Trumpet player Chris Morrison set the tone as he welcomed the audience to an evening of fun…”SERIOUS FUN,” he emphasized.
The Foothills Brass Quintet took the audience on a journey all over the map.
The program opener, from the Spanish opera El Gato Montes (English translation, The Wild Cat – Manuel Penella, 1880-1939), was an immediate showcase for the abilities of the five players – the dynamics achieved were remarkable.
From the Spanish Penella, the Quintet’s tour moved through George Handel (1685-1759) with Music for the Royal Fireworks (complete with blazing back and forth between trumpets), then to Russian cellist Victor Ewald (1860-1935), composer of the next piece, for brass quintet – Quintet No. 1 in Bb minor, mvmts 1 & 3 (a rarity for music to be composed specifically for brass). The players flowed through the continuing theme, trading places with the melody throughout. The decrescendo to the near-quiet at the culmination of movement 1 and the grand Russian finish in movement 3 were played perfectly. Ewald’s Quintet compositions are thought to be the first for brass quintet. Trumpet player Derrick Milton announced, “Brass players are thieves!” Because there is little music composed for brass players, they must use music for other instruments, re-write the music so it’s playable on brass instruments.
Polka from the Age of Gold (Dmitri Shostakovich, 1906-1975) shook the sound-waves at Knox. “Think of this as punk rock in its day,” trombone player Carsten Rubeling told the audience. This is Shostakovich doing his best job with sarcasm and sneer, thumbing his nose at the music scenario via his compositions for the ballet, Age of Gold. Interestingly, the ballet was censored at the time, not because of the music style but because of the European modern dance styles in the ballet.
The Quintet played through frivolity with great skill in Humoresque (Antonin Dvorak, 1841-1904), then to the smooth Concerto for Cootie (known later, with lyrics, as Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me, Edward ‘Duke’ Ellington, 1899-1975). Jean Francois Cornoir’s tuba provided beautiful base here; Carsten Rubeling, trombone, and Rosalee Morrison, French horn, shared gorgeous measures.
Next stop was Argentina, with Tango Choc (Astor Piazzolla, 1921-1992). Rosalee Morrison’s French horn and Carsten Rubeling’s trombone tones were melted chocolate-in-music (that may or may not have been the composer’s intention).
And then a first surprise, mixed with frivolity – the movies! Following an audience poll as to which movie theme should be played, trumpet players Derrick Milton and Chris Morrison led the team with The FBQ’s arrangement of Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther. Not one soul was disappointed with this!
From travels to movies, to Gospel and Dixieland – Amazing Grace (arr. Luther Henderson, 1919-2003) rounded off the first half of the program. Chris Morrison’s trumpet was glorious and superb. Repeat – glorious. And uplifting.
The second half opened with the perfect settling-back-in piece, a journey back to the Old West as the FB players entered the stage one at a time, with the lowest tone, the tuba, leading – Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds (Bob Nolan, 1908-1980). The jelling of the five instruments, the spot-on smooth blending and stellar dynamics shone here.
Then came another surprise! The FBQ welcomed the Kwalikum Secondary School Brass Quintet (from Qualicum Beach) to the stage – Hana Rogers, trumpet; Ethan Dowdle, trumpet; Mathew McDermand, French horn; Thys Westerhof, trombone, and Gwaiidon Duckworth-White, tuba. The KSS Quintet had observed and worked with the FBQ in an arranged rehearsal and masterclass event on February 21, the day before this concert (for local music students and teachers). Because of the skill and talent shown by the students, they were invited to perform with the professionals in concert. The FBQ played Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (Johann Bach, 1685-1750), with the KSS Quintet joining in the refrain measures, all with blended, flowing aplomb. Rich sounds filled the concert hall, bringing boisterous acclamation that surely was heard in Qualicum Beach, Port Alberni, Courtenay and beyond.
Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) was the next featured composer with dueling horns in Galliard Battaglia (memories of dueling banjos came to mind!). Fast, furious and fabulous!
A third surprise, after an education sidestep about the brief history of horns, Chris Morrison was front and centre for Oh Mama, Mama Cara (trad., arr. Chris Morrison) was the incredible playing on cornet by Mr. Morrison. He played double cornet on ONE cornet, and played it all using only ONE finger. Morrison’s Quintet colleagues were astounded, as was every person in the house.
Nessun Dorma (Giacomo Puccini, 1858 – 1924), from the great opera, Turandot, is a tenor’s delight. Here it was the trombone’s delight. Trombonist Carsten Rubeling’s solo was stellar – well worth what was, no doubt, a lengthy transcription time (re-writing the music for brass).
The final three offerings in the program left the audience wanting more – Tango for Jam Jam (Zachary Smith, 2010), a showcase for dynamics (the loudest and quietest notes on brass); Girl With the Flaxen Hair (Claude Debussy, 1862 – 1918), bringing tuba player Jean-Francois Cotnoir to the fore with his hilarious turn at the mic and his beautiful base thread undertones throughout the music. That’s A Plenty (Lew Pollack, 1895 – 1946), a celebration of Dixieland and the upcoming Mardi Gras rounded off the show.
Audience applause would not let the FBQ leave the stage till they played one more piece. Hoots of praise approved the final choice when the players began familiar refrains from the William Tell Overture , from the opera William Tell (Gioachino Rossini, 1792 – 1868). A vigorous standing ovation wrapped up the evening; concert-goers went home raving.
by Mary Leigh Warden