2017 International Historic Brass Symposium (New York City)

Conference attendees in the background of an exhibit of brass instruments at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC 

On July 13-16th, 2017 nearly 200 early brass enthusiasts participated in the HBS Third International Historic Brass Symposium in three different venues in New York City. Concerts, lectures, discussion sessions and a social event were help at New York University, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and St. Luke’s in the Field Church. The scope of the symposium activities ranged from a talk and presentation of copies of ancient brass instruments from Antiquity to the brass music of Iannis Xenakis and a world premiere of a recently commissioned composition for two early brass instruments.  Abstracts of the lectures and lecture/performances are listed below. Two senior musicians in the early brass community, Don Smithers and Friedemann Immer were both unable to attend as planned due to health concerns. Many at the symposium sent regards and wishes for speedy recovery. 

During the first day of the symposium the presentation of the 2017 HBS Christopher Monk Award to Sabine Klaus took place. Her important brass scholarship was noted. Klaus has recently published the 3rd volume of a proposed 5 volume series on brass instruments, notably reflected on the Utley Collection of which she is the curator. In her presentation Klaus made mention of the four recipients of the Joe and Joella Utley Student Travel Award; April Legatt, Liza Malamut, Jeremy Sexton and Merissa Youngs. This Award given through the generosity of the Utley Foundation offers travel support to young scholars and musicians to attend HBS events. Thanks were extended to Joella Utley who  was prevented from attend at the last minute due to a medical issue. The Symposium was attended by 10 past Monk Award recipients and Renato Meucci, Trevor Herbert, Wim Becu, Dan Morgenstern, Arnold Myers, Herbert Heyde, Keith Polk Rainer Egger, and Bruce Dickey joined Sabine Klaus in a group photo. Stew Carter, also a Monk recipient missed the photo op but  attended the Symposium later in the week.

As many long-time HBS members have noticed, the range of topics has expanded from primarily Renaissance through classical period topics that were the main focus of early brass interests when the HBS first started. Now early 20th century musical topics, including jazz, are common. In this spirit, in addition to the Hell Fighters session and concert, Trevor Herbert conducted a special session with the noted jazz critic Dan Morgenstern. Morgenstern selected 6 jazz recordings that feature brass and provided a jump-off point for discussion. The recordings were all from the first half of the century and included recordings by Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and the brass section of Duke Ellington’s recording of “Braggin’ in Brass” which featured Rex Steward and Cootie Williams. 

Elisa Kohler, Robin Pyle, Ralph Dudgeon

One particularly involved project of the symposium was a discussion session, “Entering the Sound-World of James Reese Europe” led by Trevor Herbert, John Graziano and John Wallace. That session which included discussion about James Reese Europe, his importance as a link between ragtime and early jazz and other musical developments of the turn of the 20th century was followed by an outstanding performance of the rarely performed repertoire of the Harlem Hell Fighters with John Wallace leading a 20-piece period instrument band. In addition to Wallace the star-studded ensemble included many of the leading musicians active today including Allan Dean, Bobby Sanabria, Paquito D’Rivers, Dan Block, Bruce Eidem, Scott Robinson, Frank Hosticka,  John Miller, Sam Burtis and many others. Special care was the selection of instruments from the period of approximately 1900 -1920s. Instruments depicted in photographs of Europe and the Harlem Hell Fighters were used as a guide for the instrumentation of the ensemble. Helicons, melophones, small-bore trombones, cornets, period clarinets and even a period drum set were used. In the audience at the Grace Rainey Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were descendants of two key musicians of that era; James Reese Europe III and Noble Sissle Jr.

Two lectures that included extensive performance were Jamie Savan’s talk “New Perspectives on the Venetian Cornett” and Sandy Coffin’s presentation on the cornet soloist Tom Short. Jamie played some early braroque repertoire to demonstrate issues involving pitch and articulation. Sandy beautifully  played solos on a period cornet and did some amazing detective work tracing some repertoire to the little known Short.

Cornettist Bruce Dickey and sackbut player Wim Becu presented a brilliant recital at St Luke’s in the Field church with music by Cima, Lasso, Carrozza, Palestrina and Merula. They were ably assisted by organist Avi Stein. Dickey and Becu were among the number of leading musicians who were also at the first HBS International Symposium in 1995. There performance demonstrated why they are still the leading virtuosos on their instruments. On the other end of the age scale, Patrick Wibart tore the house down with his spectacular playing on the ophicleide and serpent assisted by pianist Halter Hilse. They played works by Couperin, Corrette and Ferdinand David. As Wibart’sperformance was on July 14th, Bastille Day, the young French virtuoso  played as an encore, his own version of La Marseillaise with spell binding variations on the ophicleide. Michael Collver did double duty performing on cornetto as well as singing. He seamlessly blended back and forth on early Baroque repertoire by Sances, Biber and D’India. He was assisted by Avi Stein on organ and Glorianne Collver on guitar and lute.

Sabine Klaus 

Lecture topics and performances were well matched. Cornet and cornett talks were presented as well as outstanding performances. Allan Dean and Mark Ponzo presented a recital of duo works by H. King, Herman Koenig and Herbert L. Clarke played on period cornets from the extensive Ponzo collection.  Raquel Rodriguez’s brilliant recital consisted of works by Jules Levy, Vincent Bach, John Hartmann and Herbert L. Clarke.  Ralph Dudgeon played a beautiful Polonaise by Baissieres-Faber on the keyed-bugle. All were wonderfully accompanied by pianist Walter Hilse.

As at some past HBS events, a contemporary piece for early brass was commissioned by the HBS.  The world premiere of Caduceus Mixtus for serpent and ophicleide by Jaron Lanier was performed on Saturday. Lanier is a composer and performer but most notably know as a celebrated futurist and computer scientist. He has been called by Time magazine as “one of the one hundred most influential thinkers in the world.” Having the contribution of  someone with such diverse talents added a dimension to the HBS Symposium not previously attained. The piece was masterfully performed by Douglas Yeo on serpent and Scott Robinson on ophiceide. Robinson also astounded symposium attendees with his amazing high Eb clarinet playing the previous day at the Hell Fighters concert.

On Sunday afternoon the horns had their time to shine. Rick Seraphinoff organized a horn recical and was joined by hornists; Anneke Scott, R.J. Kelley, Ulrich Huebner, Linda Dempf, Celeste Holmes, Tom Hiebert, Bradley Strauchen, Yoni Kahn and Meredith Moore.  They performed a wide program of sextets, quartets and solo works by Gallay, Dauprat, Crusell. The entire horn ensemble ended with a rousing fafare de Chasse by Rossini. Nicole Kilkner’s lecture “From Utility to Fancy: Making music with coach horns in Paris, 1880-1910” was  aided by Ralph Dudgeon, Elisa Koehler, Robin Pyle, Henry Meredity and Richard Thomas performances of coach horn pieces using period coach horns and cavalry trumpets.

Chris Belluscio and Henry Meredith 

Several established ensembles performed at the symposium.  It simply wouldn’t be an HBS event without a natural trumpet ensemble and this symposium had the good fortune to have three different trumpet ensembles. The  Trumpet Consort von Humboldt under the direction of Gil Cline performed in the Arms and Armour Courtyard at the Met. They played on a set of copies of the 1667 Simon Beale trumpet made by David Edwards as well as the copy of the 1715 John Harris natural trumpet also made by Edwards. In addition to beautifully playing works by Byrd, Dauverne,  and several anonymous pieces, the ensemble engaged in some theatrical movement and dance moves. Cline was joined by Chris Cox,  Andrew Henderson, Kevin Blake, Charlie McClung, Ryan Blake, and Nicholas Camacho. The University of Kentucky Baroque Trumpet Ensemble was led by Jason Dovel. He was joined by guest soloist John Foster and guest timpanist Ben Harms along with ensemble members Caden Holmes, Drew Burke, Jessica Lambert, Kyle Mitchell, Rhiannon Montgomery, Coleman Scott, Marisa Youngs, Bailey Goff, Jared Wallis, Phillip Chase Hawkins, and Denver Pascua. They played workds by Buhl, Delalande, Altenburg, Bendinelli, Rossini, Monteverdi and a contemporary piece that employed some jazz idioms by Jason Dovel.  The Kentucky Baroque Trumpets under the direction of Don Johnson III played works by Kunert, Bendinelli, Alberti and several anonymous pieces. The ensemble consisted of Don Johnson III, Bill Budai, David Davenport, Jason Dovel, John Foster, Chase Hawkins, Jay Martin, Scott Muntefering, and Alan Siebert.  In addition to their performance at the Met Museum on the organ loft overlooking the Arms and Armour Courtyard, the Kentucky Baroque Trumpets played the Bendinelli Sonata 332 at the beginning of the Friday evening church concert. This was a tribute to Don Johnson II the founder of the ensemble and long-time HBS supporter who tragically died at a young age in an accident last year.

Monk Award winners, past and present 

Also participating were two ensembles that feature 19th century repertoire; Prince Regents Band and Grand Harmonie Brass. The Prince Regents Band traveled from the UK to present a concert that featured the repertoire and instrumentation of the celebrated Distin family. Richard Fomison and Richard Thomas (cornets and alto saxhorns), Anneke Scott (tenor saxhorn), Phil Dale (baritone saxhorn) and Jeff Miller (contrabass saxhorn) played a brilliant program including arrangements of works by Verdi, Berlioz, Fauconnier, Donizetti, Gretry, Handel and Distin.  The Grand Harmonie Brass played a wonderful program employing some rather unusual and seldom heard period brass instruments. The ensemble, under the direction of Chris Belluscio performed Divertimentio by Von Neukomm, trumpet duets by Norton, horn trios by Anton Reicha and the Quatre Pas redoubles by Cherubini. The ensemble consisted of Chris Belluscio (English slide trumpet and trompette demilune), Paul Perfetti (English slide trumpet), Yoni Kahn, Linda Dempf, Meredith Morre (natural horns), Liza Malamut (alto trombone), Steve Lundahl (tenor trombone), Motoaki Kashino (bass trombone) and Barry Bocaner (ophicleide and serpent).

As with past HBS Symposia, this event was fortunate to have an instrument maker’s exhibition. Rainer Egger, Dave Maller, Rick Seraphinoff, and Nate Woods were brass makers who displayed their wares and many symposium participants had a chance to try the latest early brass instruments. A number of musicians were also able to sell recent publications and recordings. 

I was ably assisted in organizing and presenting this event by Sandy Coffin, Greg Ericson and Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. Words can’t properly express my gratitude to them as well as to the staff members at the Met museum, NYU as well as to David Shuller and the administration at St Luke’s in the Field Church. Our participation at the Metropolitan Museum gave symposium participants the fortunate opportunity to have a sneak preview of a number of brass instruments from the collection that will be on display in the soon to be opened and newly renovated and reorganized musical instrument galleries. Abstract of the talks are presented below

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum

Abstracts from the 2017 Conference