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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: July 10, 2012 Archive

Local ensemble finishing new CD this summer

Posted at 6:00 AM on July 10, 2012 by Luke Taylor (0 Comments)
Filed under: Musician stories

Record-breaking heat has pushed many Minnesotans indoors this summer, and the members of Minneapolis-based The Copper Street Brass Quintet have found refuge in the studio as they work on their new album. "We still have just a couple of tracks to go in and record," says trumpet player Allison Hall. "In August, we're going to finish the editing, do the mastering, do the packaging — we do all of that ourselves."

The Copper Street Brass Quintet
The Copper Street Brass Quintet, (top, L to R:) Tim Bradley, Alex Wolff, Nick Adragna; (bottom, L to R:) Allison Hall, Ed Hong. Photo courtesy The CSBQ.

The as-yet-untitled CD is the ensemble's fourth release and third full-length album. Notably, it will be the quintet's first fully classical album, and it features works by Wagner, Dvořák, Mozart, Debussy, Brahms and others. All of the arrangements are originals by CSBQ horn player Tim Bradley, and all feature the full quintet with occasional solo pieces by each instrument.

The most ambitious sequence on the album is a resetting of Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn. "It was a pretty big undertaking for Tim," Hall says. "The arrangement is the full orchestral score of the entire piece reduced for five brass, so it was a really challenging piece to prepare. We had to spend a lot of time working on getting the less idiomatic string and woodwind figures just right on brass."

Adhering to its adventuresome spirit, the quintet attempted to partially fund the new record with a Kickstarter campaign. The effort failed to meet its June 30 goal, but Hall chalks it up as a learning experience:

"We're really confident that there will be a strong interest in the CD," she says, "but I think what we found and what we realized once we got into the Kickstarter campaign is that a lot of the individuals who will be interested in this type of a CD are not necessarily the kind of people who are on Facebook and Twitter. A Kickstarter campaign wasn't a good way to reach them.

"We had been planning to make this album for at least a year, so it wasn't like [Kickstarter] was where the funding was going to come from. It was something that we hadn't done before and we wanted to take a chance and try it. It's probably something we'll do again, but probably for different programs that we run, like some of our educational programming."

Although the ensemble hopes to make the new album available for purchase by late summer, its CD-release concert will take place Thursday, Oct. 4, at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater in Minneapolis.

Besides working on the album, The CSBQ will host its summer brass camp for teens at MacPhail Center for Music in late July, then venture outdoors on Tuesday, Aug. 7, to play the block party on 4500 Oakland Avenue South in Minneapolis on National Night Out. "[The concert] is open to anyone, not just those who live on that block," Hall says. "It will be a fun, summertime outdoor concert with a big mix of music -- mostly pops and stuff, but a little bit of everything. Hopefully the weather will be nice!"

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On the Air This Week

Posted at 8:39 AM on July 10, 2012 by Rex Levang (0 Comments)
Filed under: On the air

Highlights from July 10 to 17

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Portland's Pipes
Sunday, noon: From the Top
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel
Monday, 7 pm: Roll Credits

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Elgar's "Nimrod" Variation, Varied

Posted at 12:25 PM on July 10, 2012 by Emily Reese (1 Comments)

I'm currently watching The War, the 2007 documentary from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. As is generally the case with Burns' docs, the soundtrack is spectacular.

As I was watching the second episode, "When Things Get Tough," I heard a familiar melody underneath narrator Keith David.

I knew instantly it was a piano reduction, for when I turned my listening inward, I could hear the missing orchestral colors. It took me a few moments to recognize it as one of the most beautiful melodies from the tail-end of the 19th century: the 9th variation from Elgar's Enigma Variations, known as "Nimrod."

I couldn't concentrate on the narration and had to watch the scene three times (I still have no idea what Mr. David was saying). The reduction from orchestra to piano opened my eyes to a piece I already adored - a piece which already held personal significance.

The simplicity of the melody lays bare on the keyboard. One of the endearing qualities of "Nimrod" is its contrary motion - the interaction of the (in this case) left and right hands. This is not the recording used in The War, but you will get a fair enough idea of the expansion and contraction of this lovely melody from this video:

As is so often the case with great orchestral masterpieces of the world, Elgar concocted the initial melody on piano. It seems a natural progression (regression?) to hear "Nimrod" played as such, right?

Then find me a recording of it.

It seems that while Elgar did a complete piano reduction of the final orchestral score twice (once for solo piano, and once for two pianos/four hands), no one has yet recorded a single movement of it.

This seems insane to me. Perhaps the complete reduction is much too difficult for solo piano, or too difficult for two pianos, or the piece is too long (c. 30 minutes). None of these explanations sit right with me, and I hope to get to the bottom of it.

If you are feeling adventurous, try out the piano reduction for yourself here.

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