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.