.)
7. What selections do you feel are among the best literature for brass quintet?
That’s tough. There is a lot of great rep now. Lots of good transcriptions, of course, but there is so much original rep that is excellent.
8. What do you think of the trend towards smaller tubas (namely F tuba) in brass quintets as opposed to the ‘C’ or ‘Bb’ Tuba?
I have to admit that I always enjoyed playing quintet with a tubist playing a large horn. I miss the solid low notes on an Eb or F.
But, that being said, a lot of rep works better on the smaller instrument.
So, ideally, the tubist will have both horns. Not likely though, on tour…
9. What are your favorite EB recorded tracks and why?
My favorite aspect of the EB is the level of chamber music that we enjoyed. When we knew the music, we could reinvent it on each performance; explore musical possibilities on the fly and let the music come to life each time we played. We would transcend our own voice and truly make music. This was amazing to be joined together through music this way, probably much like the bond that is created within a sports team or military unit…
I believe that our first Class Brass recording captured this ability – primarily because the acoustics at the recording were great and you can hear us using the hall the way we would in concert – most other recordings didn’t quite capture the hall acoustics.
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. davidbrubeck.com
DUO BRASS celebrates the art of the brass duo in performance at the Hyatt Regency hotel, Delaware Room, at 11:15 am on Wednesday the 27th of May. An all-star trumpet panel of the finest classical and jazz artists available on the instrument have assembled to promote and celebrate the fledgling genre of brass duo for trumpet and trombone.
Chamber music sensation, Marc Reese, with lend his talents to interpretations of Simple Gifts and the Aria from Goldberg variations by J.S. Bach.
Trailblazing soloist and orchestral titan, Craig Morris is scheduled to premiere the trumpet and trombone version of A Postcard from Rio, by fellow University of Miami faculty member Ney Rosauro, as well as an emotion laden treatment of a Berceuse by Gliere.
Exciting performer and exceptional scholar Peter Wood has selected to perform brass duo versions of a Bach Invention, Beethoven’s Fur Elise, and Flow My Tears-a song by John Dowland.
Jazz phenom Jason Carder will round out the fantastic feast of virtuosity with jazz brass duo treatments of Corea’s Sea Journey and Silva’s Senor Blues!
TROMBA-The Ultimat Plastic Instruments, will be on hand to present one audience member with a free TROMBA Plastic Trumpet, and Gordon Cherry, of Cherry Classics Publications, has provided two free copies of 10 Duos for Trumpet and Trombone to be given away to two audience members. Each trumpeter will be accompanied by the innovative bass trombonist and composer of Stereograms, David William Brubeck.
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Jeffrey Curnow has served as assistant principal trumpet with the Philadelphia Orchestra since the turn of the century, and preced that with six years as principal trumpet with the Dallas Symphony, and soloist. It is, perhaps, his 15 recordings and years spent with the Empire Brass Quintet (EBQ), that have etched him most deeply on the world of brass. As “FIVE!”tm & the music world mourn the loss of the brass quintet’s most ardent champion, Rolf Smedvig, Jeffrey Curnow remembers his time with Rolf and the ground-breaking Empire Brass.
1. What are your first recollections of The Empire Brass?
My earliest recollections of the EBQ were from the late 70s, when I was a student at Temple University. That’s the first time I heard the group’s Ewald LP. I thought that recording was terrific but at that point in time, I have to admit, the Canadian Brass was sort of stealing the show with their innovative programming and arrangements.
Nobody was thinking this at the time but it really was the birth of a new era in brass chamber music. A younger generation of players was taking the brass quintet to a new level, pushing the limits of the ensemble, and the two groups on the forefront were the Canadians and Empire.
2. Could you discuss Rolf’s approach to the trumpet, and the types of trumpets (‘C’, ‘G’), he liked to play in different circumstances?
The Empire Brass Quintet www.davidbrubeck.com
Rolf was the guy who made the Schilke ‘G’ piccolo trumpet famous. Before joining the band, I’d never played one (and I never played one while in the group), but the combination of his ‘G’ “picc.” and my ‘C’ trumpet created an interesting, distinctive hierarchy of sound that separated us from any other quintet.
This worked particularly well with Baroque and Renaissance lit. The set up he used on the G was different than usual. Schilke sent 2 bells with the trumpet, a small and a large, and he always used the large bell-which made the sound of the horn much bigger. That bigger “picc.” sound on top of the sound of a ‘C’ trumpet was a nice blend.
Outside of the Schilke ‘G’, Rolf used Bach/Selmer horns exclusively, and was feverishly adamant about it, in a way that only Rolf could be. Fortunately, I agreed with him completely on this issue.
Unlike most brass quintets, Rolf and I played C trumpet 80% of the time, using the Bb horns and flugels mostly for the crossover tunes on the second half. I think Rolf always felt more comfortable on a ‘C’ trumpet, as did I, and the sound of the ‘C’ trumpets gave the group a distinctive sound, separating us from other groups who exclusively used ‘Bb’ horns.
3. What was it like playing back and forth with Rolf with imitative passages as opposed to supporting him in harmony underneath; how did you match so well?
What was it like playing back and forth with Rolf? Intimidating is the word that comes to mind. When I joined the group, they were weeks from a U.S.S.R. tour so I had to hit the ground running. The blend wasn’t immediate but it had to happen quickly and I really worked at it. I wore 2 hats while playing 2nd, I had to be a bridge between Eric or Scott and Rolf and I had to fill Rolf’s shoes when he had the horn off his face. I found it really fun, honestly, and I wanted to be great at it. Rolf wasn’t much help so I was pretty much on my own when it came to figuring it out.
I always joked that I thought that one of Rolf’s big regrets was that he couldn’t find a way to make a quintet work with just one trumpet. I had to change my sound and articulation a bit so I would start incorporating some of what Rolf was doing in his morning warm up routine into my routine and, eventually, I started to sound more and more like he did. It was his approach to the trumpet that I had to adopt to really make the group sound cohesive. I still use parts of his routine today.
4. What are your favorite Empire Brass recordings?
My favorite Empire recordings are the two Class Brass CDs we put together. The group was really pushing the envelope on those discs.
5. Which players in EBQ stand out to you over the years?
All the various members of the band I worked with are stand outs. Really. All incredible soloists. I learned something from everyone. Although, I will say that it was Rolf who would light the fire under the group. He’d walk into a rehearsal with an impossible project and find a way to get it done. I’ve met very few people in my career that were as driven as Rolf. He could be insistent to an aggravating degree (a very nice way to put it) but he got results.
6. What approaches to brass quintet do you feel that Empire pioneered? Where do you see that influence most in today’s groups? The concept behind the EBQ: a brass quintet that plays like the brass section of a symphony orchestra. That’s why our bells always faced the audience, unlike the traditional quintet set up. The Canadians would move about the stage and set up in different positions, depending on the piece, sometimes sitting on stools, but we would stay in a fixed position, standing in the center of the stage for most of the show.
It was all about the sound and the music. I think that ‘bells front’ concept has had a big influence on today’s brass quintets. We wanted a commanding onstage presence.
7. Do you have any favorite memories of the road or special concerts or collaborative artists with EBQ which spring to mind?
The memorable moments a far too many to mention here but I do have a few that stand out. We’d often play organ shows with Doug Major, who was the organist at the National Cathedral in D.C.. Lots of fun. Not only was Doug a great hang but he was an outstanding player who perfectly fit into the group’s concept. One show we did with Doug in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall went over 2.5 hours. There was so much sound coming off the stage, I was afraid we’d get sued!
I remember a concert in the middle-of-nowhere USA, just the five of us, where Rolf decided we’d change up the program and start the second half with the Karlheinz Stockhausen Brass Quintet.
I’d never played it and I was frantically looking through my folder and couldn’t find it. I told Rolf I didn’t have it and he said, “I don’t have it either.
“You know why I don’t have it?”, he asked, “Because Stockhausen never wrote it.” We preceded to open the second half with a completely improvised piece. The audience ate it up. They loved it. Even our road manager, who was at the back of the hall selling CDs, thought it was a “really cool piece”.
I remember a concert at the Tonhalle in Zurich where the audience ovation was so loud it sounded like a soccer match. I played concerts on Soviet television, Japan television, British television and did Christmas tunes on both the Today Show and Good Morning America. We had Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Michael Torke composing for us. We stood in front of the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Japan Philharmonic, BBC radio orchestra and many others.
The thrill of meeting artists like Timofei Dokschitzer and Philip Jones while traveling the world, I’ll never forget.
One of the greatest benefits of being in the EBQ was meeting Armando Ghitalla. He was a hero to me and like a father to Rolf. “Mundi” was the only guy to ever coach the group and I learned a great deal from the time he’d spend with us. He was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
8. What was your background prior to the group, and how did your experiences with the group change your outlook on music?
I was basically a freelancer in NY and CT before joining the group. I was Principal Trumpet of the New Haven Symphony, did some teaching at “U.-Conn.”, and lived in Branford, CT. I’d take a train into NY for an occasional gig or rehearsals and concerts with the NY Trumpet Ensemble. I saw Rolf split a recital with the EBQ at the 92nd Street YMCA in the early 80s but never thought I’d ever be a part of that world. My goal was an orchestra job.
When I was hired by Empire, I took to it very quickly and found that I liked being one of only five on stage. One benefit of being in a group like Empire is the fact that you have to keep doing crazier stunts with every new CD release. This means you’re constantly growing and developing as a player. Every year I got better, in every way, as a player, musician and performer. I got to know the ins and outs of recording and did some producing for other brass groups. I learned how to arrange for the brass quintet. I did a great deal of coaching and teaching and was a member of the faculty at Boston University and the Royal Academy of Music in London. I spent summers at Tanglewood coaching quintets at the Empire Brass Seminar.
I was part of an ensemble that had to create in order to survive. We had to come up with the arrangements, CDs, management, teaching, and concerts in order to stay alive in the market. This is very different from the orchestra job I hold now, where I have little freedom to create as a performer. I can’t decide on the programs we play or the CDs this orchestra makes and at times I miss that creative freedom that I had with the EBQ. That creative freedom, however, comes at a price. A lot of hard work, stress and, at times, conflict.
8. What are your other favorite projects?
These days, my latest passion outside of playing the trumpet is cartooning. My goal is to get a cartoon published in the New Yorker. With a 99.99%
rejection rate, that makes it almost as bad as the music business, but the cartoons give me something to think about while I’m counting all those measures rest.
Inspired by String Quartets and Brass Quintets; Juilliard and Northwestern; The United States and Brazil; transcriptions and original compositions-Axiom Brass is able to hold each dichotomy firmly, while fluidly exploring the joys of ambiguity. “FIVE!”tm finds the beauty in carefully crafting a the future of brass with Axiom. Enjoy!
What led you to arranging for brass? What have been your most rewarding transcriptions and why?
The repertoire for Brass Quintet is somewhat limited, so transcriptions and arrangements are an almost inevitable path when building repertoire. Interestingly, transcriptions have been popular throughout history, at times even with the composer himself re-transcribing an earlier work for different instrumentation.
My transcriptions were in part born out of a necessity to have music that was written to best capture Axiom’s musical vision. I don’t really think of them as arrangements or transcriptions, I envision them more as translations. The idea is similar to translating a poem from a different language. The poem cannot simply be translated, it must be re-imagined so to keep the original beauty and essence that it possessed in the original language. Axiom offers me the perfect environment to experiment with these translations. First, because I can write with a specific musician in mind and not just an instrument. Secondly, because I can try things out in rehearsals and take my time reworking sections until they sound the way I imagined them.
I mostly rework string quartets, early music and Latin music for brass quintet. I guess some of the Latin music has become very popular in our concerts. I have enjoyed doing all of them, but I would say my favorite composer to translate is Astor Piazzolla, both for the challenge that it presents and for the reactions we get from our audiences.
What differences have you noted in the approaches to playing brass instruments by musicians from Brazil and The United States?
I think the main difference from my experience in Brazil versus my experience here in the States is the foundation of the music making process.
In Brazil, musical education is not as organized as it is here. Universities and conservatories don’t have the same structure and planning as we see here. That is not necessarily a bad quality since the result is that musicians in South America tend to be more intuitive and less technique oriented. Music becomes the driving force behind technique and not the other way around.
On the other hand, a deep understanding of the instrument and the music is crucial to a great performance. I think a balance between the two is ideal. I think in Brazil the students would benefit a lot from the structure we have here. I also think that we could use a little more of that natural instinct and rawness in our music making over here in the US.
How did the group come together?
Axiom was created as a way to continue some of the quintet experiences I had at Juilliard as a student in the American Brass Quintet seminar and as part of a fellowship brass quintet for one Juilliard’s community outreach programs. While in New York I had a lot of opportunities to perform chamber music at elementary schools, retirement homes, hospitals and rehab centers. These opportunities gave me a valuable insight into the power of chamber music. Once I left school, I quickly realized that chamber music was my passion and what I wanted to do professionally. It was a matter of time until I could put together the group again. Initially, we still had some of the same people from our school days but eventually, the travel demands and other life events made it impossible for some of the members to continue. Since at that point I was living in Chicago, it was an obvious choice to look for replacement members based in Chicago.
What has a Tanglewood residence meant to Axiom? What are some of your favorite memories?
Axiom puts education at the forefront of our mission, and there is no better place to do so than at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. At BUTI we have the privilege to work with some of our nation’s most promising young artists. We have the opportunity to share with these young minds the possibilities that the future holds. We have a chance to inspire these students to pursue a career in chamber music.
I could keep on going, but at the end of the day, it really is not so much what we do for the students but what they do for us. Every summer at Tanglewood I am recharged for the year ahead. The students and the environment inspire me to continue furthering my craft. I guess Tanglewood keeps us young as an ensemble.
We have had many incredible moments at Tanglewood in the past few years, but if I had to pick one, I would say it was the Wind Ensemble final concert in 2014. I was completely floored by their performance. The program was the most challenging one I had heard that ensemble prepare. The final performance possessed a level of excitement and emotional maturity that was electrifying. I could not believe how a group of high school musicians could take me in such an emotional roller-coaster. They performed with a level of fearlessness and adventure that is often lost in professional concerts.
Which brass groups have inspired you and how?
American Brass for their bold approach to repertoire and incredible ensemble blend. Art of Brass Vienna for their ensemble tightness and warm sound. Center City Brass Quintet for their energetic style and dynamic spectrum.
Non brass groups?
Juilliard, Emerson and Pacifica string quartets for their musicianship and ensemble concept. They all exhibit a incredibly high level of execution and consistency without compromising their ensemble musical vision. I find it fascinating to see how much their performances of the same repertoire can vary so drastically and yet never fail to deliver the music. I feel in brass chamber music we are still too bound to sounding like someone else instead of finding our own interpretation and identity.
I am also a fan of Kronos and Eight Blackbird for their musicianship, eclecticism and adventurous programing.
KEVIN HARRISON What draws you to chamber music as your first musical priority?
As a tuba player, I am always eager to take on challenges beyond the typical band and orchestra repertoire. In brass quintet, there has to be a balance of soloistic playing while participating as a team member of the ensemble. To me, this is the most sophisticated type of music making – one that involves such a demanding musical role while reacting, processing, and conversing with 4 other musicians to create an artistic product.
Chamber music also lends itself to a more expressive and varied type of repertoire. With brass quintet being a relatively new genre of chamber music, there are so many directions we can go. From arrangements and transcriptions of early music to commissions of new pieces, there is an infinite array of styles from which to draw. Being one of five members of a chamber ensemble, I have an important role in rehearsals, performances, and in the artistic vision of the group. I much prefer this to simply performing music that has been chosen for me by a programming
committee and performing that music the way the conductor wants. In a chamber group, I have true musical responsibility.
Finally, I have traveled more with Axiom Brass in the past 6 years than I have ever before. Working with a small ensemble allows us to see the world, share our music with communities that would otherwise not be able to experience Classical music, and perform in venues that would normally be off limits to larger ensembles. In that way, we can share music with and experience different cultures through the art of music making.
What have been the most surprising musical discoveries you have encountered performing the varied literature of Axiom?
I am constantly surprised at what Axiom has been able to achieve. I have the honor of working with 4 amazing musicians and genuinely great friends. This relationship, coupled with a fearless musical approach, has lead to some very magical moments for me. All of my colleagues are musically bold, and I am inspired by them everyday.
With Axiom, I have learned that there is a much wider range of expression for brass instruments. We do not often think of ourselves as a brass quintet – instead, we model ourselves after piano trios and string quartets. This simple approach has been a huge proponent in shaping our concept of ensemble sound. We have been able to achieve greater warmth and a more vocal approach to repertoire of all styles and genres. One of my favorite examples of this is an arrangement of the Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 1 as envisioned by our trumpeter, Dorival Puccini. This fantastic arrangement draws very closely from the original piece for string quartet which challenges us to find new ways of musical expression on brass instruments. Although we have never performed the piece in its entirety, it has been a wonderful study for us over the years. I am happy to say that we will be resurrecting the piece for our upcoming 2015-2016 season.
It seems extraordinarily well organized and broad-is it difficult to keep under your fingers?
There are many different directions we can take our repertoire, but before we program any piece of music we first ask ourselves “does this piece fit with the vision of Axiom Brass?” In other words, is this work meaningful to us, to brass music, and to the chamber music community as a whole? We only perform music we are deeply passionate about regardless of whether it is early music, original brass quintet, or Latin music. We want to share music we care about. With that approach, we can connect more closely with audiences thereby creating a better concert experience.
Choosing the right repertoire is a long process involving reading sessions, working closely with composers, creating our own arrangements, listening to recordings and doing a lot of background research. But through all of this we grow as musicians. It has been quite a rewarding experience!
Which brass groups have inspired you and how?
American Brass Quintet for paving the way for serious brass chamber music and for their beauty of style and interpretation. Art of Brass Vienna for their warm, buttery approach to brass sound. Center City Brass Quintet for their incredibly tight ensemble and expansive dynamic range.
Non brass groups?
Emerson String Quartet – their reputation speaks for itself. To me, this is the epitome of serious chamber music. Kronos Quartet for their bold programming and musical production. Peter Philips & The Tallis Scholars for their angelic sound in vocal Renaissance music.
What are the main attributes of trumpet playing that were imparted to you by each of your trumpet teachers?
I have been very fortunate to learn from some of the best trumpet teachers and musicians around and am definitely the better for it! I would really stress the word musician before trumpet teacher. Sure, there are just some technical and strategical things that you have to know about the instrument, but the best teachers, I believe, are great musicians that can show you how to transcend the difficulties of the instrument.
Just by sheer luck, I think I got a great start to the trumpet with no teacher at all. No, I’m not being sarcastic. Sure, it would have been great to start off in 5th grade with a high caliber teacher, but I also didn’t come away with a lot of baggage from a sub par instructor. In lieu of lessons, I spent a lot of time by myself in the backyard, trying to figure it out…with my ear. At the time, I couldn’t read music and learned to play by listening and mimicking. Now that I know about the Suzuki Method for strings, I think I got a poor-man’s, lonelier version of that for trumpet. I didn’t have a lot of hang-ups because I wasn’t trying to learn how to read music before speaking the language, just like when babies try and sound out words when they learn to speak. I learned to make a sound and didn’t realize some things are “difficult” on trumpet before I then learned how to read sheet music.
I did eventually get some lessons my senior year of high school and I went to a magnet school called the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, SC in the same year. There I learned how to multiple tongue and was introduced some of the standard repertoire. It was an incredible and very unique place that helped me prepare for the Navy Band program. The Navy was a great teacher in its own right and taught me “how to” and “how not to” do things. You learn to prepare for a concert pretty quickly and how to get performance ready in a short amount of time. Compared to a college band or orchestra that allows for about 6 weeks (or more) to prepare for a concert, the military bands taught me to get performance ready in much less time than that – days or even an afternoon. However, some of the college groups that I’ve been in put that extra level of polish at the end that the military bands couldn’t or didn’t have an interest in doing. There was always a sense that it was “good enough” and “why bother doing more if I’m paid the same” mentality that can be pretty soul-crushing.
Dr. Christopher Moore at Florida State University was my first real trumpet teacher and I owe him a great debt. I really got my butt kicked in terms of fundamentals and general trumpet sound quality. With him, I had my first foray into the vast trumpet repertoire and learned how to truly practice. I had lots of performance experience in the Navy, but didn’t know how to effectively practice. I really learned how to organize my practice routine at FSU. If it hadn’t been for the things I learned from Dr. Moore, I never would have achieved the level of playing I have today, and I don’t think I ever could have gotten into a program like Northwestern.
I was Mr. Charlie Geyer’s graduate assistant at Northwestern and he really challenged me in my weak areas. We never really addressed any fundamentals – except for maybe his occasional opinion on things – and it really felt like a “finishing” school to help prepare me for the professional world. I always felt inspired and energized coming out of their lessons and I would regularly practice right after lessons to cement their teachings.
Three major things that I came away from the Barbara Butler/Charlie Geyer school were:
1) Attention to detail. I had gone to Navy boot camp and I thought I had a pretty good grasp of attention to detail, but they take it to the next level. Mr. Geyer often joked that he is undiagnosed OCD and said that “you have to be a little obsessed with the trumpet to be a good trumpet player.” Notations in the score, historical context, intonation, articulation, trumpet selection, mouthpiece selection, mute selection, tricks and cheats, you name it – if you’re trying to win a job against hundreds of other applicants, it can come down to a missed articulation or dynamic.
2) Record everything you can. This isn’t a concept that is new or exclusive to their studio, but I haven’t seen a studio yet where it is so ingrained and, quite frankly, mandatory! Every lesson, every studio class, every audition (professional and mock), ensemble rehearsals, masterclasses were highly encouraged and politely expected to be recorded. Not only did Mr. Geyer want me to get my money’s worth for my degree, but I think there is concept from Arnold Jacobs of “you can’t sit in the performers’ chair and the teacher’s chair at the same time” that applies. Meaning that if you’re analyzing yourself while you’re performing, you won’t be very musical. Record, perform, and then analyze and scrutinize. This is a concept that is relevant to every Axiom Brass rehearsal and performance.
3) The “power of the studio.” While I was at NU I tried to absorb as much as I could and I asked Mr. Geyer why he thought they had success with their students over the years. He said that obviously talent was a large part of it, but choosing the “right” students (in regards to attitude, good nature, and work ethic) is also a big part of it. He said that every once in a while they’ll get a “bad apple,” but the “power of the group” overcomes them and sets them straight. When you think about it, you don’t really spend that much time with your applied professor compared to your colleagues in the studio. In a year you might average 25-30 hours of private lessons, but you’re spending 25-30 hours a week with people in your studio.
One last contribution to my education I would be remiss without including would be Gail Williams’ (horn professor at Northwestern) “Teaching Techniques” class. It was a very simple concept – we had to observe 15 private lessons from various applied professors and write a small report on each one – but it made a lasting impression on me. While I believe that the trumpet is one of the best instruments of all time, I also think that we can learn so much from vocalists, strings, and woodwinds. Their instruments, when used by master composers as solo instruments, have a firm grasp of phrasing and musical nuance that I think is missing from nuts and bolts teaching of the trumpet.
How do drum corps experiences influence your approach to the instrument and music in general?
Drum Corps is a valuable outlet for good practice and performance techniques for students that wouldn’t otherwise have access to them. Because drum corps are found in almost every part of America the fundamental techniques they promote are accessible even to people who are unable to regularly hear a major orchestra or band. Also, for young players, it sets a regimented practice schedule and forces them to incorporate routine in their practice habits. Drum corps transformed me from a weak, young high school trumpet kid into a serious player over the course of a summer. It is a valuable formative experience.
Recently, as a teacher, I’ve seen more and more corps adopt techniques that used to be just reserved for serious classical players, like the Chicowicz “Flow Studies” or buzzing, for example. It is also now common knowledge that a major 3rd is tempered down 14 cents for Just
intonation. (NB: Mr. Geyer told me he wasn’t aware of this until he was 35 years old playing with the CSO!) It’s great that young players are already equipped with this knowledge.
However, I’ve often noticed that these techniques are being blindly used without understanding what is being achieved. The Flow Studies are an egregious example implemented from brass staffs that have 3rd- or 4th-hand knowledge from its creator Vincent Chicowicz. I’ve also noticed a trend from the band community of brass sound and blend that virtually eliminates the color and excitement from brass playing. Their desire for blend and homogeneity of sound has unfortunately resulted in a boring and uninspired music in my opinion. Sometimes getting a better tone means making an ugly sound and then refining it.
Still, it’s wonderful and inspiring that the students are exposed to such high-level concepts.
Can you describe the Civic Orchestra experience?
My two years with the Civic Orchestra was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my life. Rehearsing and performing in the Symphony Center was intimidating at first but really shaped my playing and my ear. It’s not an easy space for brass to play in, and I developed a deeper understanding of the “Chicago” brass sound.
I really liked working with Cliff Colnot, he was a great personality to be around. He really pushed musicians beyond their comfort zones with very frank and practical language. Although he was hard on some of us, I think he understood what it took to turn students into professionals. He was able to put a level of polish on the ensemble in a short amount of time because he organized sectional rehearsals even before we rehearsed as a full ensemble. Also, Dr. Colnot really emphasized the importance of score study, and many copies of the score where available at every rehearsal. It seems like in many youth ensembles in this country, the score is treated like a “Teacher’s Edition;” it’s seen as off-limits or cheating for the students to consult it.
It was also great to get to know and learn from my colleagues in Civic. In graduate programs students tend to isolate themselves in their studio, and in Civic I had the opportunity to interact with lots of young professionals.
Which brass groups have inspired you and how?
There are so many quality groups and I would say that a few that directly influence me are: the American Brass Quintet, the Center City Brass Quintet, the Meridian Arts Brass Quintet, and the Stockholm Chamber Brass. In grade school I was also heavily influenced by the Empire Brass Quintet and Rolf Smedvig as the first quintet that I was introduced to (On the day of this writing I am saddened by the news of Mr. Smedvig’s passing. He was an incredible trumpet player and we all owe him a great debt in the trumpet and brass quintet community). I think these groups are continuously propelling the art form and helping legitimizing brass quintet as a respectable chamber music group. At Axiom Brass we are always thinking about how we can continue to bring chamber brass music to the next level.
Non brass groups?
Living in Chicago we are very lucky to have other quality chamber groups around to inspire us: Eighth Blackbird, 5th House, Third Coast Percussion, and Ensemble Del Niente for example. In a lot of ways, I think that chamber music is the future of classical music. Not only can we be more versatile than an orchestra, but with our more portable size I think we can reach a wider audience. I’m inspired by these successful groups that are reaching audiences, making people think, commissioning new music, and expanding the viability of chamber music.
How do you conceive of embouchure in different ranges?
I feel that the embouchure must reflect the range being played in order for the sound to have the maximum tone and color. There are certain fundamentals that must always be in place for a healthy embouchure. For example, there must be an even level of engagement of the corners on both sides of the mouth. I find that I can keep tabs on this by double checking in a mirror from time to time while practicing. In general, however, I think less about the structure of my embouchure and more about my air stream when I play between different ranges. Using an “Ah” or “Oh” syllable for the low and mid range air allows for the air stream to be relaxed yet focused.
When transitioning to the upper register, a syllable similar to “Ee” should be used. Using these different syllables has the effect of changing the focus and speed of the air which will allow for a rich, healthy sound in all registers. It is important to note that the air should always be moving the same regardless of the register. Don’t try to blow more air in the upper register, instead think about letting the change in syllable accelerate the air. This will allow the embouchure to stay relaxed, with minimal mouthpiece pressure, and promote good habits of air use.
Do you pivot or strive for essentially one embouchure?
I try to think of having only one embouchure, with small adjustments in the mouthpiece’s position for each note, to make it speak as easily as possible. Doing this facilitates transitions between registers easily and quickly, regardless of slurring or articulating. There are very rare occasions where I need to do a pivot in a more extreme sense, generally involving notes that are in the pedal register and very loud dynamics. In general, however, I want to keep everything smooth with the conscious concept of sound driving the placement of each note.
What do draw on from your background as a mid-westerner that informs your music?
The Midwest has helped me to appreciate the calmness and natural breathing that is in music.
Though Chicago is in the Midwest, it is certainly much more busy than Minnesota, where I grew up. That spacious environment has helped me understand how to accentuate the beauty of a slow phrase or a simple melody. Some of my favorite passages to play are incredibly quiet and lyrical. Although I certainly enjoy playing loudly too, my Midwestern mentality helps me fill my quiet dynamics with energy and character.
Which brass groups have inspired you and how?
Chicago Chamber Music brass, The Metropolitan Opera Brass, Art of Brass Vienna, American Brass. All of these ensembles have amazing concepts of sound and artistry. All of the players play with a unified vision of the music they want to convey. In addition, I was influenced as a trombone player by the Four of a Kind trombone quartet. I first heard their album at a relatively early age and it raised the bar for what trombone playing was to me at that time.
Non brass groups?
I like to listen to cellists and vocalists. Musicians such as Rostropovich or Quasthoff are able to evoke emotions in their music through phrasing that trombone players strive to achieve, especially in the repertoire we borrow from cellists and singers. Studying the shapes of the music of non brass musicians leads to important decisions on diction, intensity, and breathing in a musical way.
Which quintet horn players have you strived to emulate, and how would describe their approach to the 3-spot in the quintet?
There has been no shortage of great quintet horn players to draw inspiration from over the years! The ones I’ve tried to emulate the most include Eric Ruske (Empire Brass), David Wakefield (American Brass Quintet), Jeff Nelsen (Canadian Brass), Seth Orgel (Atlantic Brass Quintet), and Richard King (Center City Brass). There are many other outstanding players out there; these are just some of the most-recorded players and groups.
Although each of these horn players were members of a different quintet, with different concepts of sound and performance style, a common characteristic they all share is their approach to fulfilling the 3- spot in the ensemble. In my own experience, this is such a crucial aspect of not just good brass quintet musicianship, but of good chamber music in general. We must always be sensitive to our role in the texture of the group’s sound.
I think all of the great brass quintet horn players would agree that we can draw a great deal of inspiration from the example of the string quartet. There is such a rich history of music and tradition surrounding string quartet, while brass quintet is really quite young by comparison. One of the most admirable qualities of great string quartets is the unity of sound they achieve. As we strive to emulate this quality in brass chamber music, I think a comparison can be made between the role that the viola and the horn each play in their respective groups.
In the string quartet, the viola plays a crucial role as a sort of mediator between the upper voices of the violins and the lower voice of the cello. It acts as “glue” that unifies the group sound. In the same way, the horn fulfills this this role in the brass quintet, connecting the upper range of the trumpets’ sounds with the low range of the trombone and the tuba. It is essential for the horn player to be sensitive of this role if they are going to adequately assume the 3-spot in the ensemble. As I have grown up listening to recordings of the great brass quintets mentioned earlier, I’ve realized that each group had a horn player who was incredibly skilled in this way.
One might ask what this approach looks like practically. To that, I would say that the horn player should develop a horn sound that is almost “chameleon-like”, blending impeccably with the trumpets at times but in other moments shifting to a color that can blend with a tuba. The beauty of a brass quintet’s organ-like sound can only be achieved with this sort of skill blending colors (this is really something that every member of the group must be conscious of). A horn player can learn to make these small adjustments in the color of their sound, by altering their hand position, the size of the oral cavity, and the speed and size of the air column. Flexibility is also very important. Over the years, I’ve drawn much of my inspiration from each of the players I mentioned earlier, and I’ve felt that their example has really helped my understanding of how to approach playing horn in brass quintet.
What does it mean to you to have had such a close experience with the “Chicago Sound” of horn playing?
The Chicago horn sound has been a major influence in my approach to playing the horn. As a student growing up in south Florida, I listened to recordings constantly – American orchestras, European orchestras, chamber music, soloists, whatever I could l get my hands on. Over time, I found myself developing a strong preference for the Chicago sound of horn playing. I made up my mind that if I ever got a chance to move somewhere else, it would be Chicago, or another city with as similar school of playing.
As it turned out, I was very fortunate to have the privilege of studying at Northwestern University for two years, with Gail Williams and Jonathan Boen. Looking back, I recall how, in most of my lessons with each of my teachers, we focused primarily on sound quality! And if that wasn’t enough inspiration, there were the countless
opportunities to hear concerts at the CSO, Lyric Opera, Ravinia, and Grant Park. So, considering all of that, I think that the Chicago sound has become a big part of my identity as a musician and horn player.
How do you balance the twin approaches of low horn and high horn regarding embouchure?
This is a very practical question, with applications to all horn players. There once was a time when a horn player could consider themselves a “specialist” in either low horn or high horn. Those days are mostly gone. With all of the developments we’ve seen in pedagogy, instrument design, and especially musical demands, it has become essential for every horn player to strive to be proficient in the full range of the horn. Most players will still have one range they feel more naturally comfortable in, but in general, we all seek to have a command of the full range. And this has always been especially true for the brass quintet horn player. Brass quintet repertoire is notorious for horn parts that utilize the horn’s entire range. It requires nimbleness, agility and flexibility from the horn player, in all aspects but particularly with regards to range. And the embouchure is so crucial to meeting those musical demands.
Personally, I have found that I needed to condition my embouchure to suit this type of playing, and I have had to cater my approach to daily practicing in order to meet those needs. This is quite different from the approach one would take to the orchestral audition scenario. In those situations, a horn player will often find themselves needing to structure their practicing to meet the needs of the excerpts they are preparing, for example strengthening their low range for a fourth horn position, or their high range for a principle position. In these scenarios, the player may find themselves neglecting one range of their playing as they condition their embouchure to be especially proficient in the range demanded by the job.
The best approach to daily practice for the brass quintet horn player, and the approach I’ve found necessary for my own needs, is one that trains the embouchure to be comfortable moving freely throughout the full range of the horn. There is a virtuosity that must be sought after. In my practicing, I focus heavily on exercises based on the harmonic series, moving quickly from low to high, so that my embouchure gets used to the feeling of totally flexibility. Etudes are also very helpful for training the embouchure to be agile. It’s easy for a horn player to develop a low “set” or a high “set” in their embouchure, which may give them a strength and security to play notes in that particular range. However, they must be careful that this setting does not get them stuck or hamper their ability to still be agile in their playing. Again, virtuosity is the key. Many pieces in the repertoire require the horn player to move very quickly through the range of the horn and this is not easy to do with a good core sound unless the embouchure has been carefully conditioned for that kind of movement.
Which brass groups have inspired you and how? Non brass groups?
I’ve been inspired by a number of different brass groups, and not always just quintets. The Summit Brass and the German Brass are both larger ensembles that I really enjoy listening to. The virtuosity of their playing, the evenness of their sounds and the incredible blend that they achieve have all been very inspiring to me as a horn player. Some of my favorite quintets include the American Brass Quintet, the Atlantic Brass Quintet, Center City Brass, Art of Brass Vienna, and the Empire Brass, just to name a few. The same qualities mentioned before apply to these groups. I appreciate the beauty and the unity of the sound each of these quintets achieve, their impeccable balance, blend, rhythm, and intonation. And I also think it’s a joy to hear how different groups interpret the standards in the repertoire, and to draw inspiration from that while playing in Axiom.
Aside from brass groups, I enjoy listening to string quartets and wind quintets as well. String quartets are especially admirable for their incredible precision and attention to every minute detail in the music. We brass players can learn so much from their example!
On the other hand, wind quintets exemplify a lightness in their playing that also really inspires me. And as a horn player, I always admire hearing the horn blend so well with the woodwind instruments. I try to have that same sense of blend in my brass quintet playing.
“Hands-On”! That is how euphonium virtuoso Adam Frey describes the ideal for the International Euphonium and Tuba Festival to be held June 21-27, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. The participants eat all of their meals together, and attend all of the presentations together-since only one presentation is offered at a time. Access to guest artists is close up as well, with each artist presenting a recital performance in addition to working with students in masterclasses, warm up sessions, and coachings.
A native of Atlanta, Adam brings the IET Festival to his home town after pursuing his passion for great music played on the euphonium around the globe. One can get a sense of his travels from the faculty and participants at the festival, and Frey’s international appeal serves to attract both from all over the world. “The Fourth Valve” tm is delighted to present International Euphonium Virtuoso Adam Frey as the next respondent of our interview series. Enjoy!
1. How did the International Euphonium and Tuba Festival come about, and in what ways have you strove to make it a unique experience amongst the various conferences? The event started in 2004 with 14 participants. I wanted to make something special for tuba and euphonium that combined high level performances like International Tuba and Euphonium Conference, but also offered a great opportunity for students to work closely with professionals. Lastly, I wanted to give participants the chance to PLAY! Participants can have as many as 11 performance opportunities between the ensemble concerts, participant recitals, master classes, lessons, and solo competition. I think the massive staff of teachers and their desire to connect with the participants makes it a special experience.
2. What was it like to perform as a soloist with the Boston Pops?
This was one of the most impressive experiences of my life. Playing 3 concerts to a packed house each night and receiving standing ovations and cheers was pretty incredible and memorable. I think the quality of the ensemble was outstanding as well as the energy of the audience and the acoustic of Symphony Hall combine to make it a concert experience where you can really achieve a pinnacle of your performance abilities. I practiced insanely hard for the concerts and to prepare mentally and those experiences and techniques still remain with me today.
3. What piqued your interest in commissioning new works? Any favorite stories working with composers?
The euphonium is young, let’s face it. So helping to generate new music has become a passion of mine. When you have the opportunity to develop and break ground on new projects, there is an incredible sense of ownership. Hopefully, we can introduce the euphonium to as many composers as possible and, in turn, they might enhance euphonium parts in their future compositions. In this way, we can create a great sense of momentum for the instrument.
Allen Feinstein’s concerto was very memorable! We spent a lot of time talking and then all of a sudden the 1st movement showed up and it was incredibly difficult. I told him the rest of the piece can’t be this crazy. So he adjusted the demands, but it was a great opportunity to be creative. I was also able to make a few recommendations like having the euphonium on a counter melody in certain spots and to use a mute for a color change.
4. Why is the euphonium a more popular timbre choice than baritone or valve trombone, and do you see any need for euphonium players to embrace these tone colors and traditions?
I believe the euphonium is more popular because the sound has a greater timbrel contrast from the trombone. The baritone and valve trombone are, of course, somewhat different as well, but the euphonium has the most distinct tonal palette. As an arranger, I think that greater contrast offers more colors and opportunities. The euphonium provides a broader range spectrum (top to bottom) and lastly, I feel as though the sound is broader and a little less direct.
5. What do you think of when you think of Leonard B. Falcone, and what did he mean to the instrument?
I think of someone that pushed the limits and was a major ambassador for the instrument. Incredible tonging and flair with a strong tradition of education. He was certainly one of the best proponents of the instrument in the US and made a large impact of school band education.
6. What is your concept of sound on the euphonium, and the place of vibrato within it?
This is certainly interesting question! What is dark to one person, may be bright to another. I like to think about the ideals of projection, clarity, warmth, and color when I think about my playing. I hope to explore and convey a wide variety of possibilities within those areas.
I look at vibrato as an additional option on top of the previous things. I like to use vibrato as a musical tool that can offer a subtle warmth, an intensifying gesture or an impassioned appeal. The absence of vinbrato can add a cool and calm feeling to a phrase. My preference is that the vibrato not be an always on, nor an overpowering aspect of sound. It should add something when used.
7. What differences have you noted in teaching and playing styles between the US, Switzerland and Korea?
I think everyone is going for the same thing in regards to teaching, namely: a good physical setup, a quality tone, an efficient use of air, a reduced use of muscle tension, and that creative spark.
There are differing levels of creativity as well as the color palettes in use. Some artists like subtle colors, others, very strong intense colors! Some are even intentionally monochromatic. Yet, they are all artistic. I generally strive to play with very vibrant colors, but sometimes there is more beauty in a subtle approach that might suit a particular piece better than vibrancy or bombast.
I think also that culture and personal character come into play as well. Someone that is more introverted likely enjoys playing a little more subdued but still is feeling the music. The types of ensembles in the country makes a big difference as well. Countries with high-intensity brass bands(like Switzerland and the UK), tend to have much higher technical demands and soloist requirements placed on them in the many competitions. By contrast, wind band focused countries(US and Japan,) tend to have a a basic approach which emphasizes a greater focus on tone and blend-the art of the ensemble player. The brass band players have ensemble skills for sure, but they are different. I always remember my first brass band rehearsal and was shocked by the challenging music.
8. Who are your musical heroes?
Steven Mead as an inspiration to aspire towards a career as a soloist and be charismatic; Brian Bowman for sound and character; Art Lehman for virtuosity and ease; Jaqueline de Pre for her intensity and passion; David Randolph
(my teacher) as an incredibly sensitive chamber musician and champion of new music; James Gourlay for his wit, insights, and playing; Patrick Sheridan for showmanship and flair! There are more….
Malcolm Gladwell as a motivator and de-constructor of success; my dad, Steve Frey, for his incredible work ethic and “can-do attitude”; Jack Welch and Bill Gates as leaders in the business world that stuck with their visions and made them happen.
9. What are your thoughts on the euphonium in chamber music, is tuba quartet enough?
No, we need to explore as many options as possible. I try to work chamber music into as many programs as possible. Soloist with brass quintet, duets with saxophone or trumpet, brass ensemble. We need more.
I also think greater explorations in jazz would be very helpful. This is a great medium that I want to play more of, but just don’t have the time to really craft my skills. I am still hoping though….
Listen to Adam perform excerpts from his CD recordings…
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
Images Courtesy of euphonium.com
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Mirari Brass doesn’t necessarily want you comfortable in their concerts! Expect the unexpected, as the terrain could vary from music of the Renaissance to Mingus and back to Bozza! Comfortable in their own skins, Mirari embraces the opportunities of 21st century mediums, and is winning a special connection with their millennial peers. As the buzz for this fresh new group grows, “FIVE!” charts the new millennium with The Mirari Brass.
1. The spirit that infuses and inspires your work seems fresh. How did the five friends of Mirari meet? And how did you forge your purpose, was there an event or experience that made you think, “Why doesn’t anyone do it this way?”
The original members met playing at Indiana University together. New members, Matt and Stephanie, have been added not only because of their musical abilities but also due to their awesome personalities.
The group is spread out all over the country. When new members have been added, it’s not based on location but instead of who will fit best with the rest of the group.
One of the main missions of the group is education. All five members are college professors who love to teach. At the same time, we don’t want to lose the other big part of being a musician, performing. Finding a group of people that get’s along really well and shares an artistic vision is a rarity, and in the end is more important than all of us living in the same place.
2. At times you need a French horn, and sometimes it is just about ‘more cowbell’! Please talk about integrating percussion into your arrangements as played by the members themselves. It certainly adds a lot of color. Some genres of music need a non-brass element to communicate time and style. We take pride that we can provide that element from within the group itself.
In addition to adding percussion we also have pieces that include piano and singing, which showcases other members additional talents.
3. How were you selected to perform at the 2015 ITG, and what does it mean to you?
We knew a guy, but seriously…. ITG was really interested due to our emphasis on new music and commissions. In addition our 2014 at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference created a positive buzz which eventually made its way to the ITG coordinators. As college professors we encouraged to perform and connect with other musicians across the country.
Performing at ITG will give us a chance to broaden those connections with students and other professionals. We’re excited to share our music with our colleagues. This will hopefully encourage other musicians to perform some of the works we are showcasing.
4. Your website is a thing of beauty. Can you discuss the challenges and opportunities of managing bookings, websites, and recordings for a young brass quintet in the millennial age? In some ways it’s actually easier.
Because there are so many social mediums and opportunities that reach a huge demographic of people, we can easily show and represent who we are as performers, teachers, and people!
We can easily share all of the fun things we are up to through Facebook and twitter as well as highlighting our professional side on our website and through our agent’s website, too. It’s great to our fans to be able to get to know who we are as people. It creates stronger connections:)
We started out booking all of our own gigs, and though we are well connected in the music business we did have to do a good deal of cold calling and reaching out. Figuring out that process was initially a challenge. Starting and maintaining connections with presenters is also a challenge, but fortunately we now have help with that from our management company, Ariel Artists.
Our first recording took a few years to finish due to how spread out we all were. We did a ‘Kickstarter’ campaign to raise funds for our second CD (recording in May, just before ITG), which will allow us to record all of the music in a 4-day span at a great hall in Logan, Utah.
We look to a wide variety of genres for inspiration outside of the brass genre. Jessie loves musical theatre, so that’s a huge inspiration for her. Alex is also a great jazz performer and teacher, so that’s a big inspiration for him as well. Specifically though, Stevie Wonder, Chicago, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones…
6. Do any of your members sing, and/or do you anticipate collaborations with vocalists?
Yes, our horn player Jessie also sings. We don’t have any collaborations with vocalists in the works right now, but are always open to new collaborations. Recently we started talking with some of the other Ariel Artists about potential group projects.
7. Programming seems vital to your ensemble. You seem to like to mix it up? How wide does this philosophy range in style, and how does it affect the performers and the audience? We’ve coined the term “stylistic whiplash” to describe our programs. Meaning we play works from the Renaissance, to Classical, to Romantic, to jazz, throwing the audience between styles rapidly. We do like to mix it up, audiences have access to and enjoy all different types of music.
As a result we think it’s important to offer music from a wide variety of genres to serve a larger demographic. This keeps us continually changing the way we approach the group sound and style, molding our sound to fit each new period or genre, forcing us to be versatile performers. In addition it keeps the audience engaged and on their toes.
8. Do you find yourselves drawn to any particular places or times?
Anywhere we can make music together is fine with us:)
9. Where do you see the future of brass quintets heading in the next ten to twenty years? We can’t speak for all brass quintets, but we think there will be many more chamber groups (not just brass quintets) popping up all over the country and world.
Chamber groups are a great vehicle to take music on the road, spreading the genre to a wide variety of people.
We also believe that live music will take on an even greater importance in the current age of Youtube and Spotify. In the past live music was a fundamental social event. Our society has somewhat moved away from that. We hope and believe that there will be a resurgence of that social importance, and as a result live chamber music.
Switch from euphonium to bass trombone as a senior in college-(check). Win New York Philharmonic position-(check). Start a trombone festival and pick up up Atlanta Symphony chair-(check, check), concertos, quartets & CDs (check, check, & check). “Seven Positions” tm catches up with Gotham’s newest bass trombone ace to see what is next on his list!
1. Describe your first concerto experience to your most recent one. What did you experience, and how did your approach change? How special was the Gillingham?
I remember my first concerto experience vividly. I had recently switched to bass trombone from euphonium and entered the concerto competition at Central Michigan University. Somehow, I was one of the winners, and performed the Ritter George Concerto from memory. That was really difficult, since I had basically no arm muscle memory to draw upon. It was a deer-in-headlights performance, but it went well and the experience accelerated my growth.
At CCM I performed the Ewazen Concerto with their Concert Orchestra, and though I don’t prefer being a soloist, as an orchestral trombonist I believe that it is so important pedagogically to do additional playing. It makes the job so much easier to do. My next big solo performance was a few years later playing the Bourgeois Concerto at ETW with the Army Band. Playing in front of all of those great players – with Charlie Vernon and Eric Ewazen in the front row – was really special. By this point I did a lot more score study and tried to bring my own voice to a piece in a mature way.
Most recently, I premiered the Gillingham concerto at my alma mater, which for me was one of the most special experiences I have had professionally. It is truly one of the best pieces in our repertoire, and with its global warming subject I feel like I am helping to communicate in a different way than I usually do from the back row.
2. What is your concept of an ideal bass trombone sound?
This is such an important question. Most young players aren’t able to articulate in words the kind of characteristics in a great sound. For most of us, words like warm, dark, and rich come to mind. To me, that is too vague to be of much help, even though those words all point in the right direction.
My approach changes with the music. Though I want consistent tone production, I may look for a sound that is haunting and mysterious, or sweet and innocent, or strong and masculine. Each phrase has meaning, and it is our job to project or communicate that to the audience, even if the audience is just a practice room.
3. You approached the slide first as an adult by switching from euphonium to bass trombone in your senior year of college. How did the gross motion of the slide (in contrast to the fine muscle movement of the valves), impact your air, articulation, and technical facility?
And, I’m left handed!
You hit it on the head with the with the word “gross”. I had to turn off my tuner for a year, because I couldn’t do things like go from first to fourth position consistently enough to make it worth using. One of the things that helped me was that I didn’t have too many bad habits, so I could approach my technique freshly. I did a lot of scales while glissing, which helped me to separate my arm and air. I try to get my slide articulation to match a perfect lip or valve slur.
Too many of us have legato tongues that are so soft that the notes don’t match natural and valve slurs. None of the other brass instruments use a glissy legato and they generally think trombonists sound sloppy when using it. Consistency of articulation is so important, especially when you have only a five-minute audition to demonstrate your skills to a committee consisting primarily of non-trombonists.
4. Describe what the ASO and the Atlanta musical scene meant to you.
When I called my wife after winning the ASO audition, I told her that I had done more with my career in that day than I thought I would do in my whole career. Winning a job in a big league orchestra was never an expectation of mine. I was a euphonium player until I switched to bass when I was 22 years old. I had always liked the presence and power of a great trombone section, and decided to see if I could get into grad school on trombone.
Later, when I got to Atlanta, Colin Williams, Bill Thomas (and eventually Nathan Zgonc) and I worked together with Brad Palmer to build the Southeast Trombone Symposium and release a CD together. The STS is still going strong and fills me with pride. It is a magnet for young students of course, but I was surprised at how much the STS was embraced by and has benefited the professional trombone community in the southeast. It is a great opportunity for professors, orchestral players, and freelancers to network and build relationships.
5. Name your inspirations, musical and non.
I grew up loving the NY Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony sections, and there are so many soloists to choose. Just a few include Joe Alessi, Jim Markey, Yo-Yo Ma, Jesse Norman, Pavarotti. But I also grew up listening to the visceral sound of heavy metal music, so I have to include Metallica, Tool, and Pantera.
Other inspirations include my family and scientists like Neal deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and Carl Sagan. They are the philosophers of today, and they have found ways to make their abstract ideas understandable to laymen without dumbing them down-that is something that our orchestras could use as inspiration.
6. Do you use essentially one embouchure or pivot?
Most people that I have spoken with have some kind of a shift into the low pedal range and I also have one. It’s around pedal G or F#, depending on how loud I am playing. I consciously go over that shift each time I pass that line.
7. What is the best bass trombone playing you have ever heard?
For a long time I have been a huge fan of Charlie Vernon, Randy Hawes, and Jim Markey. All of those guys have really ‘soloistic’ approaches to the instrument, and you can hear that in their orchestral playing as well.
As for myself, I can clearly remember performances of Bruckner 8 with the ASO, Fountains and Pines my first week with the NYP, and parts of my recent Gillingham premiere as well.
8. Is there a current New York symphonic trombone sound or style? If so, how would you describe it?
Though I could say that the NY Philharmonic trombone section has its own sound, it is more important for us in the section to think of the brass section sound as a while.
One of the first things that David Finlayson said to me about the brass section here was that they have a very heroic sound, which is a great way to describe it. These guys swing for the fences on every note. We have a very thick and sustained approach to playing compared to many orchestras. This is partly a response to the immense size of Avery Fisher Hall and what the brass section has had to do to properly fill it.
9. What is the difference in playing in an excellent orchestra like ASO, and a top tier orchestra like the Phil. How do you hear differently from your chair?
I learned so much in Atlanta and remember many special concerts. The demands in both orchestras are very high, as you might imagine.
I suppose the two biggest differences are work load and consistency. The Philharmonic has at least one more service per week with as many as five subscription concerts on some weeks, and the season chugs along into August with only about five or six weeks off before hitting it hard again.
Regarding consistency, I suppose the orchestra is a bit more consistent from note to note, but we have the advantage of every concert feeling artistically important. In Atlanta, we had many pops concerts, children’s concerts, run outs, parks concerts, and a full month of holiday shows. The orchestra tended to lose its edge during those stretches, and I can’t blame them. Almost every Philharmonic concert is a serious event with a big conductor or soloist, a premiere, a tour, a recording for radio broadcast, or a hall filled with 2,500+ patrons. The consistency of having to have your best day every day is a real grind, but it makes us better players who are fully invested in our careers.
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
Images courtesy of The New York Phil. and Greg Black Mouthpieces
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