New Classical Tracks - Brass Attack

by Julie Amacher
March 20, 2012

Listen New Classical Tracks - Brass Attack
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Canadian Brass - Takes Flight (Steinway and Sons 30008) (Courtesy of Steinway & Sons)

When the Canadian Brass was formed in 1970, the whole idea of the brass quintet was just taking off. And while most brass quintets were sticking to standard quintet repertoire, trumpeter Brandon Ridenour says the Canadian Brass was stretching those boundaries: "What Canadian Brass ended up doing was taking the greats, the greatest music ever written, Mozart, Bach Beethoven, and figuring out what pieces would lend itself to brass quintet. So this idea of taking masterworks and the greatest music ever written and now playing it in an ensemble, in a medium that it had not yet been heard, it was really, I think, what set Canadian Brass apart from the rest of the field." The Canadian Brass still makes it a point to set themselves apart from the rest of the field and Ridenour says that while their new recording represents the best of their past it also looks at the future of the Canadian Brass. "I would say the title, Takes Flight, resembles the new era in Canadian Brass that is taking off right now. With our new members, we have new faces and we have a mixture on this program, on this album, we have a mixture of both new and old pieces."

The newest member of the group is Greek trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos who joined last May. He was 12 years old and had only been playing his instrument for a year when he first saw the Canadian Brass at Lincoln Center in New York City: "I was blown away with the energy and the passion and the wonderful music and the amazing interaction with the audience," he enthuses. "I had never seen something like that before. So I grew up with the recordings of the Canadian Brass." Achilles says his favorite piece on this new recording is one he's been playing since he was a college student. Much to his delight, he quickly discovered it was also a favorite of founding member and tuba player Chuck Daellenbach. "So when I joined the Canadian Brass, it was actually a month before we were about to record the album and I asked Chuck about this piece, 'Killer Tango,'" Achilles says. "And I was telling him the story that I love this piece and he said that this is one of the pieces he also liked but they had never recorded it. Actually, this is the premiere recording of that piece and it was written for the Canadian Brass."

In addition to being outstanding musicians, Brandon Ridenour says each member of the ensemble also brings a hidden talent to the group. "For instance, Achilles, we didn't find out until after he joined is very much into recording engineering. Quick story, when we were first recording, 'Lament,' I wanted to hear certain parts of it pieced together and Achilles in just a few minutes somehow on the train when we were on the train in Germany at the time, pieced it together in a matter of minutes and I got to listen to it with all the different takes." Ridenour's not-so-hidden talent is his ability to compose and arrange for the group. "Lament," is an arrangement of a piece he first wrote in high school for a large brass ensemble. Initially, it also had a different title: "My original title for it was Adagio for Brass. I was trying to write something, although I would never dare to compare it to the great Adagio for Strings, I was certainly inspired by Barber's Adagio for Strings, and wanted to write a piece for brass that had a similar level of emotion for brass players."

Brandon also created a challenging new arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee," which opens the new recording. And his enthusiasm for the piece is clear: "So there are a few little tricks and surprises along the way and influences by some of my favorite composers and out came the new, exciting 'Flight of the Bumblebee' for brass quintet! It doesn't start with 'Flight of the Bumblebee,' as we all know it. It starts with each one of the members, each one of the players in the ensemble trying to do their best to sound like a bee and trilling on their instruments. And as you know, a trombone can't actually trill so I still haven't been able to figure out how Achilles really does this."

So, how does Achilles create that bee-like buzzing? "Well, it's a little trick, I do a lip trill actually with my lips when the other instruments can do the trill with their mouths I'm doing it with my lips." And: "Only a Greek can do this," Brandon adds.

The Canadian Brass has been generating buzz about the brass quintet for more than 40 years. In concert, they're known for their outstanding musicianship and their wacky theatrics. On their new CD, Takes Flight, you'll get a taste of those unique stage antics, and a full sense of what they've accomplished so far, as well as what's in store as they launch into their next era, with new faces and, as always, fresh repertoire.