Did you see the poster for the first Artist Series concert, featuring a press photo, clearly from the 90s, of five men and their trumpets, a French horn and trombone? This ensemble, St. Louis Brass, opened the 2013-2014 Artist Series on Friday, Oct. 11 with a performance of all flavors and antics.
St. Louis Brass has been a prominent name in the formation of the brass quintet genre since its founding in 1964 by members of the St. Louis Symphony. From this quintet came the formation of Summit Brass, another premiere brass ensemble that has led the way for brass ensembles around the world. Members of St. Louis Brass include trumpeters Allan Dean and Ray Sasaki, horn player Thomas Bacon, trombonist Melvyn Jernigan and tubist Daniel Perantoni. These musicians are professors at major universities, soloists, international recording artists and an executive director of a managing firm.
Their program featured a wide variety of genres and types of music, opening with brass fanfare “Volta,” by Michael Praetorius. This Renaissance-style tune was played as the ensemble entered the stage, creating a relaxed environment between audience and artist and also immediately showing off the united sound of their ensemble. The next piece was the “Praetorius Dance Suite #2,” made up of three sprightly dance-like tunes in the same vein as the opening fanfare.
Jumping five hundred years forward, the quintet then performed “Daylight at Midnight” by contemporary composer Dana Wilson. This three-movement work endeavors to reflect elements of both despair and hope. Wilson achieved this through complex rhythms, brass “effects,” use of mutes, asymmetric lines and complex chords, greatly contrasting the two previous Renaissance style pieces.
Next came a brass quintet version of “Aesop’s Fables” by former member and trumpeter Anthony Plog. Four movements in length, a member of the ensemble would narrate one of the stories while the rest of the ensemble added the musical story, playing lion “roars,” bear growls, musings of Billy Goat, chatter of a monkey and everything in between. To close out the first half, they played a rendition of “Saint Louis Blues,” paying homage to their roots and the jazz tradition that came before them.
The second half opened with another example of early music from Italy, “Saltarello,” and then jumped to Argentina in the twentieth century with Astor Piazzolla’s tunes “Café 1930” and “Libertango.” These added a completely new flavor to the concert with elements of the highly romantic tango sound.
The next “performance” truly encompassed the goofiness seen in their 90s press photo. In “Divertimento for Neglected” the quintet educated the audience on the history of wind instruments including conch shells, early horns, bugle, the “unwound” trombone, garden hose, soprano trombone and other variations in between. In showing each of these instruments, they would play a variety of tunes such as “Happy Birthday,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and “Over the Rainbow.” They concluded this tune with a version of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” performing on the bugle, soprano trombone, garden hose, tuba and a trombone that requires you to walk backward and forward to change notes.
The concert concluded with “Tribute to Pops,” including a number of Louis Armstrong’s famous tunes such as “Hello Dolly,” “Basin Street Blues,” “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” “What A Wonderful World” and “Mack the Knife.” Throughout the entire performance, each genre and type of music was performed with impeccable technique, attention to detail, dynamic range and beautiful execution, making it clear to audiences that St. Louis Brass has played together for a long time and has truly mastered the art of chamber music making.