On The Vine – May 2014 – American Brass Quintet
Since 2000 we have expanded Musica Viva’s definition of chamber music to be as broadly inclusive as possible: “music in which each independent line is performed by a different musician”. Despite this massive generality, brass instruments remain remarkably rare within the form, owing probably to their origins in the military, as well as to the pervasive historic view that they lack the subtlety, and low volume, of strings and woodwinds. But trumpets and trombones can both be given a run for their dynamic money by a concert grand piano, and like their keyboard cousin, are equally capable of both delicacy and softness.
Only once before in its 69-year history has Musica Viva presented a national concert tour by an international brass quintet. This seems even odder since, for 54 of those years, the American Brass Quintet has been around as an exemplar of the excellence of the medium.
Part of the reason for this is the rarity of brass repertoire from the heartland of chamber music – the 18th and 19th centuries – during which western composers restricted trumpets, trombones and horns to producing colour and volume in orchestral sound, and considered “Brass” inappropriate for small ensemble music.
This didn’t start to turn around until the twentieth century, and the American Brass Quintet itself has created a comprehensive catalogue of exciting new brass music through a sustained and aggressive program of commissioning America’s finest composers. Some of this music forms the backbone of this touring program, with works written expressly for the Quintet by David Sampson, Joan Tower, David Snow, and the 21-year-old wunderkind Jay Greenberg from Connecticut.
Australian music puts in an appearance in the form of William Lovelock’s brilliant Miniature Suite, which he penned in 1967 for the Laiton Brass Quintet of Brisbane, and which the American Brass Quintet adopted during its only previous visit to Australia, in 1968 – though with no help, it transpires, from Musica Viva! Lovelock probably did not take out Australian citizenship, and considered himself “an English composer who happens to live in Brisbane”, but the 25 years he spent in Queensland left a lasting impression on the musical identity of this country.
Music for brass often carries the stigma of being brash, rambunctious and altogether too loud. But it can also be a vehicle for incredible expressiveness, musicianship and sensitivity. These are the hallmarks of the American Brass Quintet.
For more information on the American Brass Quintet, and to book your tickets, please visit musicaviva.com.au/abq, or call 1800 688 482.