American Brass Quintet performs perfectly

Review - The News-Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

by James Pegolotti

With trumpet flourishes from the 17th century, the American Brass Quintet
led the Newtown Friends of Music into its 25th year on Sunday afternoon.
For two hours the Quintet proved the correctness of the words of Friends
president Ellen Parrella: that for a quarter century they have brought
to audiences "exquisite music, flawlessly performed."

The playing of the Quintet members proved to be flawless indeed - brisk
attacks and even more jolting split-second endings - all made even more
remarkable by the fact that they had performed a similar program the previous
evening in Blacksburg, Virginia. (New York Yankees, take note.)

This program, whose music spanned centuries, including a stop at the Civil
War, began with three pieces from "Ludi Musici," ensemble music
by the 17th century baroque composer Samuel Scheidt. Featured was the
brilliant trumpet playing of Raymond Mase and Kevin Cobb, with one trumpet
often echoing the other. Especially memorable in the playing of hornist
David Wakefield were breathtaking diminuendos.

Trombonist Michael Powell and John D. Rojak evidenced their unusual skills
in a canon from the 16th century, where each played the same tune, but
just one beat apart.

The tuxedoed instrumentalists entered the 21st century musically with
a two-year old composition entitled "Brass Quintet." It was
commissioned by them from the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning composer Melinda
Wagner. This three-movement work by the New Jersey resident proved fascinating.
The initial "Maestoso" challenged the players in split second
timing as snippets of melody were tossed to and fro.

Then in the mystically labeled "Ethereal, disembodied," the
composer gave to each instrument the role of a musical lens where sound
was focused through varying pitches and harmonics. The final portion,
playfully named "Alternately Stately and Lilting, At First,"
proved to be just that, or, in the words of the composer, "unabashed
and proud."

The second half of the program began with band music, in this case works
performed 145 years ago by the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band. The
Regimental band members came ready-made to the needs of the Confederacy.
They were Moravian musicians from Salem, N.C., who, as the Salem Band,
were conscripted directly into the war and renamed a regimental band.

Four short works, from a newly edited version of the Band's music by Nola
Redd Knouse, helped understand that the mission of this Civil War group
was "To lift the spirits of the troops." A brisk medley of "Dixie
and Bonnie Blue Flag," set the scene, followed by a polka, then the
sentimental "Rock me to Sleep, Mother," and finally the jaunty
and amusing "Here's Your Mule," where the music depicted the
unthinkable - a galloping mule. The large audience loved it.

To conclude the concert, the Quintet performed another of its commissioned
works: "Colchester Fantasy," by Eric Ewazen. Here were presented
musical portraits of colorful old pubs in Colchester, the oldest recorded
town in Britain. Of the four segments, the one entitled "The Dragoon"
was notable for the sounds of the inevitable battles of centuries past,
made evident in the "dissonant, clashing harmonies."

As great as the concert was, what occurred the following day may have
been even greater for members of the Newtown High School Band. As part
of the Friends' first Outreach Program of the season, the Quintet worked
with the band members to enhance their knowledge of brass instruments.
Who wouldn't want to be taught by five extraordinary brass players who
collectively have 90 years of performing experience?

In their spirit of providing music and education, like the famous flag,
long may the Friends of Music wave!