Tag Archives: Fortress 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


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

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!