Sunday, April 20, 2014

World's Largest Trumpet Ensemble

Thank you all for reading through some of these posts. I leave you with trumpeters being trumpety.

This project strikes gold! - Movement 1

This the trumpet concerto by Roland Szentpali that was dedicated and premiered by Gabor Tarkovi, one of the finest trumpet players in the world. It incorporates all of the best practices of modern concerto writing, minimalism, classical pseudo-jazz, and film score. As far as I can tell it hasn't been played much if at all outside of Europe so I dropped some Swedish Francs on a piano reduction and solo part. The dialogue between the trumpet and orchestra is just superb and I love the free-flowing bebeop styled flourishes. Super cool find buried among all the trumpet ensembles.

Trumpet Mates of Portugal doing Tico Tico

This video is a wild ride. Shot from the Zaa-WEE! room at ITG 2012 in Colombus, Georgia the Trumpet Mates put on a hell of a show. I call it the Zaa-WEE! room because that's where all the vendors are. You can hear people testing horns before the tune starts. Anyway, these guys were awesome. It's a group made up of mostly students and they weren't just great players and showmen, they were exciting to be around throughout the conference. Everywhere they went, they chatted people up, talked about how excited they were to see one show or another, and even broke out into song while on busses or during especially long waits for shows. During the Terrance Blanchard concert the broke into dance and took over the aisles during latin numbers. I know that seems obnoxious and there was a lot of hemming and hawing and tutting but I appreciated it. They enjoyed that convention more than anyone, and they took their opportunity to play at ITG seriously and put on a fun show. Their group, and a host of other groups from unknown schools and trumpet studios were why I wanted to sit and write about trends in modern trumpet ensembles in the first place.

NTC 2014 videos are sneaking on to Youtube - Afternoon of a Faun - Oklahomo State at NTC 2014 - Afternoon of a Faun - Debussy

I am shocked by this arrangement. The blend between the top three trumpet players (even when one is on piccolo) is so tight that the overtones are distorting the recording a little bit. The low-end sound of each of these performers is gorgeous and full and the piece itself shares the load well between the performers while opening up lots of opportunities for them to show off their matching timbres. If the video wasn't panning between them as they traded melody lines I would have a hard time believing that there was not a single solo voice with accompaniment.

That said, Debussy is such a complex tapestry of not just harmonies but colors that I'm surprised that Oklahoma State went with five trumpets with one switching to piccolo and didn't incorporate any mutes or flugelhorn. I'm not complaining, I'm just wondering why they chose not to go one level deeper in their treatment of Debussy.

How X1 by Eric Morales follows and develops the form - UMASS Trumpet Ensemble - X1 - Eric Morales

I made a stab in an earlier post about the form of a lot of original modern trumpet ensembles: Rhythmic fanfare - soft solo section - rhythmic fanfare. X1 follows this form very closely and I shouldn't judge that form too much, fast - slow - fast has been a consistent broad form throughout music history. I am, however, very impressed with the smaller formal functions of this piece. A lot of modern trumpet ensemble literature makes use of rapid ostinati, hocceted melodic lines, quick scalar flourishes, extended techniques, and stacked arpeggios. All of these a good effects, but in the grand scheme of the homogenous trumpet ensemble they all sound like different individual components pieced together in various combinations rather than contrivances on their own.

X1 does all of the above, but with excellent complexity and heart. Anyone who has listened to a lot of Morales will notice some familiar sounds, but in the larger realm of trumpet ensemble literature this piece really shines as one that manipulates those most reliable components of the modern trumpet ensemble arrangement in new and cool ways. I especially appreciated the harmonic shift during the slow section that drifted nearly into the realm of octatonic tonality.

Mixed Trumpet, Berlioz, and I admit that I am impossible to please - Temple University Trumpet Ensemble - Roman Carnival - Berlioz (No arranger listed)

Way back in my first post I talked about how much I love ensembles with mixed trumpets. I've posted a couple, but I found this one and it seems a little more "traditional" in the sense that the trumpet mixture is not part of a gimmick but rather is a means to augment an arrangement with a variety of colors. The arrangement is very cool featuring two flugelhorns, one and a half piccs, and the rest of the septet filled out with trumpets.

First impressions: the high range of the trumpets blend excellently with the piccolo player. I thought that was an impressive achievement. My big problem with the arrangement is the same problem I have with (oddly enough) woodwind ensembles. The conical instrument (flugelhorn) is eating the sound of the other instruments in its register resulting in this piece sounding more like a duet for rhythmic flugel horn and piccolo trumpet. For as much as I complain about sameyness in trumpet ensembles I really started to miss the trumpet's timbre half way through this piece. I doubt the ensemble is to blame, and the arrangement is good otherwise it's just really heavy on flugelhorn. Maybe the hall they're playing in is very grateful to warmer tone colors but balance-wise if I didn't know better I wouldn't guess that there were five trumpets in addition to the flugels and piccolo.

More Plog because I have a weakness - MASSIVE BRASS ATTACK! Portuguese Youth Brass Ensemble - Varitations on Amazing Grace - Anthony Plog

So while I do love Plog's treatment of brass I have a soft spot for cool rearrangements of classic sacred tunes; specifically Amazing Grace. I'll also listen to anyone doing anything with Old Hundredth. This is a fabulous and approachable arrangement with a few cool shapes and colors. It's not a trumpet ensemble but some of my opinions on good arranging are still applicable (particularly that it does not overstay its welcome or fall too in love with one clever idea over another).

Plog Suite for Six, and the differences in blend between pros and students - Clarino Collective - Suite for Six Trumpets - Anthony Plog

I like to grab professional recordings of these pieces where I can, but I was originally led to the Plog Suite by a recording by Oklahoma State at ITG (re: previous post). I dug up this more professional recordings by the Clarino Collective that highlights some interesting differences I've started to spot between professional trumpet ensembles and student ensembles.

The "blend" concept with students seems to be focused more on the collective. Each student works intensively to fit the core sound of the ensemble, rather than being an individual contributing their personal voice to the whole. In the professional recording above, each member is comfortable both distinguishing their sound and meshing with the texture as needed. This effect is especially noteworthy in the complex and rhythmic Plog Suite where each player can be a soloist, an ensemble member, or the accompaniment at any given time.

Summon the Heroes! - Air Force Band performing "Summon the Heroes" by John Williams - OK State performing "Durrenhorn Passage" by John McKee at ITG 2012

There's recordings of "Summon the Heroes" by trumpet ensembles, but I noticed an interesting commonality between John Williams' piece and Durrenhorn. It's hard to describe specifically, but I've noticed that a lot of exciting trumpet overtures follow a similar form: rhythmic fanfare - beautiful solo - rhythmic fanfare. In addition, there's a lot of harmonic overlaps between the two pieces. And that's fine and makes total sense given that they were written and performed near each other.

However, the trumpet ensemble just can't quite carry that form as well. A brass ensemble has the advantage of low brass which is nice, but the John Williams also has percussion which is a desperately needed color that the Durrenhorn trumpet ensemble lacks. As a result the rhythmic energy gets lost in the texture and the solo, rather than being a massive shift in feel and timbre, just sounds like a slightly quieter fanfare section. I know it's hard to bring a full set of Timpani to ITG, but I'd love to hear more ensemble music get away from the purist homogenous form and grab a snare drum, set of chimes, or timp for color.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Budapest Brass Weekend Trumpet Ensemble

About when I thought that the modern stuff was starting to sound samey, I found this gem. The piece is Charpeniter Fantastique by Paul Archibald (commissioned for the event) and it's far more classical and structured than almost anything else on here. Gabor Tarkovi is sitting in on the end on piccolo trumpet. He's really soaring all though the piece.

The addition of organ, piano, timpani, and trombone adds to traditional feel of the piece, but it's got some modernisms thrown in for good measure. The augmentation of the theme (featured at the end) screams "Simple Gifts" to me. There's some crunchy chords towards the end as well and I'm certain at least some of them are on purpose.

Sadly, I couldn't find anything else about this event online. There are a couple other recordings from this particular performance, but not evidence of previous years or a website that talks about the Brass Weekend.

Quartet with Doc Severinsen!

So the way I dig around is just by clicking through trumpet ensembles that I know and like (Baylor, Julliard, etc) then gradually get more and more obscure as I go along. Imagine my surprise when I got about eight clicks deep and found this cool gem. Doc Severinsen, Bobby Hackett, and Charlie Shavers team up with the relatively-inexperienced-but-still-a-good-sport-about-it Steve Allen. I love the old short bore cornet holding down the third trumpet and bringing in the host, Steve Allen, to blow on a little solo was a clever touch.

I could easily see a trumpet quartet doing this kind of stunt with a professor/director and it would be a big crowd-pleaser during a show.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Idea 24 and Blend

Terry Everson performing Idea Number 24 for Trumpets

North Texas performing Idea Number 24 at NTC 2010 (with wicked post-production!)

So, there's no such thing as a perfect run-through except on a CD. Assuredly Everson's cut has some editing going on. I figure quite a bit of balance and maybe it's made up of a couple different cuts. Contrast that with a live-run of UNT in 2010. Firstly, they're on the page, which we haven't seen much of, but that's not the most important thing, in my opinion.

What about blend? The Everson version is so perfectly blended (as far as timbre is concerned) that if I didn't know better I would think he played every part with a click track and put them together. That's not inherently bad but UNT is really laying this chart out but I can tell the difference between each trumpet player. Is that better? I often wonder if seeking perfect timbral blend is both possible and even worthwhile. The instrument is possible of creating a wide swath of sound shapes even before non-homogenous trumpets are thrown into the mix. Idea 24 is pretty popular in the trumpet ensemble scene, gets a lot of play, and has a lot of opportunities to contrast style between the larger sections of the piece and between melody and harmony. So if we think about how each individual trumpet sounds compared to the others, is it sometimes better to let individuals poke out of the texture?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

BOOww! googwip-bow boogogwip BWWOOOwwwww!

Pretty sure that's a flange. The whole thing is pretty excellent, but the distorted tuba laying it down for over 5 minutes is just honey. No more London posts. Promise.

The London (Brass Instrument) Sound

Sing Sing Sing!

This is from the London Trumpet Sound CD and its one of many CDs from the London <Brass Instrument> Sound series. I think this all started with the London Horn Sound, but I could be wrong. That said, what a killer marketing move by the classical players in the London area. I know CSO Brass has a CD and of course everyone has a chamber group, but I think there's a future in Symphony-sponsored albums showing off the talents of their individual sections.

And if the Youtube comments are to be believed, people love arguing about which instrument is better, and arguments sell CDs.

Natural trumpets are known to be very camera shy

This is a super cool find. We've got a small assembly of London locals playing some Bach in a mixed trumpet ensemble, check it out:

What's really awesome? There's 3 natural trumpets chilling in the back. These are the modern take on the natural trumpet, I believe they have a single valve/rotor. The ensemble itself is, I think, 7 trumpets, 3 natural trumpets, 1 picc, and four flugelhorns. The mixed sound is absolutely stunning. What I found especially surprising is the natural trumpets have the timbre closer to the piccolo trumpet than the rest of the crew so there's a really pretty timbre stew in the middle range of this piece made up of trumpet, flugel, and natural horn and glazed with some piccolo trumpet to taste.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Most Expensive Trumpet Octet

With 24 total trumpets valued at between $2,500 to $4,000 (we'll call it $3,500 each) I'd say this performance requires about $84,000 in gear, or about the cost of one Bassoon Quintet.

Why didn't they win! I think they traded substance for pageantry. That's fantastic and was probably shocking to everyone there just how cool and different this performance was from all the other trumpet ensembles at NTC 2012. They played awesomely and sold the whole thing, which got them to the finals. The arrangement itself leans really heavily on trumpet tropes and half of the piece, "How Many Trumpets Does it Take" is mostly jazz. Not that jazz is invalid, but I imagine in an adjudicated academic contest setting, the direction they went was very risky. It's a testament to their execution that they got as far as they did on such an unorthodox arrangement.

Baylor 2011 NTC Winners' Clinic on Ensemble Sound

Trumpets sound terrible when recorded except in controlled settings. Really, most of the posts on this blog are okay for recording quality, but nearly anything in an auditorium is just not as good as the real thing. Pretty sure this one from 2011 was done by a handheld Flipvideo, maybe a good smartphone. - Baylor Trumpet ensemble 2011 Russell Abstract no. 2 (arr. Wiff Rudd)

Their ensemble sound isn't just good, it's spectacular. This is the kind of sound it must take years to foster. I imagine at least some members of the ensemble have been playing together for quite awhile, but wow even the 2012 winners didn't come close to this crew.

So how did they do it? I'm noticing a couple things: First, there's two permanent flugels holding up the low end. Having a conical sound to float on top of is a trumpet player's dream. Second, their tuning is immaculate. They've got one slightly grindy entrance right around the four minute mark when one of them (can't even tell who) doesn't spread a major second wide enough right away. That's the only intonation error I noticed. Timbre and tone are completely dependent on each other. You can't blend without being in tune, and you can't tune without blending. Third, I think the arrangement helps by supplying a key switch to flugel in the middle section for the top two players. I imagine that's probably a pretty relaxing part for them compared to some of the material they have to contend with in the outer sections. Finally, they're memorized. I don't know how they digested that whole piece, it's a scorcher, but they know the book and can spend their energy listening to each other.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

No Good Trumpet Trios (Part V)

The Tomasi Suite for Three Trumpets is a complicated work in three movements. The first movement, the Havanaise takes advantage of the effectiveness of trumpets in close harmony. Really, the whole suite puts the trumpets close together, but it's most apparent in the first movement. The recording, from Paris emphasizes the rhythm, but my first experience with this piece, at ITG 2012 was ponderously slow and spent more time exploring the complicated harmonies of the piece. Either method is perfectly effective, but achieving a sensual dance-like feel in the Havanaise is important in order to draw contrast between the first and second movements. The third movement is a tuning challenge, but because of where each trumpet lands register-wise, it's possible to realize without fighting the horn for pitch on every note. I attribute that to the chromatic movement and sharp tonal center that avoids a lot of typically out-of-tune pitches on the instrument.

So what makes for a good trumpet trio? Well, based on my fairly small sample size I can't say this with a lot of authority, but I can list off a few things that my picks did well.

First, there is a fine balance between division of labor and mercy on the lower part. Each part needs to be interesting and work through the entire range of the horn, but because most of these trumpet trios are academic the composer must assume that the best player will be on the first part and thus able to handle more endurance challenges. Good trios (and I wager quartets as well) may balance this out by keeping the first part on a high tessitura, but giving the lower parts more playing time so that the top voice can rest.

Second, good trios take advantage of the special shimmer of trumpets in close harmony. Because the instrument can adjust timbre very quickly, the players can transition from their ensemble sound to their solo sound and back allowing for complicated harmonic movement while still emphasizing one voice over another.

Third, it seems the best solos only occasionally take advantage of the very shocking timbre of all three trumpets at equal strength. The effect of three trumpets resonating together is exciting, but becomes tiresome very quickly and is more suitable as an exclamation point in a paragraph full of commas and periods. For the most part, the better trios emphasize one trumpet at a time while the other two accompany the "solo" voice. In addition, the trumpets will share the solo line either in fragments or in a call and response fashion. The Havanaise is an excellent example of call and response style texture.

Finally, good trios use multiple short movements rather than long ones. For the most part, good trumpet trios are like a good joke: they can take up a little more time if the punch line is worth it, but once everyone "gets it" then it's time to move on. The Tomasi Suite is about 6-7 minutes and each movement does not overstay its welcome. The Burrill trio is nine minutes and I found myself bored of each movement about 2/3 of the way in. Even if the individual movements are cleverly written with lots of contrasting ideas it's exhausting to the listener to sit through a 9+ minute tour-de-force with only three similarly timbered voices. The little five second break between movements is critical to let the audience's ears relax a bit before the trio presents the next idea.

No Good Trumpet Trios (Part IV)

Next up is the Burrill Phillips trumpet trio. I found exactly one recording of this trio and it's got some tuning issues, but I can hear the potential in the arrangement so I wanted to dig in a little bit. The piece definitely covers the whole range of the horn and mostly satisfies that requirement in every trumpet part. I can hear that the amount of melodic and harmonic work is distributed between the three parts, but there are some excessively long phrases that sound pretty exhausting and lead to some of the aforementioned tuning issues.

The middle muted movement is, in my opinion, very cool. While two parts ostinati, a solo voice sings on top of them. This kind of texture is easy to make boring, but it can also create suspense and give listeners a feeling of 'groundedness' to latch on to when things get a little weird. The scherzo-like third movement is excellent as well.

Overall, this piece is very dense. At over 9 minutes it rivals a lot of solo literature for pure exhaustion quotient. If I got a hold of the trio I would be interested in tweaking some of the distribution of challenges to make things a little more even between parts. There are some repetitions in each movement that could be clipped as well to get the run time closer to seven minutes. That might be in poor taste, but there's so few good trumpet trios I feel compelled to want to shine up the few gems I can find.

No Good Trumpet Trios (Part III)

I'm worried I'm running out of options. I checked out Trumpets of Spain by Robert Nagel but didn't like any of the recordings and found the whole thing kind of stylistically dull. It may have been the performances or the fact that Trumpets of Spain is more of a character piece using Spanish harmony (sounded more like Mariachi to me). It gets a lot of play by high schoolers and I found a couple of collegiate performances, but there's a wide swath of tempos and interpretations people are going with based on their own preconceived notions of what "Spanish" sounds like.

Here's Notre Dame in 2013 giving it a shot. I think the tempo needs to come up quite a few clicks and the balance needs to get inverted (more low end, less top end) then it might come off better.

No Good Trumpet Trios (Part II)

I found a cool one from a freelance arranger who posted the whole thing on Youtube with the trio score.

Pie Jesu for three trumpets - Valter Valerio

The video is for two trumpets and flugelhorn, but on Valter's blog he lists it for picc trumpet, trumpet, and flugel. I don't think it goes high enough to really necessitate a piccolo and it sounds like the recording (done by three Paolo Trettels) was performed on Bb trumpet on each part. The piece is decent, but falls prey to the common roles of first, second, and third trumpet which makes it cripplingly boring for #3 and very tiring for #1.

I'm thinking of ordering it, or transcribing it, then experimenting with moving some of the parts around so that each trumpet has an equal share of the load and a little more break time overall. I may also give his picc/trumpet/flugel arrangement a shot and see if that sounds cool or if the Piccolo just overbalances everything.

No Good Trumpet Trios (Part I)

We've got a trumpet trio this semester made up of two grad students and a super-senior. We pulled every trumpet trio off the library shelves and read them all down. There are almost no good trumpet trios. Heck, type in 'trumpet trio' and you'll get the national anthem, bugler's holiday, and trumpeter's lullaby performed by high school kids at contest. That's nearly all I could find. So I went digging for some gems. For today's challenge, I will dig through piles of bad trumpet trios and try to find decent collegiate-level trios with good recordings to match. I also promised myself I wouldn't post about the Tomasi Suite until I've exhausted all other options.

Robert Muczynski - Trumpet Trio

There's the link. It only has the first and fifth movements. There is a recording with all five movements, but it's so terrible I opted not to post it at all. This trio first caught my ear because it takes advantage of the low, medium, and upper-middle registers of the trumpet in an interesting way. The movements are short and rhythmic, with some very cool hocketed exchanges between parts. The whole thing is about 4:30 long, each movement being between 30-60 seconds. Great interest builder that doesn't overstay its welcome. I jumped online and ordered a copy for myself I liked it so much.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Cityscapes" is a challenge in all the right ways

From NTC 2009, Grand Valley State University:

The UI trumpet ensemble is looking at tackling this piece this semester, so I took a look at it. Firstly, it's very 'heavy'. It sits low on the trumpet register for most of its duration and is made up of a lot of persistent tempo challenges. The rhythms themselves are not absurd, but the way bell-tones and melodies are passed between parts, it's impressive how GVSU is able to maintain a consistent tempo throughout. The scalar flourishes lay very well on the instrument and are not terribly exhausting.

This piece almost feels like an ensemble etude. It's challenging and interesting, sure, but the challenges are compartmentalized. The main melody rests squarely on the first trumpet player for the beginning of the piece, and is only transferred between parts in the recapitulation. While the melody glides on top of the other four players, they must contend with maintaining a consistent tempo and matching crisp articulations between both the low and middle registers. The sixteenth-note flourishes are intermittent, but take a look at 5:20, they take over the entire ensemble. The challenge now is maintaining tempo in the fingers rather than in the tongue. That may not seem like a big deal, but it's actually harder to do on easy parts because the fingers want to go on autopilot. The danger here is that each trumpet player must resist the urge to play their sixteenth notes like a grace note flourish.

The second movement, about 3:00 is a tuning minefield. It utilizes close harmonies across several registers and given the various tuning tendencies of the instrument that can cause a lot of unwanted crunches. Then, at about 7:30, there is a fantastic breakdown section that utilizes are wonderful extended technique I've never seen in an ensemble before. I cringed a bit for their mouthpieces.

Ewazen's Trumpet Fantasia. Looking at equal challenge distribution.

From "Soloists of the American Brass Quintet" (1999):

From NTC 2012, Central Washington University:

Firstly, it's okay to not listen to both recordings entirely. It's a pretty long piece. I saw both recordings next to each other and figured it was a good opportunity to examine the piece from a pedagogical standpoint. Trumpet ensemble music is fun and exciting but the ensembles themselves are, in my opinion, primarily an opportunity for less experienced trumpet players to perform and learn from more experienced trumpet players.

Even at the best schools in the world, I think it's a very tall order for anyone to find seven trumpet students in a single studio capable of tackling the Ewazen Fantasia to satisfaction. The first recording is all professionals, and I'm sure there's some editing, but the difference in control and endurance is obvious between the pros and the students. Ewazen wrote this piece to be fairly equal and interesting between trumpet parts. That means each player has an equal share of the load (a load which sits generally high on the trumpet's tessitura for eight minutes and is packed with close harmonies with little room for breaks). I don't want to complain that the piece is "too hard", but rather to make a case for unequal part distribution. It is acceptable for a trumpet ensemble piece to favor the better players while challenging the up-and-comers. Ewazen's Fantasia is likely a killer experience for someone capable of playing it. But for every student who has loved preparing it, the Fantasia has likely been a nightmare for five others who may not have had the facility or raw staying-power to keep up.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Northwestern is excellent at inducing feelings of raw jealousy

These guys from Northwestern killed it at NTC in 2012 and I've been thinking about just how they put together such a tight performance since then. Based on my experiences seeing the non-stop trumpet ensembles at ITG I think I've caught on to a couple things about how especially successful modern trumpet ensembles function and while the players are important, the arrangement is just as critical.

Firstly, I'd like to know when the incorporation of piccolo trumpet really caught on. Every other ensemble I've seen had one or two piccs and typically at least one flugelhorn. I might dig back through old journals and see when it became a regular thing. Piccolo trumpet may seem like a very academic thing to add to a trumpet group, but most trumpet ensemble music is purely academic and never leaves the conservatory so why isn't there a lot of piccolo in trumpet ensemble music before my generation of performers? Or is there but no one plays that literature?

The picc and flugel supply a desperately-needed timbre contrast. Trumpet ensemble music is exciting and tuneful, but like any homogenous instrument grouping it can become tedious even with lots of mute changes. With the standardization in specialty-trumpet construction and the "quality" renaissance in trumpet-making since the 80s could a a standard mixed-trumpet ensemble begin to appear? I've seen octets that incorporate two piccolos and two flugels. I'll hunt down that recording next.

Look about minute 3:45. The picc and first trumpet swap notes and it's almost impossible to tell their tone colors apart without watching their fingers. Very cool.

Check out their memorization. Above I talked about the arrangement being important. I think this arrangement was engineered specifically to be memorized. Not that it isn't a long, challenging piece with a lot of sections, but check out the various difficult sections with a lot of finger-work. There's a lot of those after the four minute mark. It looks like the fast licks are spread between the six players on each end. The two center players don't get much spotlight time. So each individual players' responsibility is to understand each section and their place within each chord, then memorize a few flashy measures. It sounds like I'm simplifying the process, but I've seen and played ensemble music that puts no faith on any but the first (and sometimes second) trumpets. The lower parts get bored and the upper parts get tired.