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Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass

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CSO Brass Concert Review


On December 9, 2007, I went to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass concert at Symphony Center in downtown Chicago. The CSO brass instrumentation was as follows: six trumpets, six French horns, seven trombones, two tubas, and three percussionists. The large majority of the brass was from the CSO, but a few players were from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, such as the second tuba, to help with the instrumentation.


The first piece I will critique is Round Dance of the Golden Calf from Faust, written by Charles Gounod and featuring a tuba solo played by Gene Pokorny. The piece began rather energetically, with a quick tempo and a staccato trumpet part. This was complemented by the horns who seemed to hold a harmony in contrast to the trumpets. The trombones were set in the background, playing mf, with a more legato and lyrical part. The feel and tempo abruptly slow with the horn and trumpet dynamics in a decrescendo and the trombones following suit. With this, Pokorny enters with his lyrical solo, very legato and with emotion, seemingly trying to sound like someone singing. The tuba plays alone for a number of measures before the trumpets rejoin at a piano dynamic, complementing the solo with a slightly faster and more staccato, almost percussive part. With this the tuba holds a final note in what appears to be the climax of the piece, before abruptly ending with a few last notes from both the upper and lower brass. I really enjoyed the piece and the way in which the group was able to make it interesting to listen to regardless of what was being played. My favorite part by far was the solo by Pokorny. I was amazed at how he seemed to make every note he played interesting, leaving the audience and I in particular wanting to hear more.


The next piece is Fanfare from the Incidental Music to The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, written by Claude Debussy. The piece began with an upbeat tempo, with a melody in the upper brass, sort of what one might see as the definitive sort of brass fanfare. This was quickly added to by the trombones, coming in very strong and the French horns then adding to the fray. The fanfare continued throughout, primarily held by the trumpets and occasionally moving into some of the lower brass instruments. The dynamics ranged for the most part from mf to fff, with a great deal of energy and a never slowing tempo. The piece was fairly short and powered through right unto its end. I really enjoyed listening to this piece as it really showed the power of the CSO Brass section and was very upbeat and lively. I also liked the fact that it was fairly short and that there was never a dull moment in the piece, from the begging all the way to the end of it.


The third and final piece I will critique is Pictures at an Exhibition, written by Modest Mussorgsky and arranged for brass by Elgar Howarth. The piece begins with the promenade, a reoccurring theme seen throughout the piece. It is interesting the way in which it was arranged for brass and the ability of the CSO combined to cause the promenade to sound nearly as if a full orchestra was playing it. The theme is at first carried in the trombones and French horns before moving to the trumpets. This first section is fairly brief but melodic before moving to the first picture. This section has a fairly mysterious feel to it, almost creepy, with a definite minor sound, using the low brass, primarily the trombones to carry the section. From here it returns to the promenade, but this time with a slightly more mysterious tone. The tempo remains slow, with the overall dynamic being a piano, with the horns and trumpets using mutes to effectively bring across the intended sound. The next section is a slow, legato melody held in the trumpets, following the previous promenade. From here it returns once again to the promenade, beginning with a single solo trumpet, quickly joined by the tubas with an awesome part to go along with the melody, played what I would consider to be ff. This is followed by a couple of less distinguishable sections that were very lyrical before once again returning to the promenade. This time it was a bit more subtle with once again a piano dynamic before being joined by the majestic sounding tuba part, later accompanied by the trombones. The next section is really upbeat, with an unbelievable show of musicianship by the trumpets who seem to be playing what is typically the flute part. This part had a quick tempo and was a welcome change. The following section was a bit slower and the dynamic lowered, but this was quickly followed by a once again quick tempo and great horn part, with the horns quickly working their way down scales. After this it entered into a depressing mood, with a definite minor key and very sad and dynamically soft part written into the French horns. This was soon followed by the second to last section, with a very upbeat rhythm and definite crescendo throughout the section. The best part of this was the trombone part, which through all of the chaos had a powerful and amazing section in which they would gradually work their way down with a brassy tone that cut through the rest of the music. With the conclusion of this came The Great Gate of Kiev, with an awesome and majestic brass show of force as everyone, especially the tubas, tore through the slow and melodic part with power and increasing dynamics, propelled on by the timpani, finally bringing the piece to and end. Overall, this was my favorite piece of the night, as it highlighted nearly every angle and ability of the brass instruments, with some, the trumpets in particular, playing parts which I could hardly believe possible. Because of this it was definitely the piece that I enjoyed the most.


My experience going to see the CSO Brass was a very positive one, which I found quite inspiring. I enjoyed everything that they played and would definitely go back to see them the next time they hold a concert, especially to see them perform in a full orchestra setting. Overall, it was worth the trip and I enjoyed my time their, especially seeing what some of the best brass players anywhere are capable of.





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