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.