Sunday, April 23, 2017

Re-thinking Brass Ensemble: Brass Music from other culture?

In our last ABEL class, Prof. Manning presented brass music from other cultures and asked all of us to post a blog of brass music from other cultures to share with others. Well, I was thinking of doing a post about 'Brass' ensemble anyway.

In my very first blog post, I defined 'horn' and 'ensemble' but never did define brass. Here it is.

According to Meriam-Webster, Brass means

1. an alloy consisting essentially of copper and zinc in variable proportions
2. a :  the brass instruments of an orchestra or band —often used in plural
    b :  a usually brass memorial tablet
    c :  bright metal fittings, utensils, or ornaments
    d :  empty cartridge shells
3. brazen self-assurance
4. singular or plural in construction
  1. a :  high-ranking members of the militaryb :  persons in high positions (as in a business or the government)
As a musician, our mutual understanding of 'brass' is the 2nd definition that the instrument in brass family are made of brass. What about saxophone then? Well, it is a woodwind instrument because it uses wooden read to produce sound. Sure, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon use the same thing. What about flute? One can argue that flute used to be made of wood so it counts as a woodwind instrument. 

Let's go back further in time. The origins of most instrument came from natures such as animal horns or seas shells.

I know this is not brass instrument but if we consider how today's instrument built, shouldn't flute or saxophone be part of the brass instrument? or even vibraphone?

Now my 'Brass' ensemble is a little broader which allow us to enjoy more type of music from brass such as music from South East Asian traditions. Here the example of Gamelan music

Here is the introduction to Gamelan music.

And here are some Gamelan music.

Of course, there are other instruments in South East Asian tradition that are made of brass as well. 
Such as Kong Wong - an instrument consists of tuned gongs. It can be divided into two types - Kong Wong Yai which consists of 16 tuned gongs in a lower pitch (Yai means big), and Kong Wong Lek which consists of 18 tuned gongs in a higher pitch (Lek means small). 

Kong Wong Yai

It would be interesting to see a mixture of western brass instrument playing with other traditions brass instrument. What I can find so far is the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan Ensemble by Lou Harrison. Very interesting piece!

Sometime we are afraid of loosing our identity which blocks our creativity. Of course, we all need to know and to have basic understanding of things we want to explore first. Once we know where the boundaries are, we can then start to find a way to reshape it or even to melt it down so that we can create something new. 

In today's music world, classical music has arrived the point that it starts to get stuck. Once we get stuck, human's instinct yearn for something new hence new creation, new types of music. Keeping tradition is good and it should be kept and supported but, as we all know that things that can't evolved to the new setting extincts, classical music needs to be evolved too. That is why we can now see many new ways of presenting music which is a good thing.

For this last 'official' post for Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature class, I would like to end with a quote by Charles Darwin:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”   

Extra: This is how western brass musical instruments have been evolved and used in Thai traditional ceremony.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Horn Ensemble Series: Professional Horn Quartet Today

Even though the American Horn Quartet has ended their journey, the Budapest Festival Horn Quartet, and the Transatlantic Horn Quartet do not perform as much as they used to, there are still some professional horn ensembles out there. They are Genghis Barbie, Leipziger Horn Quartet, and the German Hornsound - the latest addition to the horn quartet world.

I learned of Genghis Barbie from an article on Facebook and I am glad I found them! The group was founded in around 2010 by Alana Vegter, Danielle Kuhlmann, Leelane Sterrett, and Rachel Drehmann - 4 female hornists in New York City. They are considered, according to their website, the leading post post-feminist feminist all-female horn experience. Their repertoire includes arrangements of pop music from the 70's, 80's, 90's and today, contemporary commission, and classical works. They have released four studio albums: the self-titled debut album, the holiday album "Genghis Barbie: Home for the Holidays," "Genghis Baby: Songs for Noa," and the newly released "Amp it Up!" Genghis Barbie aspires to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres show within one calendar year.

Sweet Dreams (Are made of this) by Genghis Barbie

Above video is one of how innovative and creative they are. They definitely know where the untouched land is and they can obviously do it really well. They even have their own stage name!

  • Alana Vegter aka Freedom Barbie - a graduated from Julliard and was a substitute Assistant Principal Horn with New York Philharmonic 2014 - 2015 season.
  • Danielle Kuhlmann aka Velvet Barbie - a graduate from Julliard and Rice University. Currently 2nd horn with San Diego Symphony Orchestra
  • Leelanee Sterrett aka Cosmic Barbie - a graduate from University of Wisconsin -  Madison and Yale University. Currently 3rd horn with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Rachel Drehmann aka Attila the Horn - a graduate from University of Minnesota and the Manhattan School of Music. Freelance in NYC.
Enjoy their videos on their YouTube channel HERE.

Leipziger Horn Quartet is a more traditional oriented horn quartet comparing to the Genghis Barbie. The members are from orchestra in city of Leipzig in Germany. According to their website, they were formed in 1951. Even though members changed, the group have never disappeared. 

The group current members are all from MDR Symphony Orchestra (formerly known as Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig)
  • Max Hilpert - Solo Horn of MDR Symphony Orchestra 
  • Tino Bolk - Solo Horn of MDR Symphony Orchestra
  • Johannes Winkler - Horn of MDR Symphony Orchestra
  • Michael Guhne - Horn of MDR Symphony Orchestra

They have recorded 6 CDs. The latest CD is called "Romantische Hornquartette". Below is a track from this CD. The distinct sound of German horn playing (brighter and "Alexander 103" sound) can be heard clearly in this recording. 

Quartett für vier Waldhörner in E-Flat Major, Op. 19: IV. Alla Pollacca - Monore - Maggiore 

If you want to hear more of them, go HERE

German Hornsound is the latest addition to horn quartet world. I will talk about them and what I learn from their interview in the next post!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Horn Ensemble Series: Budapest Festival Horn Quartet

Playing chamber music with your colleagues is not only socially and musically fun, it helps bonding sectional playing as well. Once the section is strong and everybody know their respective duties, it only helps each member to become stronger both as a group and an individual.

Berlin Philharmonic Horns and its Four Corners was a good example of a group of horn quartet that came out of an orchestra (from Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra of course).

Budapest Festival Horn Quartet consists of four horn members of Budapest Festival Orchestra in Hungary. Founded in around 1983 by Ivan Fischer, the orchestra comprises of young and upcoming musicians in Hungary. Since then, they have become one of the world sought after orchestra

Budapest Festival Horn Quartet members are from the Festival Orchestra led by Miklos Nagy who is the principal horn of both the Festival Orchestra, and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra.

According to Nagy (click HERE to read Nagy's interview), the inspiration of this ensemble was after they had heard American Horn Quartet in Barcs competition. They were very active during mid 90's up until around 2010 in which they released two CDs. There are some distinct styles in their playing which separate them from the American Horn Quartet. They are also technically amazing and can play everything with ease.

Explore their YouTube channel HERE for some more amazing playing!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Great Listening Party

Our annual listening party is back and is the last one of this semester if I am not wrong.

The class started by Prof. Manning playing us German Brass live performance of  John Baston, arr. Matthias Höfs, "Allegro" aus Konzert in D-Dur. The German Brass is still the German Brass. The ensemble playing is just as neat as always. No further explanation needed. Enjoy!

Kenken was the first volunteer. He played for us, Anthony O’Toole – Elegy for Brass and Percussion.
Anthony O'Toole is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University. He composes music for different type of instrumentation but his majority are for Wind Band.

Elegy for Brass and Percussion, O'Toole said "This work is an adaptation of another work of mine (Pastorale) which I did for the 15th anniversary of 9-11. Premiered by the Southern California Brass Consortium, Hector Salazar conducting."

Please follow this LINK for the recording!

Marc gave us Alfred Reed’s Symphony no. 1 for Brass and Percussion (4 trumpets 2 cornets 4 horns 4 trombones 4 euphoniums 2 tubas 5 percussions) performed by Hora Decima. For winds and percussion players, we all know how much Alfred Reed contribute to those instruments. This symphony is declared Symphony no.1 when he passed away few years ago.  

Here you go!

chose Sandor Balogh’s Weltreise performed by Berlin Philharmonic Brass Ensemble (for 5 trumpets, 1 horn, 3 trombones, 1 baritone, 1 tuba, percussion and a moderator). Balogh is a member of Budapest Festival Orchestra in Hungary. According to Budapest Festival Orchestra's website. "He pursues a wide-ranging activity also as a composer. He has orchestrated and arranged a lot of compositions of lighter music to different instrumental groups, ranging from string quartet to symphony orchestra. As a composer he won several prizes at international competitions of radio stations: 1995 Monte Carlo - 1st prize, 1997 Brno - 2nd prize, 2001 Shanghai - 3rd prize".

According to the Digital Concert Hall's program this piece is "...Together with the musicians you can roam countries both near and far, from Austria to Japan, and from Argentina to the United States. In each country there are characteristic sounds and melodies, arranged and composed by Sándor Balogh [which become Weltreise (German means World Travel)]..."

The performance was part of the educational/family concert by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. This concert is archived and anybody can access to this concert without any charge HERE. I think this shows how music is involving and trying to keep up with the world.

Anna played for us Eric Ewalzen’s Shadowcatcher for Brass quintet and wind ensemble. This recording is performed by the Western Brass Quintet which comprise of faculty from Western Michigan University with Western Michigan University Wind Ensemble. (Anna was playing with the wind ensemble which was recorded in 2013!) 

There are four movements in this piece: I. Offering to the Sun, II. Among the Aspens, III. The Vanishing Race, and IV. Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon.

Please follow this LINK for the Western Brass Quintet recording. If you don't have Spotify, YouTube does have a recording by American Brass Quintet and Julliard Wind Ensemble. Here is the first movement!

Caleb played for us, Lansing McLoskey’s Madding Crowd for brass quintet performed by Triton Brass. This piece comprise of six miniature movements which entitled I. Intro, II. Part 1., III. Part 2, IV. Part 3, V, Part 4, and VI. Part 5. Each instrument of the brass quintet are featured in each movement (part) of this piece. It was commissioned by Triton Brass and was premiered in 2007 at Tanglewood Institute.

It is a really good contemporary for brass quinete, I thought! Here is the example of the piece!

Evan was the last person who presented today! - Henri Tomasi's Suite for Three Trumpets. This suite was composed in 1964. The three movements are I. Tempo di Habanera, II. Len égéen and III. Danse Bolivienne. 

Here is the 3rd movement.

While searching for above videos, this came up. It's a video recording of Philip Cobb, principal trumpet of the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Ensemble. Philip Cobb is back on cornet, the instrument he started with!

Have a great day!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

When your professor is away: Listening Party 2

Yesterday we had our second listening party while Prof. Manning was away on his solo tour.

Here are the list of what we listened to!

Anna chose for us - J.S. Bach: Fugue in D minor (Original in G minor) Arr. Mexi
performed by Budapest Festival Horn Quartet which comprise of Miklos Nagy, Laszio Rakos, Laszio Gal, Tibor Maruzsa. 

This piece is an arrangement of J.S. Bach's "Little" Fugue in G minor BMV.578 into a more fitting key for horn in D minor performed flawlessly by the Budapest Festival Horn Quartet. They are no stranger to the horn world. The member are from the Budapest Festival Orchestra found by Ivan Ficsher. I will talk about them in more detail in the next post.

Kenken played Benjamin Blasko's Victory Fanfare performed by Tromba Mundi with Messiah College Wind Ensemble conducted by Bradley Genevro.

This piece is for solo trumpet ensemble with wind ensemble. This Fanfare is a good opening song for any program. It could also be a good showpiece of any ensembles that have a good trumpet section as well.

Here is the link to the piece!

Marc presented Karel Husa's Divertimento for Brass and Percussion performend by University of North Texas Brass Choir conducted by Eugene Migliaro Corporan.

This divertimento consists of four movements: I. Overture II. Scherzo III. Song IV. Slovak Dance. It is composed for 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba, and 2 Percussion. Marc told us that there is also a version for Brass Quintet.

Here is the first movement.

Evan played for us a very interesting piece. Ellen Taffe Zwillich composed Clarino Quartet for Piccolo Trumpet, Eb Trumpet, and 2 C Trumpets. The recording performed by Thiery Gervais and (my guess) Ensemble de Cuivres et Percussions des Solistes de Paris.

The name of the piece itself already draw me in and I wonder how Zwillich Clarino's idea turn out.

Here is the recording of the piece!

Film music always has Brass moments. Caleb showed us exactly that by playing Quidditch theme from Harry Porter composed by John Williams performed by Boston Symphony Brass. Caleb also said that this is a good encore piece.

Lastly, I played Alec Wilder's Jazz Suite for Four Horns, Harpsichord, Guitar, Bass, and Drum
This piece consists of four movements: I. Horns O'Plenty II. Conversation Piece III. Serenade IV. Horn Belt Boogie.

This piece has a very interesting combination. Harpsichord for Jazz?! It is a brilliant idea and it actually fits really well to the style. To me, it sounds like harder and thicker string guitars.

This recording is performed by Charles Tibbetts, William Hovt, David Kappy, and Ricardo Almeida on Horns - Vincent Fuh on harpsichord, and Henning Backhaus on guitar, bass, and drum!


Friday, March 31, 2017

Horn Ensemble Series: Transatlantic Horn Quartet

While I was researching for more horn quartet groups to write for a future post, I suddenly think of few groups that I know back when I was younger. One of that is Transatlantic Horn Quartet.

The group was found in 1998 by two prominent horn players from the UK and another two from the USA. Those are

  • Richard Watkins - former Principal horn of Philharmonia Orchestra and Horn Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, UK
  • Michael Thompson - former Principal horn of Philharmonia Orchestra and Horn Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, UK 
  • David Ohanian - former Empire Brass and Canadian Brass, and Horn Professor at Boston Conservatory of Music. 
  • Charles 'Skip' Snead - Horn Professor at The University of Alabama School of Music. 
They appeared at in many horn workshops especially in the US. Those included Southeast Horn Workshop in 2000 and Southwest Horn Workshop in 2004. I found their early profile from the latter workshop.

Here is the performance from their Southeast Workshop in 2000.

This group recorded one CD (as seen from video above). After that, I thought the group was disbanded and have heard nothing of them at all until today when I googled their name! 

To my surprise, the group name came up with recent performance video on YouTube and with new members!

Charles Snead is the only original member. The three new members are  
  • Abel Pereira - Principal horn of National Symphony Orchestra (USA)
  • Jeff Nelsen - Horn Professor at Indiana University and former Canadian Brass
  • Leslie Norton - Principal Horn of Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Horn Professor at Vanderbilt University
Since all the member are now from the same continent, it does not really 'transatlantic' anymore. However, name is just a name. As long as it is still there, I don't think many people will care why they are called that way. 

The reason I wrote about them is not only I found that they are not disbanded. This group was probably the one of two active horn quartet group apart from American Horn Quartet around 1900s.
Even though members have changed, I am glad to see them back and I hope to hear more of them!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thought on Carter and Tymoczko Quintet

It was interesting to listen to Elliot Carter's Brass quintet and Dmitri Tymoczko's Rube Goldberg Variations for Brass Quintet and prepared piano yesterday morning during Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature class. After finished listening, we were asked to answer below questions.
  1. What is the overall affect of the piece? How does it make you feel? How does the composer achieve that?
  2. List three remarkable or notable aspects of the piece. Include measure numbers or rehearsal numbers or letters and explain your answer.
  3. Comment on the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic language used. What are some of the challenges presented in the performances of this work created by these languages?
  4. Finally, compare and contrast both works. What are their similarities? What are their differences?
I would answer above questions in the following order: 3, 1, 2, 4. To me, it flows better that way.

Here are my thought

3. Comment on the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic language used. What are some of the challenges presented in the performances of this work created by these languages?

Base on my limit knowledge of atonal music and analysis, I will try my best to give the answer.

This piece is constructed using twelve-tone technique. The prime (if I understand correctly) is  D# B G# D A E Bb G C# E F# C which spread throughout the group from measure 1 to 7. Harmonic and melodic languages are based on the row and its inversion, retrogade and retrograde-inversion. I must admit that I am not sure how the motif construct. However, the different grouping of rhythmic language can be identified from the form of this piece. This is how the form constructed.

Whole ensemble (described as Quodlibet) followed by smaller groups (Trio or Duo). For example, this is how first 118 measures pan out: Quodlibet - Trio - Duo - Quodlibet - Duo - Trio... and so on. These sections are not clearly divided. They are, however, new section always come in before previous sections end. 

Quodlibet, according to, means "a humorous composition consisting of two or more independent and harmonically complementary melodies, usually quotations of well-known tunes, played or sung together, usually to different texts, in a polyphonic arrangement."

Even though Carter did not use any well-known tunes, he definitely captured other elements such as humorous, independent, and polyphonic arrangement. You might argue that this piece is not humorous and rather difficult to listen to, those elements and other individual expressions are provided in each part. It, sometime, gave me a sense that they are having a conversations. Composer provided formal plan of the whole piece on the score so that musicians can understand the whole picture of this piece, thus giving the best performance they can. 

The challenge of this piece is how to put it together. I have not seen individual parts but given that today's technology is so advance, I might perform this piece looking at the whole score from one of the tablets. The recording did very well in staying together even though the time wasn't always steadied.

Rube Goldberg Variations was composed in 2014 and is based on Rube Goldberg and his cartoon about complicated subject for simple task performance. Do watch the video on Rube Goldberg link above. It is fun!

This piece consists of four movements - I. To a leaf, II. Stravinsky Fountain, III. Homage, and IV. Father Makes the World. What special about this piece is the additional of 'prepared' piano to the brass quintet. Because piano is being prepared, it does give machine effect that composer might aim for. 

Unlike Carter, this piece is more tonal. The rhythmic language is more simple and straight forward. There aren't any clear melodies but motivic ideas can be heard clearly in each movement.

There are two challenges for this piece. To find a place that have a piano and willing to have it prepared and to have everything perfectly in sync to get a better effect which is not the case for Carter where characteristic and expression are more important.

1. What is the overall affect of the piece? How does it make you feel? How does the composer achieve that?

In order to answer above questions, there are many things need to be considered - what technique does composer used (answers given above), how much do performers put their interpretation in, and recording itself (let alone media players).     

As mentioned above, this piece gave me a sense of having conversations and expressing a lot of different emotions. I don't know if the American Brass Quintet got to work with the composer for the recording but, for me, they did very well in portray that to listeners. I don't think I could comment on how much each member put their interpretation on but the expression really came through. I also really like the balance and different colors and textures that came out of the recording. However they did it, it should be followed. 

My only comment is that sometime the beat does not always stay the same in each section. Being able to tap along or to find the actual beat would help listener (who are not familiar with this kind of music) to find thing that they can attach to. It would be fun to put this on Sibelius or Finale just to hear how it synchronize. 

The idea of 'machine' can be heard clearly through repetitive rhythm/motifs in each movement. I really enjoy listening to this piece and really wish that I could read program note so that I can enjoy it even more! As the Atlantic Brass Quintet worked with the composer for this recording and the premiered, the interpretation or ideas of this piece should be agreed. The only thing that kind of annoy me a little bit (just me!) is that the recording sounds very studio recorded. It sounds really dry and the trumpets are too powering at times (especially when I listen to this piece with my earphone). I found the Carter recording above a lot easier to listen to due to this reason. It does not hinder the fact that this piece was very well performed by the group!

2. List three remarkable or notable aspects of the piece. Include measure numbers or rehearsal numbers or letters and explain your answer.

1. How the composer interprets 'Quolidbet' and doesn't make it sounds like random. 
2. Each parts have their own individual expressions to give contrasts to the piece. This also happen through out the piece.
3. Horn cadenza!! It is not easy and was remarkable to hear it perform flawlessly!


I can only found two that I think are remarkable.

1. Prepared piano and its effect. Again, this happen throughout the piece. I didn't know that prepared piano can give so much sounds.
2. How the piece portray Goldberg machine using different kind of sound but it is still very easy to listen and to understand.

4. Finally, compare and contrast both works. What are their similarities? What are their differences?

I think both pieces are so unique that it really have any similarities. If I have to pick one, it will be how both composers try to use as much tone colors from each instrument as possible to express what they want.

- Instrumentation.
- Composition technique and style - a tonal vs more tonal. 
- One movement vs multi-movement
- Clear stories vs Expressionism

Please follow this LINK for original post from Prof. Manning blog post and recording of both pieces.

Would love to hear your thought!

Thank you!