It’s been a while since Australian audiences have heard their mellifluous music, but the American Brass Quintet is back.
After four decades, the American Brass Quintet has returned to Australian shores. Considered by many to be the world’s ‘high priests of brass’, the ensemble will tour the country as part of Musica Viva’s International Concert Series.
When the American Brass Quintet gave its first public performance in 1960, brass chamber music was still a novelty in the concert hall. The quintet joined with other well-known groups like Canadian Brass, Empire Brass and the New York Brass Quintet, in a concerted effort to push the genre from niche to mainstream. Nearly 60 years later, the perceived abilities and reception of the brass quintet has shifted dramatically.
“In the early days, it really was a new art form; nobody knew what to play and how it was going to take shape,” said Kevin Cobb, American Brass Quintet trumpeter. “Most of the time audiences expected some entertainment with a sort of a show value to it, but I think they’re coming in with a different preconception now. I suppose though that when people come to our concert, they’re going to experience something a little bit more unusual simply because not many brass quintets are playing chamber music in a very high art form.”
The American Brass Quintet has built its reputation on the foundation of selective repertoire; only performing works written specifically for brass. As well as this, the quintet is one of the biggest commissioners of new works for brass.
“Classical music was never intended to be a static institution, it was meant to be a current art form,” said Cobb. “Beethoven was once a modern composer, and the world would be a much poorer place without that. I think everybody feels that there is a certain obligation to try to commission the next Beethoven.”
Beyond its significant contribution to the catalogue, the American Brass Quintet is committed to education and the promotion of music. The ensemble is in residence at The Julliard School, where the five members teach and perform brass chamber music. During their Australian tour, they have scheduled visits to various institutions including the Sydney and Melbourne Conservatoriums of Music.
“We’ve had some wonderful young Australian brass players come through Julliard over the years so we know that there’s high quality brass pedagogy here. It also seems like there’s a certain knowledge out there that’s maybe different than the States,” said Cobb. “The pedagogical aspect of what we do is something we feel strongly about. Reaching out to students – not only music students but also students who are not musicians. We really feel like we want to reach out and bring our educational arm to as many people as we can.”
While their schedule is tight, Cobb said that he and his four colleagues (Louis Hanzlik, Eric Reed, Michael Powell, and John Rojak) would also make some time to sightsee while in Australia. The quintet members have already strolled the beautiful Sydney Opera House precinct, have planned a walking tour of Brisbane this weekend, and have booked a wine tour of Adelaide.
“What I really like about Australia so far is that things have a certain European feel. The cities seem very clean; there are beautiful little cafes, a lot of coffee, great little stores. It seems like people are proud of their cities and what they have to offer.”
The American Brass Quintet concert series began last night in Newcastle, and will continue in Brisbane and Sydney this weekend. The program consists of works from the Renaissance period to those written by contemporary American composers – a varied selection that will be altered slightly for each performance.
“There’s a lot of variety and we feel very confident that when someone comes to one of our recitals they will leave enriched with the knowledge of new brass works as well as exposure to music from the Renaissance and beyond,” said Cobb. “I guess we would like to think that we’re expanding the horizons of our listeners.”
The American Brass Quintet tour with Musica Viva until May 31.