Category Archives: Brass

Through the Lens of Art

Today was a day off for Fortress Brass, so our host, Irina, sent a driver to take us to some of the sights in St. Petersburg that are not within walking distance. Before we left, though, we walked to see the Kazansky Cathedral. This massive Russian Orthodox church was built in the early 1800s to celebrate the Russian victory over Napolean. I wish I could show you how stunningly beautiful the inside is, but they don’t allow pictures. (Note the massive scale and beauty of the outside!) Marble and granite of all colors, gold and silver decor and paintings more numerous than you could imagine. And it’s also a functioning church. We happened to be there during a service and the chanting in Russian was sublime. It’s very easy to see how one could find solace in such a serene setting. And when we walked out, just down the street we could see another glorious church, the Church on Spilled Blood. If you don’t know anything about that one, look it up! The history is interesting and the artistic quality of it’s architecture is gorgeous!

  • Kazansky Cathedral

Next, we went to the Piskaryovkoye Memorial Cemetary where almost half a million Russian civilians and soldiers are buried in mass graves. These people died of starvation and the extreme cold during the German blockade of St. Petersburg during WWII. I’ve had the opportunity to go to many WWII sites around Europe and it’s never easy. I always have such reverence and appreciation for what occurred. The beaches of Normandy, Dachau concentration camp, and now this, among many others. You feel the residual weight of history. It’s overwhelming on a deeply emotional level, reducing you to tears. It really makes you realize just how important what we do is, how much more we have in common when seen through the lens of the arts…

In past years, we went to the Artist’s Cemetery on the outskirts on St. Petersburg. Here we had the opportunity to visit the grave sites of some of the most significant figures in the history of Russian music. Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Borodin, Cui, Rubinstein, Glinka, and more. And in order to get to their graves, we had to pass that of Tolstoy. One could stay there all day paying homage.

~ John McGuire
Assistant Professor of Horn


Fortress Brass Returns to St. Petersburg

Well, here we are! Another year, another Fortress Brass tour! After a year off, we’ve come back to St. Petersburg, Russia as part of the Brass Autumn Music Festival.

  • First day in St. Petersburg, Russia. I am very tired from traveling, but had a good rehearsal with the orchestra.

It’s always so much fun to go on adventures, especially with this group. But, as enjoyable as a tour is, I always feel the hardest part is the initial journey to your destination. We flew for 24 hours, had two connections, and had to eat airline food for multiple meals. And the hardest part is that after all of this, we had to get off the plane and go directly into a rehearsal with an orchestra. My piece, the Concerto in E-flat by Christoph Forster, is hard enough when you’re well rested, but after a long travel day…oy!

That’s when you have to rely on your preparation and trust your training!

This particular concert involved each of the five of us playing solos with the orchestra and then playing several brass quintets for a packed hall. Having been over here before, we learned that with as much as the Russian audiences appreciate good classical tunes, they really are into jazz music, especially Dixieland, which happens to be a staple of our repertoire. They clapped along with several of our tunes and demanded encores! It was so invigorating to feel such appreciation for what we do! Afterwards, we signed a lot of autographs, took lots of pictures, and visited for a long time. Music really is transcendent!

More on some of our other experiences soon! Stay tuned!

~ John McGuire
Assistant Professor of Horn


Our Bond is Beautiful Music

Colorado State University Special Assistant Professor of Horn, John McGuire, is currently traveling in Russia by special invitation, as a member of Fortress Brass Quintet.

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After a 4 hour train ride on Sunday, we arrived in Moscow from St. Petersburg. We have been very fortunate to have great weather almost the entire trip. Normally,  it is pretty cold here by this time of year, but it is unseasonably warm and we Americans love it!

Fortress Brass in Moscow

Fortress Brass in Moscow

Our time in Moscow included a little sight-seeing, but centered on a day of rehearsals for our final performance on Tuesday evening. Everything went smoothly, as expected. When you tour, it can be very tiresome to be out of your norm, but rehearsals become a time when your balance is restored and you get rejuvenated, and that certainly has been the case for the Fortress Brass!

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On Monday, we had a masterclass at the Moscow Conservatory, where we heard some tremendous young college age students. It is always interesting to see how, in spite of language and cultural barriers, we are always able to effectively work with these musicians. Words aren’t always needed! And they are so interested in our views that many students stay long after the masterclass to talk to us and ask about anything and everything, through an interpreter if course!

Dan Cherry, Fortress Brass trombonist, and a Moscow Conservatory student.

Dan Cherry, Fortress Brass trombonist, and a Moscow Conservatory student.

Tuesday evening we performed for the final time on this tour, this time at Rachmaninov Hall at the conservatory. We were one of several groups on this opening concert for the annual Brass Days Festival, where we performed Bach and American composer Arthur Frackenpohl, which was completely new to the Russian audience. The response was tremendous and completely thrilling!

Lobby to Rachmaninov Hall at the Moscow Conservatory.

Lobby to Rachmaninov Hall at the Moscow Conservatory.

But I must say, the coolest part of the evening for us was listening to all of the other groups on the concert, which were made up of the top professional brass players in all of Russia. They play with such power and authority that it is truly mind boggling – it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up!

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Afterwards, there was a reception with everyone who performed, and our host here in Moscow, Vladislav Lavrik – principal trumpet of the Russian National Orchestra and a leading international soloist – said in a toast that “despite all of the differences our cultures might have, we all are here for the same reason: to make beautiful music.” That is our bond and that is something we will always have. So, as I prepare to return to the U.S., I keep that in mind. Music is our bond. It transcends race, culture, politics. ..everything!  And that is a comforting thought, don’t you think?

~ submitted by Dr. John McGuire, Assistant Professor of Horn

What Words Cannot

CSU Horn Professor, Dr. John McGuire is traveling in Russia as a member of Fortress Brass. The quintet is performing and teaching masterclasses for the Wind Music Seasons International project, held throughout the year since 2003, as a component of the annual Romantic Trumpet International Festival. As the festival grew, it added traditional concerts of American soloists and brass quintets, called American Brass Autumn, to its offerings. We are enjoying Dr. McGuire’s blog entries from Russia!

Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace

Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace

10.10.14 – Tonight we performed at the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace in the heart of Saint Petersburg, a 200 year old palace that has also served as a hospital and now a concert hall. We shared the concert with a local band called The Defílé Brass, a group that specializes is popular music arranged for brass ensemble. They really got the crowd going with their exciting performance!

Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace performance hall.

Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace performance hall.

The Fortress Brass’ part of the show was just as exciting, focused on popular music of an older generation – Dixieland and the Roaring 20s! This was by far the largest audience we have had in Saint Petersburg and moreso than anything else, what I noticed was that it was such a varied crowd. There were families with young children who were clapping along with our tunes, elderly people who were just grinning from ear to ear with our standards from a bygone era, and every age in between.

Fortress Brass

Fortress Brass

In fact, there was one lovely elderly lady that came. She only spoke a few words of English, but it was quite clear what she was there to see. It was us! She comes to hear us perform every year when we are in Saint Petersburg, and she always comes up to say hi, and let us know how much she has been looking forward to hearing us. How utterly beautiful is that?! She even brought each of us a gift, a wonderful calendar with pictures from Russia. Somehow, I think I may keep that calendar well beyond its date of expiration!

Catherine's Palace

Catherine’s Palace

The sights and history of Saint Petersburg are astounding (like a visit to Catherine’s Palace), but the reason I have every intention of returning to perform here is simply for the people. Politics are nothing. People are people. And these wonderful Russian people welcome us, and embrace what we do with open arms and open hearts. Music expresses what words cannot.

Fortress Brass

Fortress Brass

Tomorrow is an off day, then on to Moscow! We will have a couple of rehearsal days and will teach masterclasses at the Moscow Conservatory before performing as part of the annual Brass Days music festival! More soon!

~ submitted by Dr. John McGuire, Assistant Professor of Horn

From Masterclasses to Mahler to Madame at the Mariinsky

Colorado State University Special Assistant Professor of Horn, John McGuire, is currently traveling in Russia by special invitation, as a member of Fortress Brass Quintet.

Saint Petersburg Music Academy masterclass.

Saint Petersburg Music Academy masterclass.

Today I spent the day with my colleagues in the Fortress Brass as we taught masterclasses and gave a short recital for the students at the Saint Petersburg Music Academy. These students are pre-college age and showed us that there is a tremendous amount of musical talent in the younger generation here in Russia. They performed for us collectively as a brass ensemble, playing an arrangement of part of Mahler ‘s Kindertotenlieder and later individuals on each instrument volunteered to play for each of us in front of a large audience.

Saint Petersburg Music Academy masterclass.

Saint Petersburg Music Academy masterclass.

As a pedagogue, I have to be honest, these students, while still young, displayed a tremendous amount of maturity and musical acumen. They each had things that needed attention, but it was very refreshing to see just how eager and capable they were to hear our perspectives and to implement them quickly. You hear so often in our media about the Arts dying, but I can assure you that they are alive and well and quite secure for the future over here in Russia! How wonderful  to see!

Fortress Brass and students from the St. Petersburg Music Academy.

Fortress Brass and students from the St. Petersburg Music Academy.

After that,  the Fortress Brass performed a short recital, including several standards from the Baroque period as well as jazz standards. The audience was quite enthusiastic and eager to hear more, especially the jazz tunes.

Madame Butterfly at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Madame Butterfly at the Mariinsky Theatre.

And lastly, as a sign of appreciation for our efforts, members of the Academy’s faculty gave us tickets to tonight’s performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly at the famed Mariinsky Theatre! As I said before, the Russian people have shown time and again how kind, generous, and appreciative they are.

~ Submitted by John McGuire, Special Assistant Professor of Horn at Colorado State University

Expect the Unexpected

Colorado State University Special Assistant Professor of Horn, John McGuire, is currently traveling in Russia by special invitation, as a member of Fortress Brass Quintet. Over the next two weeks, he’ll share his touring and teaching experiences with us.

From John McGuire:

Experience has taught me that when traveling, expect the unexpected. As I headed out to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia last Thursday, I was supposed to have connections in NYC and Paris. But due to a baggage truck hitting our plane and knocking a hole in it, I had to be rerouted through Detroit (where I ran full speed with my horn to make my flight) then through Amsterdam. Still, I made it to St. Petersburg only a couple of hours later than planned, and was able to catch up with my quintet, the Fortress Brass, before our first rehearsal.

Fortress Brass rehearsing in their hotel conference room.

Fortress Brass rehearsing in their hotel conference room.

Our first concert was a gala event at the historic Cappella Concert Hall. This hall is part of a former palace just a block away from the Hermitage and Revolutionary Square. The concert included the Fortress Brass performing several jazz standards (of which the Dixieland tunes were by far the audience favorite!), solo Baroque concertos (including my performance of the Telemann Horn Concerto), and a second half that featured a Russian military band.

John McGuire warming up for his performance of the Telemann Horn Concerto.

John McGuire warming up for his performance of the Telemann Horn Concerto.

The hall was packed, and the audience was was enthused! At one point, the concert organizer came to the microphone and talked about how special and important it is for people from both our countries to come together and collaborate. The audience enthusiastically applauded and was clearly appreciative of everyone on stage.

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This is now my second trip to Russia and I have found the people here to be absolutely wonderful, warm, and gracious. Russian musicians are just like musicians anywhere. They have the same humor, the same artistic ideals, the same work ethic. And the audiences love hearing the music we bring to them, music they don’t usually get to hear. Whatever the political climate may be, I can tell you that the Russian people are wonderful beyond description. I hope you all can experience their rich culture and society someday!

Two tales of one city.

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On Thursday, July 17, the ensemble performed their final concert of the tour as part of the Staromestský Letný Festival, in the city of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The festival, in the Zichy Palace courtyard, and other venues around the quaint and popular Old Town, featured artists from Slovakia and abroad.

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The ensemble’s time in Bratislava, a city of half a million on the Danube river, was brief, with only a couple hours for sightseeing before dinner and the concert, but we certainly enjoyed what we saw in the Old Town district.

As the final concert of the tour, this night was especially poignant. Each piece in the repertoire has been embedded in the minds and hearts of the ensemble members, and this blogger could feel the collective absorption of each phrase, as if the performance was as much for the players as the audience.

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By the River by Aaron Copeland

Shall we gather by the river,
Where bright angels’ feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God.
Yes, we’ll gather by the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river.

Gather with the saints by the river
That flows by the throne of God.
Soon we’ll reach the shining river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease,
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

As baritone John Seesholtz tenderly, yet powerfully, sang the final stanza of “By the River,” our summer pilgrimage felt complete, our own melody of peace proclaimed by exploring of the core and edges of both our music and Europe. How fitting to play here, on the Danube river.

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Following the concert, another impacting moment occurred at the Camel Pub, one of dozens of packed Old Town bistros. The group will forever remember our waiter, Tomas (pronounced Tomash), the punk-band lead singer from Galánta, Slovakia.

Finding out that we were classical musicians, he asked if we knew of Zoltan Kodály, to which Copper Ferreira exclaimed that Dances of Galánta was well-known by the ensemble.

Tomas was truly exuberant, taking out his phone to show us the view from his bedroom window in his home town, Galánta, of Kodály’s disrepaired castle. “I am touched that you are here and know of Kodály, and my home,” our endearing waiter enthused. Since the Kodály method is an intricate component of Colorado State University’s elementary Music Ed Program, the special moment was not lost on us.

Driving Directions from Galanta, undefined to Bratislava, undefi

Tomas travels about 35 miles into Bratislava to wait tables, but is not as enthusiastic about the city as we were from our limited exposure. “You’ve only seen the part they want you, the tourists, to see,” he stated. “It’s not always a nice place.”

This seemed in direct conflict with the opinion of this blogger’s friend, who lives in Vienna and often spends long weekends in Bratislava, his “favorite place, next to Vienna.” “It’s such an up-and-coming city, so chill – it’s wonderful to just hang out in the park by the river,” my friend had told me.

As the bistro was closing for the evening, Tomas delivered some take-away wisdom as he claimed, “Americans live to work, Slovokians work to live…” I think it’s safe to say that we’d all live for the chance to come back to Bratislava and find out more about this slightly exotic city for ourselves. Thanks, Tomas!

Click here to see more photos of the concert and Bratislava.

~ posted by Jennifer Clary

The town of loyalty and freedom.

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Roman ruins, Sopron, Hungary.

Originally a trade route town on the Roman Amber Road, Sopron is a small town of significance near the Austrian border, featuring a center square with medieval and Gothic architecture, interwoven with 1st and 2nd Century Roman roads and ruins.

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Monument honoring Jewish citizens, captured and taken to Auschwitz in 1944.

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, instead of joining Austria, in 1921 Sopron voted to remain part of Hungary and is thus referred to as Hungary’s ‘most faithful city.’ During WWII, Sopron lost all its Jewish citizens, was bombed, and, in 1945, was captured by the Red Army; during the Cold War, Socialists attempted to industrialize the city. In 1989 the Pan-European Picnic, a demonstration which led to the fall of the Iron Curtain and German reunification, took place near Sopron.

With the surviving medieval architecture and Roman ruins, its productive vineyards and excellent red wine, Kékfrankos, the area is now benefiting from tourism. On a different note, because of the numerous, low-cost dental clinics, Hungary, including Sopron, is also a dental-care destination.

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Sopron’s elegant architecture – with its ornate reliefs, projecting cornices, and colorful facades – once reveling in grandeur and prominence, are now worn and threadbare, interspersed with unflattering cement memories. Its stateliness is saturated with heartbreak, tragedy, and suppression. Are pockets of construction the sights and sounds of hope, or will tolling bells continue to reverberate the heavy spirit of oppression and sorrow?

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This blogger was captured by the beauty of the Alps, the charm of Salzburg, and the magnificence of Vienna, yet Sopron shoves everything it has endured right in your face, a “take-away” level reminder that travel through Europe is not always about accessibly enjoyable palaces, beer gardens, and Alpine lodges. My world view and knowledge was broadened by our mere 17 hours here.

Click here to see more photos of Sopron.

~ posted by Jennifer Clary

 

Music throughout time.

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Goat Church, Sopron, Hungary.

We spent our last 24 hours in Sopron, Hungary. It is a fascinating city that has felt the most “foreign” of all our recent stops. The city center consists variously of 9th-century Roman ruins, 11th-century medieval walls, and 17th-century Baroque towers and cathedrals. Our first experience in a former Soviet bloc country, we all felt the long shadow cast by the distantly-fallen Iron Curtain. We walked a bit over a mile from our hotel to our performance venue, and along the way I felt a strange sense of familiarity to the rough edges of the city. I came to realize that this industrial city has the look and feel of the Rust Belt cities in the US where I have lived and worked: Detroit, Mich.; Rochester, NY; Cleveland, Ohio; and Milwaukee, Wisc.; among many others.

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CSU Faculty Chamber Winds at the Ligneum Sopron.

Our performance was at a gorgeous new building surrounded by a deciduous forest at the Lingeum Sopron. The glass-walled structure had an airy, open feel, and was filled with the results of engineering projects from the University of Western Hungary. We performed for a warm audience in an intimate space on the second floor amidst motorbikes, modern couches, wooden toys, and models of energy-saving homes. A truly unique venue, we all concurred. Post-concert, our gracious hosts feted us with traditional Hungarian fare in a classic setting amidst the woods and buildings of the research facility.

One of my contributions to this tour has been my orchestration of Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs” to feature our baritone, Dr. John Seesholtz. Originally for voice and piano, I found great pleasure in seeking a “Coplandesque” shimmer from our unusual combination of woodwinds and brass.

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Baritone, John Seesholtz.

Although I had the sounds and instrument combinations in my head, it has been a thrill to hear the songs come to life in every venue since a clarinet note here or a brass pairing there appear in different lights depending on the physical space. The compact concert location in Sopron illuminated the brass for me in particular since I was placed directly behind the three horns as opposed to behind the bassoons as I usually am. From that new vantage point, I reveled most in Copland’s brilliant re-harmonization of the old hymn tune “At the River.” I set the introduction and the first verse for three horns, trombone, and solo trumpet, and for the first time since we began playing these songs I felt “inside” Copland’s harmony and my own creation. Combined with John’s lush baritone and (per his request), the darker key of D-flat major, the experience raised every hair on the back of my neck.

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Christopher Van Hof performing at Mirabell Garden, Salzburg, Austria.

That has been the wonder of this journey for me: once the trains, languages, short nights, quick meals, and all other facets of international travel are set to the side, the opportunity for me to participate–however obliquely–in the ongoing unfolding of music throughout time proves to consistently inspire. It is why I studied music and why I find such deep satisfaction performing and writing, especially with my friends and colleagues.

Click here to see more photos from Sopron.

~ contributed by Chris Van Hof, DMA, Assistant Professor of Trombone and Euphonium