Monday, April 25, 2016

And now...Berlin

Okay yes. Not technically brass ensemble, but I couldn't leave this out.

This video is just an excerpt, and I would encourage everyone to watch this full performance in Berlin's Digital Concert Hall.

The finale of Bruckner's 8th Symphony is the stuff of brass player's dreams. Giant, long, sustained fortissimo chords with interruptions of menacingly articulated dotted rhythms.

Now, I chose Berlin for obvious reasons. They are (arguably) the best orchestra on the planet currently, for more than one reason. But their brass is certainly one giant reason. The sound and consistency of these players is unmatched almost anywhere else, and their collective power is staggering. The focused sound of the trombone section, the high piercing, yet somehow still rich trumpets. And the pride of Berlin: their horns. The amazing combination of bright but not edgy, loud but not harsh, and complete unity of sound makes even the most diehard 8D worshiper (me) bow down and acknowledge the glory of the Alexader 103.

Watch it several times. It only gets better.

BSO Brass

Dug up this cool video of the Boston Symphony Brass from late 90's early 00's judging by the players.

Another great example of symphony players and the unique advantages and influences of section playing on ensemble work. Again there is that great sense of forward motion in the sound that stems from a trust amongst the players. Hesitation is a product of being unsure, and with colleagues such as these, that you know so well, being unsure is likely not a problem. In their playing, this is reflected in the tightness of time and one-ness of sound.

Horns: Richard "Gus" Sebring, Jonathan Menkis, Jay Wadenpfuhl, Richard Mackey. Trumpets: Thomas Rolfs, Bruce Hall, Steve Emery. 
Trombones: Norman Bolter, Darren Acosta, Douglas Yeo. 
Tuba: Gary Ofenloch.

LNSO Brass

This is a video of the brass players of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra. I love the piece, but I can't ascertain what it is from the description.

It features different instruments throughout, but there is some very impressive high horn playing right off the bat.

All the things I admire in American orchestral sections hold true for this group. In particular, the lack of hesitation. All the players are so sure of their own parts and that they can rely on their colleagues that nothing is misplaced and everything has intent.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

THE Chicago Brass

I'm sure we've all seen this one of the Chicago Brass playing under the direction of the legendary Jay Freidman (and for some reason including Joe Allessi?). It's too good not to see again, so here it is.

They play a really neat Strauss medley.

Just listen to that sound! The roundness and the body! I think they solved the problem with Strauss' music: all those darn strings! Who needs 'em with a sound like this?

I did take particular notice in this video (perhaps because of all the close-up shots) of the breathing that these players do. If I weren't watching, I would never know. They know the ensemble well enough to be able to disguise their breaths in the music. A step beyond stagger breathing. Enjoy!
Since I'm on a Met kick, here's the 2009 release by the Metropolitan Opera Brass.

Some of my favorites on this album are the Hunter's Chorus from Der Freischütz, Zerbinetta's Aria from Ariadne auf Naxos, and the Opening Of Scene II  in Das Rheingold.

I can't say enough how much I love this group and how much I really think that their opera jobs influence the way they play and approach any music. The long (Looooooong) phrases and singing (yes singing) lines are truly astounding on this album and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Wagner and the Met Brass

Another great youtube find! This video from 2011 shows members of the Metropolitan Opera Brass section explaining and demonstrating Wagner's use of leitmotifs throughout his Ring Cycle. 

I've listed the personnel below.

You might recognize UIowa alumnus Denson Paul Pollard at 1:53 on the bass trumpet.

Another notable aspect of this video is the beautiful playing of the notoriously terrible Wagner tuben. I have never played a more difficult-to-tune instrument than the tuben, so any accurate and beautiful playing on them is certainly worthy of praise.

But wouldn't we expect that from the Met? These guys (and gals) are the best of the best and as much as symphony players know their colleagues, this group spends more time performing in close quarters than almost any other group, and it certainly shows in their sound.

David Krauss, Billy Hunter, Ray Riccomini, Peter Bond -trumpets
Joe Anderer, Erik Ralkse, Scott Brubaker, Michelle Baker, Javier Gandara, Brad Gemeinhardt, Anne Scharer, Barbara Currie, Julia Pilant, Tony Cecere- Horns 
David Langlitz, Demian Austin, Weston Sprott, Stephen Norrell, Pat Herb- trombones
Paul Pollard- bass trumpet
Chris Hall - tuba

Here's a great video of LA in (based on the personnel I see) the mid 90s. It's an excerpt from Schumann's "Rhenish" Symphony, his 3rd. While it is a trombone feature, I must say I'm a little miffed as a horn player that the principal horn in not acknowledged at all in the video even though they share that exact line with the principal trombone.

That said, the playing between the two sections is so in sync and accurate, that one might never know it was a duet.

Biased arguments aside, the playing is excellent. Ralph Sauer (who I'm very excited to meet this summer) is playing principal trombone and Jeff Raynolds plays bass. I love this opening to the fourth movement for its simple and somewhat fugal writing between scarce voices. It requires great agility and intonation of all the players and a huge attention to good section playing.

Monday, March 21, 2016

LA Philharmonic Brass

In case you missed it, the brass from the LA Phil played a great rendition of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man on The Late Show. I was so excited to see this on a national stage and have it (hopefully) reach an audience not accustomed to this music. The piece was a great choice too. A very exciting and accessible fanfare that the layman would enjoy.

It is not a small feat that this was live on national television, and the performance was fantastic.


There are several players that I assume are substitutes and are not listed in the personell of the LAPhil.

Dallas Symphony Brass Quintet

This is a group of players from the Dallas Sympony Orchestra, one of my favorite groups.

I think this video touches on some very important things about chamber music and showcases it's importance especially for symhpony players. Kevin Finamore talks about the challenge and value of chamber music to symphony musicians.

In a nice change of pace for this blog, this is a really high quality video with some very artistic cinematography and great sound quality. Having been at this for a little while now, the differences in style of the groups I've covered is becoming more and more apparent and I particularly like the sound and style of this ensemble. Their versatility is also noteworthy. I've listed the musicians below.

Ryan Anthony and Kevin Finamore, trumpet
Greg Hustis, horn
John Kitzman, trombone
Matt Good, tuba

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Philadelphia Orchestra Brass

I just dug up this great video from 1969 (the Ormandy days!) with the Philadelphia Orchestra Brass. The members are listed below.

Although the quality of the video is lacking, I really enjoy this peek into the past. I like especially Gil Johnson trying to "concisely" explain the intricacies of a fugue to a television audience. Even with the quality of the video, you hear the unification in sound and time with these orchestral players. This is a similar ensemble to the Pittsburgh Brass in my last post. I quite like the added tenor/bass voice.

Gil Johnson and Seymore Rosenthal, trumpets
Nolan Miller, horn
Dee Stuart, trombone
Tyrone Breuninger, euphonium
Abe Torchinsky, tuba

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pershing's Own Trumpet Ensemble

A little change of pace. This is an ensemble of trumpets from Pershing's Own Army Band, one of the only professional concert bands in the country.

My favorite part about this video is the range of timbre achieved by an entirely homogenous ensemble. I'll admit that I was skeptical when I first saw this video in my search. A trumpet ensemble to me bespeaks a lack of range and color and, frankly, lots and lots of loud playing. Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised with this performance. I think what really sold me was the restraint in the sound of the ensemble. With a piece as delicate and beautiful as this, it takes a great deal of skill to treat it properly, and I think this ensemble more than achieved this. So much so, that I found myself not even missing the lower range usually critical to a chorale. The color and finesse of this ensemble is phenomenal, and I will gladly eat my words.

Here are some other great videos from the same performance:
Dürrenhorn Passage
Gershwin Medley
Vivaldi Concerto 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Pittsburgh Symphony Brass

Here's a live video of the Pittsburgh Symphony Brass playing some wonderfully balanced and stylistic contrapunctal music. All the players are members of the Pittsburgh Symphony and I've listed them by instrument below with links to their bios.

This group recorded an album in 1998 that includes Bach's collection known as "The Art of the Fugue." The album by the same title is yet another testament to the quality of orchestral brass. The balance of ensemble, interactive and sensitive playing, huge range of dynamics, timbre, and articulation are all hallmarks of great orchestral playing, and the effect that has on an ensemble like this is significant.

I also wanted to mention how much I like the addition of the bass trombone to make the group a sextet. The extra bass/tenor voice adds a certain richness to the group.


Horn William Caballero
Trumpets-George Vosburgh and Neil Bernsten
Tenor Trombone-Peter Sullivan
Bass Trombone-Murray Crewe
Tuba-Craig Knox

Sunday, March 6, 2016

This is a great video from two years ago that combines two of my favorite things: brass, and baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals (best team in the MLB) were taking on the Boston Red Sox (...) in the NLCS and the orchestras of the respective cities decided to get in on the rivalry.

This is a great demonstration of not only fantastic playing, but the fun and joy that comes from collaboration. Karin Bliznik is one of the most impressive trumpet players in the world today and I can say from personal experience that her sound is so intense and focussed that it's like a laser beam slicing through the orchestra. (See Alpine Sinfonie). I love to see someone that impressive and serious do something like this. We as musicians sometimes see our idols as so far beyond ourselves that it makes them unrealistic. This sort of thing humanizes the players we so admire and, I think, makes them in turn much more accessible. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Weiner Philharmoiker Fanfare

In doing research for a paper, I came across this video taken from what appears the middle of the trombone section of the VPO brass. Of course the sound quality is lacking, but I think it's actually pretty cool to hear the ensemble from this perspective (lots of tuba!).

This piece was originally composed by Strauss for the first Vienna Philharmonic Ball, now an annual benefit event. You'll notice that the music is repeated many times as it's purpose is to accompany the procession of guests (dignitaries and otherwise important people).

As a testament to the skill of these players, after five minutes of very heavy playing, the horns belt out the final high B flats in the finale with apparent ease. If only we all had that kind of endurance.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Vienna Brass

Okay, so this isn't technically a brass ensemble, but I love this video simply for the first six notes of the piece. The completely unison Es are seemingly simple, but tuning and timing are so nakedly apparent in the best way. I particularly enjoy this video because you see Muti give the cue as though he understands so thoroughly that no matter what he does, a brass section of this caliber will be together. Heck, he could have given the cue with jazz hands, and I'm sure that the brass would have sounded just as good. This kind of uniformity and one-ness of sound is so mesmerizing when it is at such a high level.

The Symphonic Brass of London

This is a very cool compilation video of a dectet of players from London performing in a cathedral in Norway. The pieces are start with an arrangement of a piece by François Couperin, a French Baroque composer. This is quickly followed by Debussy's Girl With the Flaxen Hair. Next up, De Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, and Ravel's Alborada del Gracioso. Then perhaps some of the most famous opera excerpts from Bizet's Carmen. Then come some very fun and lively arrangements of works by Spanish composer Enrique Granados. La Boda de Luis Alonzo by Giménez is the last work.

The quality of the video is rather lacking, but the the level of playing is superb enough to compensate for that.

The website for the group.

Chicago Symphony Horns

I just stumbled across the coolest album that I can't seem to find anywhere besides youtube.
From what I can put together from the notes, this would have been recorded in the early 60's. Christopher Lauba is listed as a performer, and he was principal horn in between Farkas and Clevenger, so as well as I can make out, early 60's.

The piece in this "video" is Alexander Mitushin's Concertino for Four Horns. 

Enjoy the unified sound and some really fantastic low horn playing!

Recap of Listening Presentation

A week or so late, but here is a list of the tracks I played with some additional information. I've included spotify links

Take 9 Antiphonal Fanfare
-Kerry Turner, composer.
-The performers included the American Horn Quartet and the 5 horns of the New York Philharmonic from 2004

Sous Le ciel de Paris – Berlin Philharmonic Horn Quartet
-The horn of the Berlin Philharmonic-Stefan Dohr, Fergus McWilliam, Stefan de Leval Jezierski, and Sara Willis from their 2011 album.
-There are some funny little musical quotes all over this album. This particular track sneaks in a little bit of Eroica.

Sacrae symphoniae
-From the National Brass Ensemble's 2015 all-Gabrieli release with T. Higgins' arrangements.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart
-Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass from their 1966 album S.R.O.
-After looking into this, I learned that Alpert would often dub his own playing over his own playing for a fuller sound.

La virgen de la Macarena
-By Bernardino Bautista Monterde featuring the legendary Rolf Smedvig on trumpet.
-I particularly love this track because of how unapologetically crazy the trumpet sound is. And of course the ensemble is fantastic.

-From the CSO Brass and their 2011 LIVE album. Arrangement by Bruce Roberts.

Pines of the Appian Way
-Recorded in 2008 also LIVE with another all-star group, the Summit Brass.

Berceuse & Finale from the Firebird 
-Another LIVE recording of the Denver Brass from 2012, a group made up mostly of the brass faculty at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver, my alma mater.

Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare 
-One of my all-time favorite pieces to perform and listen to. This is yet another LIVE recording from 2015 with the brass of the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Mehta.

Double Trio: II. Tempo rubato e andante
-An finally, the strangest of this list, a 1993 recording of a William Kraft piece done by the LA Horn Club with guests coincidentally under the direction of Mehta.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Chicago Symphony Brass Plays Ewald

Seeing as a week from today we'll be studying the landmark third brass quintet by Viktor Ewald, I thought a fantastic recording of his first would inform that class.

This is another favorite recording of mine. I would encourage you to listen to it somewhere other than the youtube link above as the quality is severely lacking.

Some background on the recording: This was done live in 1966 in Chicago with the brass quintet composed of members of the CSO. Trumpets, Adolph Herseth and Vincent Cichowicz, horn, Richard Oldberg, trombone, Frank Crisafulli, and the legendary player and pedagogue Arnold Jacobs on tuba.

Once again the sense of connection and intimacy is so present in this playing. These artists know the ins and outs of each others sounds and how to create a phenomenal ensemble playing rather that presenting 5 soloists. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Take 9-Music for Horns

In 2004, the American Horn Quartet collaborated with the horn section of the New York Philharmonic to make the album "Take 9."

Long time friend of the AHQ, composer Kerry Turner is featured on the CD and his style aligns in such a glorious way with sound of the two groups.

This album in particular highlights the qualities of an orchestral horn section in immediate juxtaposition with a non-symphonic group. The differences in timbre are somewhat noticeable upon close listening, but I would argue that this is a huge advantage for this group as the two ensembles are extremely complimentary in style. In Turner's Antiphonal Fanfare, the range in tone and timbre are so well balanced, one hears a brass ensemble across 4 octaves in the opening, followed by a homogenous horn ensemble directly after.

Here are some more FANTASTIC tracks from what has become one of my favorite albums:
Tuner-Ghosts of Dublin
Brahms (Arr. Robert Elkjer)-Hungarian Dance No. 5
Turner-Farewell To Red Castle
Ewazen-Grand Canyon Suite


Monday, February 1, 2016

New York Philharmonic Brass

The above is one of my favorite videos on the web and another outstanding demonstration of the ensemble quality of a symphony orchestra brass section.

Unfortunately, the description is rather lacking, but extrapolating from the personnel in the video, we can assume that this is late '80s early 90s New York Phil.

In no way do I seek to disparage or discredit the conductor, James Levine, but I will say that one gets the sense that a section of players this talented and familiar with one another could operate without his guidance. Of course this is the case with all of the top-tier orchestras, but in unity of expression and interpretation, this recording surpasses what a conductor is able to show. The players themselves were steering this ship.

I wanted to make specific mention of the low brass. The way in which you see them interact with one another is so subtle, yet so important. It is clear that these players know each other incredibly well and that their sounds, both in timbre and articulation, are so unified that it sounds like a single player with a phenomenally rich tone. This is particularly apparent in the way they breathe completely as one, leaving off the tone in such a way that it rings through the hall to cover the space in which they take the breath.

As a side note, a former teacher of mine, Warren Deck is the tubist in the section!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Orchestral Brass Sections and Their Unique Advantage

In case the title wasn't clear, this blog will discuss brass sections from established orchestras that perform outside of that group. This first post is an outstanding example of the high level not only of musicianship, but the cohesiveness of an ensemble that, can only be achieved in a setting like an orchestra. Most basically, the time these musicians spend together in the orchestra affords  them the luxury of knowing one another very intimately. Not only do they learn effective techniques in playing and rehearsing together, but the oneness of sound achieved by a group like Berlin is something that cannot be faked, rushed, or synthesized in any way.

My intention is certainly not to discredit other ensembles, but rather to point out the unique qualities of an ensemble such as this and the opportunities they have to create incredible recordings like the one above.