Mark Gresham | 29 JAN 2024
Captivating global audiences for over half a century, Canadian Brass, formed in 1970 by Chuck Daellenbach and Gene Watts, is arguably the world’s most famous brass quintet. The group is well-recognized for its musical acumen, diverse repertoire, touring and media appearances, plethora of albums and sheet music editions, and ongoing commitment to music education.
The well-deserved accolades played out during last Friday’s concert at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, where Canadian Brass played to a packed house.
Founding member Daellenbach persists in his legacy as the group’s tuba player and motivated exponent of its mission, although changes in its other personnel have occurred over the years. Most recently, trumpeter Joe Burgstaller rejoined the group in June of last year, having previously been a member from 2001 to 2004 and then from 2006 to 2009. The newest member is trumpeter Ashley Hall-Tighe, who joined Canadian Brass in August. Jeff Nelsen (horn) and Achilles Liarmakopoulos (trombone) are the esteemed group’s other continuing members.
Although not listed in the printed program, the group began with a long-held tradition: “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” is played at the beginning of every Canadian Brass concert and is possibly their best-known transcription. Processing into the hall, they played the traditional New Orleans tune first as a slow drag, then after reaching the stage, paused briefly and then broke into a raucous Dixieland tempo.
They then got down to business with transcriptions of Mozart (Overture to The Magic Flute) and Bach (Concerto in D major, BWV 972, arranged by and featuring Burgstaller on piccolo trumpet), followed by two selections from the group’s Beatles Songbook collection: “All You Need is Love” and “Eleanor Rigby,” before launching into an arrangement for Carnival of Venice that featured Hall-Tighe on cornet.
They closed the first half with another boisterous unlisted Dixieland number: Tiger Rag. That included Burgstaller and Liarmakopoulos inserting some surprisingly well-executed if brief vocals on the important, if minimal, text: “Hold that tiger!”
Daellenbach took a musical and comedic spotlight as the second half opened with an arrangement of “Viva la Vida” by the British rock band Coldplay that answers the question, “Just how low can you go?” (In pitch, that is; a matter of pride for tuba players.)
Then came a pair of serious works in which five Emory students joined Canadian Brass in performing: Gabrieli’s Jubilate Deo and Michael Kamen’s Dectet. The brass-playing Emory students (Joey Chen, Austin Watkinson, Noah Choe, Tim Brewer, and Misha Gupta), who had workshopped with the Canadian Brass pros, held their own very well in the performance of these works.
Another Burgstaller arrangement followed, the “tango nuevo” Libertango by Astor Piazzolla, then a transcription of Nikolai Rinsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade as a formal closer.
Then came the essential unlisted encore to end the evening in the same spirit that it started: The Saints’ Hallelujah, a fusion of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah, capping off what was (predictably) a most fun and eclectic evening of brass music. ■