“I like that attitude of we’re all in it together. All these different arts organizations and disciplines, we’re all trying to do similar things.” ~ Luise Heyerhoff
Pioneers have a great responsibility as they forge new paths for others to follow. There is no guarantee of success, but the reward at the end can be great. One such pioneer is Reverb Brass, a quintet that is breaking onto the new music scene and opening up great new possibilities for composers and performers.
Trumpet player and founding member Luise Heyerhoff says that the idea of putting together a concert of brass quintet music came up when long-time colleague Micajah Sturgess returned to Toronto from Saskatchewan last summer. The quintet was formed shortly after, with Luise and Micajah joined by Aaron Hodgson as the other trumpet player, Charles Benaroya on the trombone, and Jonathan Rowsell on the tuba. She As the group members were recruited and planning began in earnest, they quickly realized that it would be a shame to do all the work involved in putting on a concert only to die out right after.
“I had actually played in a contemporary brass quintet when I was studying in Boston, so I said, let’s do something different than a gigging quintet.” Luise recalls. “Let’s do what we want to do and something that’s new and fresh and a little more interesting.”
Brass instruments are some of the most powerful ones in the orchestra. They’re awesome in marching bands because you will be able to hear them from just about anywhere. Seeing them in chamber settings, like a quintet, is more rare, as the repertoire is very narrow. Seeing them in unusual combinations with other instruments is even less likely, unless a new work is commissioned.
Some of Luise most exciting memories from her time at the Glenn Gould School are of playing in an orchestra. She has also performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra. However, it was during her time at The Boston Conservatory that she got tuned into the unique artistic experience that a contemporary brass quintet ensemble can offer.
Now that she is based in Toronto, Reverb Brass presents the perfect opportunity to once again explore the artistic possibilities. With this seemingly simple decision, they are also opening up wonderful compositional possibilities for the community of classical composers in Toronto — and elsewhere in Canada.
“We hadn’t considered that, but when we thought about it for a minute, there is no one else doing this in Toronto. We are among the few that we are aware of even in all of Canada.”
There are practical and economic reasons why new works have primarily involved strings, woodwinds, piano and voice, as Thin Edge New Music shared with us last week, but the simple decision for a performing ensemble to focus their energy on collaborating with living classical composers opens up exciting performance opportunities.
For example, Reverb Brass recently performed as a trio at the opening of a new outlook in Jasper, the design of which is partly inspired by the Grand Canyon lookout.
“We were in Jasper, myself, Micajah and John. Micajah’s parents are architects and they designed this lookout in Jasper near the Columbia ice fields. It was amazing. I’ve never played a gig in a place like that before,” shares Luise.
“Closer to the landing, they created a mini amphitheatre. It was a wall of wood paneling behind us with a nice little stage to play on. It created enough of an acoustic insulation for it to sound great. The view was stunning, I can’t even describe it, it was amazing.”
Such breathtaking views won’t make an appearance at their concert this Thursday at Array Space, but I think it would whet the musical appetite of audiences and composers alike to come and experience the various combinations of brass instruments, as well as witness how contemporary composers have explored the musical possibilities.
On the program are composers and works I’m not familiar with, but the stories behind them are certainly intriguing. Jan Bach’s “Laudes” is a big part of contemporary brass repertoire, and well known for its play on words (I was assured that there will be many loud As in the piece). Bela Bartok’s “Three Hungarian Folksongs from Csik” will also make an appearance as a new arrangement by Micajah.
Also a highlight on the program is a Canadian premiere of James Hesford Chuck’s “Big Leaps,” a musical mashup of John Coltrane and Chuck Barry, two artists who were sources of inspiration for this British composer.
One recent addition to the program is Oystein Baadsvik’s “Fnugg,” a piece that represents Baadsvik’s own journey as a tuba player who breaks out of the traditional mold of what is expected from the instrument. It is full of humour and virtuosity, and the spirit of breaking out of the traditional mold of classical music while staying true to their instrument and practice.
“The more I think about it, and the more I go to concerts with this new lens, the more I realize how weird the traditional concert experience can be. I still appreciate it because that’s what I grew up with, so I’m fine with sitting there for three hours, being quiet and taking in the music. A lot of other people aren’t anymore. They want to have a deeper experience, or something that’s a little bit more accessible, more than just showing up all dressed up in suits and gowns.”
Reverb Brass are still in their early days, but they are conscious of the fact that every little decision about presentation matters. They are presenting the concert on Thursday as a pay-what-you-can so that anyone can come out, and they prefer to talk about the pieces and their place on the program, rather than putting the information in program notes.
“That was some of the positive feedback we got from the concert at Gallery 345 earlier this year. We had a program listing, but no notes, and so we spoke. Everyone said they enjoyed it a lot.” Heyerhoff recalls. “When people start reading the program notes I think it’s a sign that they’re bored.”
While the quintet is busy preparing the final concerts of their first season as an ensemble, they are already making connections with composers and presenters who don’t often have a brass ensemble knocking on their doors. There is no lack of ideas for concerts and collaborations, though the usual constraints of time and resources mean that these will take time to be realized.
The good news is that there are many other performers and composers in a similar situation, and the generous nature of artists creates a tremendous amount of goodwill that keeps everyone going during lean times. Take for example Reverb Brass’s experience with acquiring a score from a composer who had a piece they wanted to read through.
“I approached him asking how I could purchase it from him, as I didn’t assume it was free. He sent it to me right away and said, ‘We’re all in this together, so take this and read it. If you like it, perform it.’ I like that attitude. All these different arts organizations and disciplines, we’re all trying to do similar things.”
In a city like Toronto, the possibilities for Reverb Brass and groups like them are endless. Below is an example of the kind of performance that perhaps we can one day look forward to; I hear that a few brass players are on it.