Brass Trio Recording Update

When I last posted about our brass trio album, we had just wrapped up a three-day recording session in January (you can read that post here). The project is moving forward, and I’m anticipating a release sometime in the fall of 2018. The tentative title is Scenes from the Bayou, which is the same title as one of the works we commissioned for this recording, composed by Gina Gillie. Here is a complete list of what will be on the disc.

Although the actual recording was a major part of the process, there are still many steps to complete before the album is ready to go.

Step 1: Sift through all of the material from our recording session and select those takes to be used in the first edit. After three days of recording, we had roughly 4.5 gigs of wav files, over 650 tracks! For those who might be interested, these were rough 16-bit mixes, not what things will sound like after final editing and mastering. Sometimes the recording producer and/or engineer will assemble a first edit for the client, depending on their contract, but in this case I was the one going through and providing the take list. Luckily, our producer Gina Gillie took great session notes. These notes helped me group our takes into three broad categories: usable, possibly usable for a spot or two in a given set of measures, and not usable. Lots of these decisions were arbitrary, but I feel good about the choices made for the first edit. From there, the take list was sent off to our engineer, Dave St. Onge.

Step 2: Dave worked incredibly fast (but very accurately) and put together a complete first edit within a matter of days. The first edit sounds very good, and I think the album is going to be an enjoyable listen – high quality, lots of variety, and musically interesting. But, there is still some work to be done. One of my summer projects (already in progress) will be going through the first edit with an even more critical ear to find any issues that need to be addressed for the second (or possibly third) edit. Things like small intonation concerns, precision of attacks (a few cases), and any other rough spots missed during the first edit will be the priorities. Unlike the first edit, I won’t be listening for long stretches of usable material, but instead trying to find small bits and pieces which can be dropped in to address a specific issue. For example, a 16-bar take might be great except for a single chipped note or other small imperfection. I tried to account for these when choosing takes for the first edit, of course, but I’ve already found a few things that slipped through the cracks the first time.

Step 3: Mastering will include tweaking the balance of all three voices to arrive at the final sound of our recording. Again, a very subjective process!

From here there are lots of production-related items to discuss with Mark Custom Recording Service, who will be manufacturing and distributing the album. These include:

  • Mechanical licenses (mostly handled at this point)
  • Package design, cover and interior art (in progress)
  • Liner notes (another summer task)

It’s exciting to see another recording project take shape. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Brass Trio Recording Session Notes

©2018 David St. Onge

Black Bayou Brass recently wrapped up a 3-day recording session of new music for brass trio. Recording took place on January 5, 6, and 7 in the Emy-Lou Biedenharn Recital Hall at the University of Louisiana Monroe. The session went very well, and we are excited to move forward with the project. Here are some details on the upcoming album.

Repertoire: The album (title TBD) will feature all world-premiere recordings. In addition, we either commissioned or arranged all but one of the works. Here’s the list, with publisher information where applicable.

When finished, the recording should be about 60 minutes, with a good mix of contemporary and historical styles.

Engineer and Producer: Our engineer for this project was Dave St. Onge, a veteran of numerous recordings with Mark Custom Recording Service. Dave did a fantastic job, and I would recommend him without reservation to anyone looking for an engineer. More details on the recording process below. Gina Gillie, who composed Scenes from the Bayou for us, lent her critical ear to the recording as producer. A great engineer and producer are essential to the recording process, and we were fortunate to work with both Gina and Dave.

Recording Process: Prior to this project, I’d recorded twice before in our hall; first for a solo album with piano and harp, and next for soprano, piano, and horn. And although I’ve been performing in a brass trio for over ten years, this was really our first opportunity to experiment with high-quality microphones and various mic placements. As you’ll notice from the photo above, there was quite a bit of equipment on stage with us! *One note about professional microphones – they really do make a huge difference. While the handheld audio and video recorders out there (Zoom, Sony, Tascam, etc.) do a fine job for rehearsal and practice purposes, they really can’t compare to what you’ll hear with great mics. We were fortunate to be able to have a separate sound check in the hall the night before recording began. This saved us time and chops on the first day of recording. Timing for a soundcheck can vary depending on a number of factors, but in our case we spent about an hour or so just trying to find the right sound/balance/blend. Based upon our impressions, as well as input from the engineer and producer, we decided to use microphones in the hall and close mics on individual players. This combination seemed to provide a good balance between clarity and resonance/reverb for all three players. While I’ve only heard the rough mixes at this point, I think the final product is going to sound great!

Equipment: For my part I performed on a Yamaha 671 double horn, with a stainless steel mouthpiece by Balu Musik. The stainless mouthpiece was a fairly recent change for me, but for this recording I felt like it gave me the right kind of clarity and projection to compete with trumpet and trombone. I’m not 100% sold on it as my regular mouthpiece, but for this project it was the right decision.

Rest/Recovery/Next Steps: We recorded in two three-hour sessions each day for three days, with a two and half-hour break between the morning and afternoon. If this sounds like a lot of playing, it was! There was a lot of stopping and starting (common on most classical recordings), and we took a short break at least every hour, so the playing wasn’t constant. I managed to make it through the entire three-day session in good shape, but took the next day off completely.  On the day after that I practiced for about an hour. My embouchure was a bit stiff (no surprise there), but after 20 minutes or so of light playing things started to loosen up and feel more or less normal again. As always, recording was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. The next step in the process is to go back through our choice takes and decide exactly which ones we want to use for the album. From there we’ll send it off to be edited together into a complete recording.There are of course many more steps between now and the final commercial release, but it does feel good to have a major portion of the recording finished.

Stay tuned for more details on this project!

 

Carrapatoso Recording Update and Another Recording Project

Last June my colleagues Claire Vangelisti, Richard Seiler, and I recorded an album of music by Eurico Carrapatoso, which you can read about here. We were very excited to receive the first edit of the recording a few weeks ago, and are currently preparing some final editing requests to send to the engineer. From here the next steps are related to production and commercial release, including: liner notes, cover/booklet art and photography, and various other details.

Richard Price, the producer and engineer for this project, let us know that even though this was a first edit, the editing process is more or less complete, utilizing (hopefully) the best possible takes of the material. However, listening to the first edit and providing comments is still very important, as mistakes can happen.

So, how does the first edit of our Carrapatoso recording sound? In short, I think it’s really good! I was very pleased with the warmth, balance, and overall musical quality in all three parts (soprano, piano, horn). Bravo to my colleagues and to Richard Price for helping us sound our very best!  That being said, I did have a few minor requests for the final edit (more on that later). I listened to the recording multiple times, and on various devices with different kinds of equipment (speakers, headphones, earbuds, etc.) On my first listen I just popped the disc into my CD drive and let it play all the way through on my stereo. I wasn’t listening too critically at that point, just sitting back and trying to get an overall feel for the sound and making some mental notes about places I wanted to go back and listen to more critically. I did this quite a few more times, using earbuds, in the car, etc. My goal in doing this was to see if any issues I was hearing were exaggerated or minimized depending on the equipment. If something was noticeable during my casual listening on all of this equipment, I definitely wanted to go back and listen more closely with the score and a great pair of headphones. For equipment-minded people who may be curious, I own two pairs of  excellent but affordable headphones: Sennheiser HD 518 and Sony MDR-7506 (pictured above). Each is well made, durable, and good for listening to classical music.

After lots of casual and critical listening, I only had a few requests for the second round of edits. At this point they are probably more subjective than anything else, but I made note of them anyway.

  • Two places where isolated attacks weren’t quite centered. The takes were definitely usable, but something about the fronts of the notes didn’t sound quite right to me.
  • Horn sound was too “live” on a few notes above the staff. I don’t know the exact technical way to describe this, but the mikes were picking up a little more “fuzz” than I would have liked in my sound on a high A-flat. I didn’t notice this effect during the sessions, and again it is a minor issue.

As I am neither a vocalist nor a pianist, these comments are obviously geared towards the horn part. The voice and piano parts are in the more than capable hands of my colleagues. Once we send our comments back we should receive a second (and probably final) edit to listen to one more time before the recording moves to production. Keep an eye out for it in the near future from MSR Classics!

With lots of progress made on this recording I have been turning my attention lately to another project – new original compositions and arrangements for brass trio, featuring Black Bayou Brass. 

Look for more information about this project in a future post!

Brief Review: Audrey Flores, Solo Horn Recording

This summer I was contacted by Audrey Flores, an active freelancer in New York City, with information about her recent solo recording with pianist Manon Hutton-DeWys. The self-titled album consists largely of standard 20th-century works, with the addition of a lesser-known but equally substantial piece, Barbara York’s Sonata for Horn and Piano. Here’s a complete list of the contents.

  • Reinhold Gliere, Four Pieces, Op. 35
  • Bernhard Krol, Laudatio
  • Barbara York, Sonata for Horn
  • Otto Ketting, Intrada
  • Trygve Madsen, Sonata for Horn, Op. 24

These are solid recordings of repertoire that every serious horn player needs to know, and Flores and Hutton-DeWys play with great style, tone, and phrasing. Even if you own other recordings, these are definitely worth a listen. The real gem on this album, though, is the Sonata by Barbara York. Composed in 2009 for Chief Musician Heather Doughty of the U.S. Coast Guard Band, this three-movement work is both lyrical and athletic, requiring plenty of technique, endurance, and flexibility. The third movement is given an especially impressive rendition by Flores, in what may very well be a world premiere recording. But don’t take my word for it – you can listen to the entire album on both Spotify and  YouTube. I love learning about new repertoire for the horn, and I’ll be adding the York Sonata to my list of recital program material for the near future. It’s worth noting that York has another work for horn and piano, the Arioso Gloria.

Bravo to Ms. Flores and her collaborators on this fine recording!

 

Recording Project Update: Music by Eurico Carrapatoso

As mentioned in an earlier post, one of my big projects this summer was recording several works for soprano, horn, and piano for a forthcoming album of music by Eurico Carrapatoso. I’m pleased to say that we recently wrapped up recording, and I thought it would be good to share a few observations about the process while details are still fresh in my mind. Thank you to my colleagues Claire Vangelisti and Richard Seiler for inviting me to participate in this project, and Bravo on your inspiring work!

Engineer/Producer: We were very fortunate to be able to work with engineer and producer Richard Price of Candlewood Digital on this project. Mr. Price has a fantastic reputation, and even if you don’t recognize his name I would be willing to bet that you own or have heard his recordings. I had not worked with Mr. Price previously, but after two solid six-hour-plus days of recording, I would recommend him to anyone without reservation! His incredibly discerning ears and easy-going demeanor made him a joy to work with as a producer and engineer. While I don’t know the exact technical aspects of what he did with microphone placement and other variables, I do know that the sound he was able to capture was great – warm and nuanced, with exactly the right balance among all three parts. And this was just from the raw takes! The final edited and mastered recording should be really fun! See below for a few shots of the stage setup.

Horns, Endurance, and Rehearsals: As I’ve mentioned before, much of this project emphasized high and light playing, for which I used an older Paxman Model 40M double descant horn. My sincere thanks go out to Craig Pratt for the generous loan of this fine instrument! There were a few movements on which I used my regular Yamaha 671 double horn, but the majority of the playing on this album is on the Paxman. In my preparation for the recording sessions I focused on familiarizing myself as much as possible with the tendencies of the instrument, as well as getting creative with some different fingering choices.  Despite the intense schedule (on both days we did a 3-hour session in the morning, followed by a 2.5 hour break, and concluded with another 3-hour session in the afternoon, plus about another 30 minutes on a third day to wrap up some minor things), my endurance held up well. For those that might be interested, I believe this success can be attributed to a few different factors:

  • Balanced practice between double and descant horn It was tempting to cram in lots of practice on the high horn, especially in the days leading up to the recording sessions. However, I can speak from experience that too much intense practice on the High F side can tire out your chops quickly! I didn’t practice more than 25 minutes at a time on the descant horn without a break, and always made sure to end each day on the double horn with some relaxing low register playing.
  • Mindful Warm-Ups/Warm-Downs I crashed and burned once in graduate school by practicing too much on the day of a recording session, and vowed never to make that mistake again. On each day I warmed up very lightly for about 25 minutes, beginning in the mid-low range and gradually expanding outwards (but still avoiding extremes). At the end of each day I warmed down for a few minutes, then followed up with light massage and alternating cool and warm compresses on my cheeks and upper lip for 5-10 minutes after getting home. *The cool “compress” was a soft drink can from the refrigerator, and the warm compress was a washcloth soaked in warm water. I was tempted to try some ibuprofen, but not really being in the habit of taking that type of medication I decided to forgo it in favor of the compresses.
  • Lots of Great Rehearsals One other major factor in the success of this recording was being able to perform and rehearse frequently with my colleagues before starting the recording process. It seems like an obvious assertion, but is probably worth mentioning anyway. Having performed and rehearsed this repertoire frequently just prior to the sessions made things go very smoothly for the most part. Most of our discussions during the actual recording had to do with minor variations in interpretation, and adjusting to the modified stage setup. Because of the sight lines and lighting, I ended giving lots of cues for both piano and voice.

Final Thoughts: Recording a classical album can be a grueling process, and the bar for technical perfection and artistry is extremely high. High quality microphones and a great producer will quickly expose any and all weaknesses in your playing! I’ve always found it a humbling yet enjoyable experience, though distinctly different from the act of live performance. Though a major part of the work is now complete, the project is still a ways off from completion. Now comes the editing, followed by mastering and various other procedures involved in the production of a commercial recording. Be on the lookout for more updates in the coming months!

New Video: Louisiana All-State Etudes, Set 2

Happy New Year to all of my readers!

For my first post of 2017 I am sharing a video recorded back in December; two Kopprasch etudes that will be used for the upcoming Louisiana Music Educators Association All-State Auditions. Although these auditions are generally held in September and October, many districts in Louisiana use them as Honor Band audition material during the spring. I last recorded these etudes about 10 years ago, so it was time for a new (and hopefully improved) version. As with the previous set of etudes in this new series, I’m working on a set of preparatory exercises to accompany them. Look for those in a future post and video recording.

If you’re interested in the equipment I’m playing on this video, the horn is my new Yamaha 671, and the mouthpiece is a Laskey 75G in silver plate.

Friday Review: Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn

rescuedFor today’s review we have a new recording by John Ericson, Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn. Ericson is Associate Professor of Horn at Arizona State University, and is a recognized expert on horn history and the 19th-century horn in particular. I’ve been looking forward to this recording for quite some time, and have avidly followed Ericson’s series of articles related to this project on Horn Matters. The entire series is well worth reading, but to summarize, Rescued! is the culmination of Ericson’s research into the repertoire and technique of the 19th-century single F horn, which is often overlooked by modern horn players. The written description of the CD is as follows:

Rescued! celebrates the forgotten works of a group of 19th-century hornists and composers. The music included in this recording was composed between roughly 1860 and 1910 and are quality works aimed primarily at low horn players of the late 19th century who still used single F horns. The works included in this recording are:

  • Nocturno, Op. 73 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Sonate, Op. 347 – Fritz Spindler
  • Melancholie, Op. 68 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Am Abend, Op. 71 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Gondellied, Op. 15 – Karl Matys
  • Lied ohne Worte, Op. 2 – Oscar Franz
  • Serenade, Op. 20 – Louis Bödecker
  • Lied ohne Worte – Josef Richter
  • Resignation, Op. 16 – Charles Eisner
  • Wiegenlied, Op. 69, No. 1 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Sonata, Op. 7 – Hermann Eichborn

Most of the compositions on this recording will be new or at the least unfamiliar to a majority of horn players. And while the works presented here may not have been written by the “A-list” composers of the time, they are still high quality and worthy of study. The scores are all available on IMSLP for free, and I think that Ericson’s fine recording will help revive an interest in them. Any would be perfect additions to a recital.

I’ve heard Ericson perform numerous times, and both he and pianist Yi-Wan Liao are in top form on this recording. The technical difficulties involved in performing on the single F horn are daunting: mouthpieces, crooks, accuracy, intonation, etc. Yet Ericson plays with exceptional musicality, not to mention spot-on accuracy and intonation throughout the entire disc. As one might expect, the sound of the single F horn is reminiscent of the natural horn – warm and velvety in softer dynamics, with a bit of sizzle at forte volume. The piano sound is also quite warm, accentuating (without dominating) the horn sound. Most of the works emphasize the lyrical capabilities of the instrument, although the Eichborn Sonata and a few others contain some nice technical passages as well. Listening to this disc, one might assume that playing a 19th-century single F horn is an easy task – if you’ve ever tried it you know that isn’t the case! “Wolf” notes are more frequent and difficult to control than on the modern double horn, and achieving any level of accuracy requires great skill and an exceptional ear. Bravo to Ericson and Liao for releasing this fine disc!

Review: Songs of Love, War and Melancholy/Mozart: Stolen Beauties

songsoflovegallaycoverI recently received two wonderful new discs for review from Anneke Scott, a phenomenal performer on both natural and valved horns. Scott serves as principal horn of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and The English Baroque Soloists, and also performs frequently as a soloist and chamber musician. In addition to her busy performing schedule, she has also found the time to record several albums of music by the great 19th-century horn virtuoso Jacques-François Gallay. The third and final volume in this series is titled Songs of Love, War and Melancholy: The operatic fantasias of Jacques-François Gallay (read a review of the second album here.) As in her earlier Gallay recordings, Scott’s natural-horn playing is expressive, athletic, and robust; in short, very impressive! She negotiates even the most difficult passages on the natural horn with beguiling ease. The selections on this disc belong to a repertoire that was extremely popular during Gallay’s day, but is less known to modern horn players. Here’s a brief quote from Scott’s liner notes, which are copious and very informative.

During this period the opera fantasia offered virtuoso musicians the opportunity to demonstrate a number of aspects of their playing that were viewed as highly desirable by their audiences. The choice of themes, especially if Italian in origin, was à la mode and their settings offered the musician the opportunity demonstrate his amazing skills both in performing a melody in a vocal style as well as showing off with spectacular embellishments.

I think the same holds true today for these works, though they do contain plenty of “real” music, and not just virtuosic display. It is also interesting that while Gallay’s Op. 27 Preludes and Op. 57 2nd Horn Studies have become a standard part of the modern horn player’s curriculum, these equally (if not more so) substantial pieces remain more or less unknown. I was familiar with operatic fantasias for horn, mainly through Thomas Bacon’s edition and recording of C.D. Lorenz’s Fantasie, Op. 13, but I knew very little about Gallay’s contributions to the genre. One factor that probably contributes to this disparity is the difficulty in tracking down modern editions of these works. The Op. 46 Fantaisie sur ‘L’elisir d’amore’ can be found on IMSLP, and Op. 49 is available through Koebl, but I was unable to find either public domain or commercial editions of the other works. I contacted Ms. Scott, and she quickly responded with the following information.

Now, all the Gallay pieces are available but right now it’s a bit tricky. I published them as part of the crowdfunding for the original disc. (They’re all here: http://www.plumstead-peculiars.com/Index.html). But just what with one thing and another haven’t had the chance to set up selling myself. They will be available from www.corniworld.com (Sheet music) and www.devinemusic.com (downloads) I think from July onwards.

So, it looks like new editions of these will be available very soon. These are lovely pieces – especially the three works for horn, voice, and soprano – and would make excellent editions to any recital.

stolenbeautiescoverThe second recording for review today is Mozart: Stolen Beauties, a collaboration between Anneke Scott and the period instrument ensemble Ironwood. Here’s a brief introduction to the album, again from Scott’s liner notes.

In this disc we take as our central point one of Mozart’s most memorable works for horn – the Quintet in E-flat major, KV407. Rather than choosing the more common path of combining this work with a number of other late 18th- and early 19th-century works for horn and strings…we have illustrated the various ways in which Mozart’s works have been ‘appropriated’ for the horn, or, in one case how Mozart ‘appropriated’ a work for himself.

The result of this novel approach to programming is an album full of obscure, but nonetheless beautiful, works for horn and various combinations of strings and piano. The exception is of course Mozart’s well-known Quintet, but the interpretation recorded here makes for very enjoyable listening as well. There is a freshness and presence to this album that rivals anything I’ve heard from modern instruments. Like the Gallay recordings, the liner notes are meticulously researched, yet pleasant and easy to read. Horn players will be especially interested in the recording of Michael Haydn’s Romance in A-flat major, which bears a striking resemblance to the Romanza movement from Mozart’s K. 447 concerto. Scott’s explanation and subsequent thesis regarding this peculiar work are quite convincing. I must say that after listening to both works back to back the Haydn seems more musically interesting! The music on this recording is a little more difficult to track down than the Gallay disc. Here are some additional details from Ms. Scott.

For the music on the Mozart disc it’s a bit more tricky. The Mozart quintet is quite easy to get hold of. I thought the Michael Haydn was as well but now looking for it it seems more tricky. We used a copy of the original edition – maybe I should do an edition of that myself? The Punto duets I found in a library in Russia and did my own edition which again I should make available through Plumstead Peculiars. I did the same with the Anon variation – these are available from Tanglewind Music – http://www.tanglewindmusic.com/Site/Historical_%26_Urtext.html. They’ve got the variations down as being by Puzzi which is a misreading of the manuscript, also the extra variation is missing from this edition.
The Kegelstatt though… I did my own edition for this piece so it’s kind of ready to publish but I’d like to do a lot of work on it first. There’s a lot of “textural” things in it – for example places where Livius obviously made a mistake (some strange viola figurations) which needed correction and other places where he deviates from the original Mozart. Eventually I would like to publish this but there’s a lot of information that I’d like to include so that performers have various options and can make their own decisions. Basically it needs a critical report. So it’s on the cards but I need to find the time to do it.

Also of note is Scott’s use of a hybrid instrument, a natural horn by Courtois Frères, Paris, c. 1835, with a removable set of piston valves (sauterelle) by Antoine Halary, Paris, c. 1840. She seamlessly combines both hand horn and valve technique in her recording of Mozart’s Concertante for pianoforte, horn, viola, and cello, arranged by Barham Livius.

On a related topic I’ll close with a general statement about Scott’s natural horn playing, which incorporates lots of different colors and expressive contrasts. There are varying schools of thought regarding hand horn technique, one of which emphasizes absolute evenness and consistency of sound between stopped and open notes. While there is merit to this approach, I personally enjoy hearing a difference in stopped and open timbres, especially when in the hands of a consummate musician like Anneke Scott. When performed tastefully, these contrasts add an elusive, but very important, quality to the music of that era. As a primarily modern (valved) horn player, I have been inspired by these recordings to strive for more expression and timbral variations in my own playing. I think you will as well!

Recording Reviews: Uncommon Ground & En-Cor!

For this week’s post I have two brief recording reviews. First up is a recent release on the MSR Classics label, Uncommon Ground: Contemporary Works for Trumpet with Horn, Trombone, Piano, and Organ. I was particularly interested in this album because three of the performers were classmates of mine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: Amy Schendel, trumpet, Todd Schendel, trombone, and Bernhard Scully, horn. All three have gone on to distinguished careers as performers and educators, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to perform with them. A majority of the tracks on Uncommon Ground are world premiere recordings, including two works for brass trio, Jean-François Michel’s Suite pour Trompette, Cor et Trombone (1994), and Joseph Blaha’s French Suite (2011). Both are very fine compositions, and highly recommended for those looking to expand their knowledge of the brass trio repertoire. For a little bit of background on the Michel, here’s a quote from my article on brass trio repertoire in the most recent issue of The Horn Call.

Michel is a professor at the Haute Ecole de Musique in Fribourg, and is a prolific composer and arranger for brass. The first movement opens with extended solo fanfares for the horn and trombone, followed by a faster section full of syncopation and mixed meters. The lyrical second movement makes for a nice contrast with the faster, more energetic outer movements. This piece puts some new twists on a traditional form, with plenty of great writing for all three instruments. “Brass Trio Repertoire: Beyond Poulenc”, The Horn Call, May 2015.

Joseph Blaha serves on the faculty at Roanoke College, and his French Suite was commissioned by the Contrapunctus Brass Trio (Amy Schendel, Todd Schendel, Bernhard Scully). I had the opportunity to hear these players in a live performance of the piece at the 44th International Horn Symposium in Denton, TX, and was very impressed. Modeled after the French Suites of J.S. Bach, Blaha’s trio makes frequent use of counterpoint, with plenty of interesting lines for all three instruments.

The playing on this album is of the highest caliber, as one would expect, and I was especially impressed by the clear, focused sound and impeccable intonation throughout. All three players are comfortable with the entire range of their instruments, and are able to produce, in my opinion, exactly the “right” sounds required by the music.

The second and final review for today is En-Cor!, featuring the American Horn Quartet. Financed primarily through a Kickstarter campaign, En-Cor! is likely the final recording by one of the most decorated brass ensembles in the world. After nearly 30 years of concerts, competitions, master classes, and residencies, the AHQ will be collectively retiring in 2015. (For much more information on the history of the AHQ, see Kerry Turner’s article in the May 2015 issue of The Horn Call). Though the ensemble has recorded most of the major works for horn quartet, including group member Kerry Turner’s own fine compositions,  the CD booklet notes that there were many other lighter works in their repertoire that had not yet been recorded. Over the years, these brief compositions became audience favorites, and were often used as encores at AHQ concerts. Thus, En-Cor! is in many ways a retrospective of some of the quartet’s finest playing, spanning everything from Bach to Bernstein. As for their performances, I can’t really say much that hasn’t already been said. If you’re a horn player, chances are you’ve heard of the American Horn Quartet, and if not, buy this album – or any of their albums – today. You will hear playing that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible on the instrument, all the while with warmth and expressiveness to rival any other chamber group out there…period.

The AHQ holds a special place in my heart because I grew up listening to their recordings. There are only a handful of brass ensembles that I’ve listened to consistently over my 20+ years as a horn player, and the American Horn Quartet is one of them. Having heard them live multiple times, I can also say that this recording is representative of their actual abilities and sound. What you will hear is not recording studio magic; they really do sound this good! And while it is a little saddening to know that the group will be retiring after their final performances at the 47th International Horn Symposium, I am comforted by two things:

  1.  Their many fine recordings, including this one, which have left such an incredible impression on generations of horn players.
  2. The handful of other professional horn quartets currently performing, many of them modeled after the AHQ’s example.

To paraphrase the closing of Kerry Turner’s article in The Horn Call, when the AHQ began 30 years ago, a horn quartet was considered more of a novelty than anything resembling a legitimate chamber ensemble. Today, there are many other brass chamber groups (not just horn quartets) who have benefited from the AHQ’s groundbreaking career. And while the reviews, recognition, and awards the AHQ has garnered over a nearly 30-year period would be considered remarkable in any field, their true legacy is the legions of horn players they have influenced and inspired.

Semester Preview, Part 2: Orchestral Bucket List, Horn Conferences, Book Projects, and More!!

UntitledHere’s Part 2 of my semester preview, with some more brief descriptions of what will be happening in Spring 2015 and beyond (Part 1 is located here).

Orchestral Performances: This spring I’ll have the opportunity to perform on three major orchestral works I’ve never played before: Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1o with the Rapides Symphony Orchestra. I’m especially excited to perform the Schumann, as it has long been on my bucket list of orchestral works.

Horn Conferences: I have plans to perform and present at two large horn conferences this year, the Southeast Horn Workshop, March 6-8 at LSU in Baton Rouge, LA, and the 47th International Horn Symposium, August 2-8 at The Colburn School in Los Angeles, CA. I’ll be performing a new arrangement of mine, Romance, by C.M. von Weber (published by Cimarron Music Press) at the Southeast Workshop, and for the International Horn Symposium I will hopefully be performing the premiere of a new work for horn and harp that I commissioned with assistance from the IHS’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. I say “hopefully” because while my proposal to perform has been submitted, I won’t find out if it has been accepted until February. Once I have more information about the premiere I’ll post it here. The new work, written by internationally recognized composer Gary Schocker, is entitled In Arkadia. My collaborator for this work will be Dr. Jaymee Haefner, who teaches harp at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Haefner is a fantastic harpist, and we worked together previously on my recording of Jan Koetsier’s Sonata for Horn and Harp.

Solo Duet Training for Horns: My plan this spring is to finish work on Solo Duet Training for Horns, a forthcoming book for Mountain Peak Music. While I will be posting periodically to this blog and updating the job listings, most of my research and creative activity time will be spent on this project. As of now I anticipate a release in early summer of this year. Will post more details as it nears completion.

Reviews, etc. Although I won’t be posting new content every week, I plan to review a couple of horn related publications I obtained late last year: Randy Gardner‘s new book Good Vibrations: Masterclasses for Brass Players, and En-Cor! the latest (and final?) recording from the American Horn Quartet.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy, but fun and engaging semester. Good luck and best wishes to my students and colleagues for the same!

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