Tag Archives: Brass Quintet

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

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.


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!