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Recital
DEDIK'S POTENT BEETHOVEN AND CHOPIN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Monday, September 17, 2018
Anastasia Dedik returned Sept. 17 to the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series in a recital that featured three familiar virtuoso works in potent interpretations. Chopin’s G Minor Ballade hasn’t been heard in Sonoma County public concerts since a long-ago Earl Wild performance, and Beethoven’s...
Recital
DUO WEST OPENS OCCIDENTAL CONCERT SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 09, 2018
Before a full house at the Occidental Performing Arts Center Sept. 9 the cello-piano Duo West, playing from score throughout, presented a recital that on paper looked stimulating and thoughtful. Beginning with MacDowell’s To A Wild Rose (from Woodland Sketches, Op. 51), the transcription by an unan...
Chamber
CELLO-PIANO DUO IN HUSKY SPRING LAKE VILLAGE PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, September 05, 2018
Two thirds of the way through a stimulating 22-concert season the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series Sept. 5 presented two splendid cello sonatas before 110 people in the Village’s Montgomery auditorium. A duo for more than a decade, East Bay musicians cellist Monica Scott and pianist Hadle...
Chamber
EXTRAVAGANT FUSION OF STYLES AT CHRIS BOTTI BAND WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Jerry Dibble
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Trumpeter Chris Botti still performs in jazz venues including SF Jazz and The Blue Note, but now appears mostly in cavernous halls or on outdoor stages like the Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center. He brought his unique road show to the packed Weill Hall August 12 in a concert of effusive e...
Chamber
SCHUBERT "MIT SCHLAG" AT VOM FESTIVAL MORNING CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 29, 2018
The spirit of 19th century Vienna was present July 29 on the final day of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. The Festival in the second half of July glittered with innovative programming and the new, old sound of original instruments played by musicians who love music with historic instruments. ...
Chamber
PASSIONATE BRAHMS-SCHOENBERG MUSIC CLOSES VOM FESTIVAL SUMMER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 29, 2018
An extraordinary program of chamber music by Brahms and Schoenberg attracted a capacity crowd to the Valley of the Moon Music Festival’s final concert July 29th in Sonoma’s Hanna Center. It opened with a richly expressive reading by Festival Laureate violinist Rachell Wong and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur...
Chamber
PRAGUE AND VIENNA PALACE GEMS HIGHLIGHT VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 28, 2018
The remarkable Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival presented a concert called “Kinsky Palace” July 28 on their final Festival weekend in Sonoma’s Hanna Center. Two well-known treasures and one lesser gem were programmed. Starting the afternoon offerings were violinist Monica Huggett and Fest...
Chamber
INNOVATIVE CHAMBER WORKS IN HANNA CENTER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, July 22, 2018
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival presented a July 22 concert featuring three giants: Haydn, Schubert and Schumann, composers who altered music of their time with creative innovations and artistic vision. In the fourth season the Festival’s theme this year is “Vienna in Transition”, and VOM Fes...
Chamber
VIENNA INSPIRATION FOR VOM FESTIVAL PROGRAM AT HANNA CENTER
by Nicki Bell
Saturday, July 21, 2018
A music-loving audience filled Sonoma’s Hanna Center Auditorium July 21 to begin a record weekend of three concerts, produced by the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. The Festival’s theme this summer is “Venice in Transition – From the Enlightenment to the Dawn of Modernism” Prior to Saturday’s m...
Chamber
VANHAL QUARTET AT VOM FESTIVAL DISCOVERY AT HANNA CENTER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 15, 2018
A near-capacity crowd of 220 filled the Sonoma Hanna Boys Center Auditorium July 15 for the opening concert of the fourth Valley of the Moon Music Festival. This Festival presents gems of the Classical and early Romantic periods performed on instruments of the composer’s era, which presents a few ch...
CHAMBER REVIEW
National Brass Ensemble / Thursday, June 12, 2014
Twenty-Four Brass Instrumentalists

Brass Instruments

A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME BRASS CONCERT

by Philip Beard
Thursday, June 12, 2014

"I think I just died and went to heaven" is a stock phrase for times of unusual bliss. On June 12 at SSU's Green Music Center, I didn't in fact die, but the 2½ hours spent listening to the National Brass Ensemble came as close to a brass player's heaven as I can imagine.

The hall was all but sold out, to a crowd of casually dressed and (as the evening progressed) ever more enthusiastic brass music aficionados, including a huge contingent of active trumpeters, hornists, trombonists, and tubists. Everywhere you looked you saw somebody familiar from this or that performing group or workshop.

The National Brass Ensemble, assembled specifically for this performance and the recording which will replicate it, consists of 24 of the finest brass players in the world: leading trumpeters, trombonists, horn players and tubists from such revered musical institutions as the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland, Chicago, and Philadelphia orchestras, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony. The last time a project of this magnitude was undertaken was in 1968 when the brass sections of the Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland Orchestras conspired to record the iconic Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli. So it's no exaggeration to say that what we witnessed the other night was epochal. The scope of the project alone would have sufficed to make it so; the performance itself bore out that "epochal" appellation many times over.

Giovanni Gabrieli, the renowned organist at Venice's Basilica San Marco, wrote a prodigious amount of antiphonal (multi-choir) music involving both instruments and voices. Existing in a multitude of arrangements for modern instruments, selections from his works are obligatory constituents of any serious brass group's repertoire.

But no other brass group can match this National Brass Ensemble. They've never performed all together before, and may well never again. The Gabrieli works they played were all arranged for this historic performance by ensemble member Tim Higgins, principal trombone of the San Francisco Symphony. He provided the group with a rich spectrum of challenging material, putting their individual and collective expertise thoroughly to the test. They rose spectacularly to the challenge.

The program consisted of no less than 17 Gabrieli works taken from his Sacrae Symphoniae of 1597, plus one world premiere piece donated by the renowned film scorer John Williams (and composed especially for this project). The Gabrielis took various forms--cantatas, canzonas, motets, secular and sacred works--all but three of them antiphonal, i.e. written for two, three or four instrumental "choirs," each choir peopled by different combinations of musicians. As in all antiphonal works, these choirs handed the thematic material back and forth, playing singly and in all conceivable collaborative combinations, frequently joining forces in tutti passages that filled the hall with sound.

And what sound! Especially in pieces involving the entire cohort of instruments from trumpets to tubas, the impression was of a huge pipe organ, the three tubas providing pedal tones that literally made the house tremble, the trumpets sounding their high-register clarion calls with dexterity and bravado, the trombones and horns filling out the midrange with tones now velvety, now brash. This full-throated tsunami at the huge end of the dynamic spectrum ebbed into a dynamic mix that reached down to crystalline pianissimos, passing through a multifaceted palette of textures and decibels en route.

When a whole concert is devoted to Gabrieli, one notices a certain predictability in rhythmic and harmonic structures: duple rhythms switching to triple and back again while maintaining the same pulse; major-minor alternations that often accompany the changing rhythms but also occur on a smaller scale, often within one bar. If there's a criticism to be made of this concert's driving concept, it's that this stylistic uniformity verges on offering the audience too much of a good thing. In fact the producers may have been aware of this danger: the second half began with the announcement that three of the listed numbers would not be played. (One of them was played anyway as the encore, which is precisely where it belonged).

In lieu of an exhausting piece-by-piece thumbnail of all seventeen-plus-one works, suffice it instead to note a handful of standout moments and performers.

• In a concert so thoroughly devoted to Gabrieli, the John Williams Music for Brass that opened the second half provided a welcome non-Renaissance clearing of the palate. A one-movement whirlwind composed for the entire 24-voice ensemble plus tympani and vibraphone, the piece bristled with staccato syncopations traded back and forth among the voices, quick slurred flourishes over fat tuba pedal tones, extended super-forte multiple-tongued passages, huge dynamic contrasts, flashy rhythmic dislocations--a real tour de force from one of our most brilliant living American composers. One wishes only that the percussionists had been more audibly exposed. Amidst the ovation that followed, one spectator's voice stood out: "Play it again!!"

• Of this stellar lineup of virtuoso brassisti, a few deserve special mention. Trumpeters David Bilger and Jeffrey Curnow, both of the Philadelphia Orchestra, brought down the house with their lickety-split, intricate passagework in the Canzon per Sonar Duodecimi Toni. Michael Sachs, Cleveland's principal trumpet and incidentally the man most responsible for recruiting this lineup of stars, impressed throughout with his delicately precise attacks and brilliant clear tone. And San Francisco's own principal trumpet Mark Inouye, a man equally at home improvising jazz solos as he is when dancing about in Gabrieli's upper registers, played with the most visible panache of the ensemble, underscoring his virtuosic musical lines with tiny, tasteful facial and body gestures.

• In several of the arrangements, the choirs heavy on the low brass were arrayed at stage left, the high brass choirs at stage right, creating a stereo timbre/range effect that added another delightful layer to the omnipresent antiphony.

• Several of the arrangements substituted flügelhorn for trumpet in one or more of the choirs, adding the flügel's mellower high-register resonance to the rich tonal mix.

• Throughout, the Ensemble impressed with their clear, perfectly coordinated attacks and releases. The "lifting into silence" of a uniform release at the end of a piece produces an effect of exquisite uplift in the audience that is evident at all fine musical performances, but is most pronounced when it emanates from a rich brass chord resonating in a fine hall.

• On the It's-nice-to-know-they're-human side of the ledger, this reviewer actually discerned two missed notes (somewhere or other) and one missed entrance (a trombone came in a half-beat early). And at one point as the musicians were settling into their new seats between numbers, a tubist dropped one of his valve slides, making a loud clatter. He leaned over to pick it up, looked out at the uh-oh murmuring audience and raised his hands palms up, as if to say, "Who, me? What's your problem?", evoking a big laugh. Thank God for live performances.

The Ensemble saved their best-known selection for the encore, just as their predecessors had done on the 1968 recording: Canzon per Sonar Septimi Toni no. 2. It rounded out this stunning evening in magnificent fashion, earning them an ovation that probably lasted a full minute. Afterwards in the foyer and outside the hall the crowd was bubbling, laughing, exclaiming, shaking their heads, basking in the afterglow. We all knew we'd just witnessed something pretty marvelous.

What we didn't know, but learned later through the grapevine, is that this evening's concert came on the heels of a full day's recording session at Skywalker Studios--a fact that fully restores this group to its momentarily forgotten superhuman status.

The recording should be out presently. Whether you missed the concert or heard it and want a repeat performance, be watching for the release. It's the only way you'll ever hear this phenomenal group again.