If you said the Canadian Brass represented the "gold standard" among brass quintets, you'd be right on the mark. Aside from performing on 24K gold-plated instruments, the group, led by its avuncular tuba master (and sole original member) Chuck Daellenbach, essentially put the idea of the brass quintet on the map.
For more than 40 years, various iterations of the Canadian Brass have played in a staggering range of situations: in concerts from Moscow and Tokyo to Boston and Beijing (the first brass ensemble from the West to perform in China); on Sesame Street, the Tonight Show and movie soundtracks; and in guest appearances with many symphony orchestras. They love social media and maintain accounts not just on Twitter, but also on the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo (@canadianbrass on both services). Then there are the recordings — more than 100 of them, selling more than two million albums total.
Needless to say, with history like that, Canadian Brass knows how to put on a show. Daellenbach and his fresh-faced players, each with red-striped sneakers and matching outfits, strolled into the NPR Music offices, took their places behind Bob Boilen's desk and started blowing as if they'd played this peculiar gig a hundred times.
They began with a version of J.S. Bach's intricately woven Little Fugue in G minor, an impressive staple that stretches back to the band's first recording. In those days, precious little was available for brass quintet (two trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba), so the band relied on making arrangements of existing music. Since then, Canadian Brass has transcribed and commissioned more than 200 works, including "Tuba Tiger Rag," Luther Henderson's lighthearted tribute to Dixieland jazz. It's a showpiece for Daellenbach, who twirls his tuba (while playing) and lands on a final note of such subterranean depth that you feel it more than hear it.
The players closed with another favorite, Rimsky-Korsakov's dizzying "Flight of the Bumblebee," in an arrangement by Canadian Brass trumpeter Brandon Ridenour. Although the music buzzes past in less than two minutes, players get plenty of opportunities to shine — as in the lightning-fast runs negotiated by trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos, the newest member of the group.
After four decades, it's great to see Canadian Brass — practically an institution at this point — still sounding fresh, still attracting young virtuosos and, above all, still having fun with the music.
- J.S. Bach: Little Fugue In G minor
- Luther Henderson: Tuba Tiger Rag
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Flight Of The Bumblebee
- Christopher Coletti, trumpet
- Brandon Ridenour, trumpet
- Eric Reed, French horn
- Achilles Liarmakopoulos, trombone
- Chuck Daellenbach, tuba
Producer: Tom Huizenga; Editor: Michael Katzif; Videographers: Emily Bogle and Michael Katzif; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Emily Bogle/NPR