Rated: 13+ · Non-fiction · Biographical · #2061687
A Christmas tradition is born among friends, Barb, Judy, and Carol
|Tuesday, December 27th 2005|
Barbara E. Taylor
Edited by Carol St. Ann
This is 100 percent true.
The Canadian Brass was wonderful. Picture Avery Fisher Hall. It looks EXACTLY the same as it does on Live From the Philharmonic on PBS. Now picture Carol, Judy and me in first tier of box seats, the front row of the second box from the stage at the left side of the auditorium as you face the stage. I had never been in box seats before, but I will be in them whenever possible from now on. What a superb viewing angle, particularly for concerts. And there is no one behind you. You get to rest your head against a wall if you want to. You have leg room. You have an elevated, unobstructed view. No one is ever in front of you. No one crawls past you at intermission. It's quiet, it's private. It's sort of like floating above the orchestra seats, an entirely different perspective than mezzanine seats.
So there we are, ensconced in our box seats, and the concert begins. The stage is decorated with a border of enormous potted poinsettias, alternating red and white. It looked rich, understated and elegant. The house lights dimmed and the New York Philharmonic Brass Quintet took the stage playing a Christmas song. Tuba, trombone, trumpet, trumpet, French horn. They were dressed in white tie and tails as formal as can be and their instruments were as polished as their music. The French horn player was enormous. Do you remember Sebastian Cabot from Family Affair? He looked like that, but fair-haired and clean-shaven. Anyway, they played their first number and then introduced the Canadian Brass ensemble. Seems these guys have played this gig for a long time and this was the tenth anniversary concert. The Canadian Brass come in from the darkened back of the hall and slow marched down the aisle on our side playing 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee' as a dirge. The closer they get to the front, the better we could see that they were dressed in black business suits, black T-shirts and white sneakers and their instruments...well, let's say they were loved. It was too funny to see the juxtaposition of the over-the-top New York musicians and the laid-back Canadians.
When they were all on stage they sat in a 10-man semicircle with trumpets first on one side opposite trumpets on the other side, French horn opposite French horn, trombone opposite trombone and the two tubas in the center of the semicircle next to each other.
The music selection ranged from Bach to Perez Prado (remember him? Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White?) and included the Peer Gynt Suite and Tijuana Taxi and The Lonely Bull from Herb Alpert. They played Christmas carols that were arranged by Stan Kenton in the 1950's, including one of the most beautiful versions of We Three Kings I have ever heard. That one had percussionists joining in with kettle drums, cymbals and chimes. Gorgeous. One of the favorites was Silent Night with audience participation. They had the entire audience sing the carol with this sublime brass accompaniment. Then the people seated in the orchestra section hummed the entire carol while only the women in the boxes and balconies sang the carol again. It was as though the sung words were drifting downward like snow with the heavy undertone of the humming under the high voices and the brass. I was singing, but I stopped for a few bars so I could hear the effect and it was so moving and lovely. Everyone made a satisfied sigh at the end of that.
From our perch we could look at the musicians’ faces, hands, see the music on the stands, watch them turn their pages and actually see the staffs of music on the sheets. We were not close enough to read notes, but I loved what we could see. The Philharmonic guys were basically facing us and the Canadians were sort of in profile to three-quarters turned away from us because of the angles. The trumpeters had multiple horns in front of them and lots of different mutes. In some of the more complex pieces they were switching horns and using and removing mutes with incredible speed and precision.
Speaking of precision, there was no conductor for this. The musicians would rely on each other to start together and then they all kept perfect time. It was amazing! There were some incredibly challenging pieces of music and they were all up to it. I enjoyed the Philharmonic's French horn player. He had this routine when he was at the end of a passage for his instrument. He would remove it from his mouth, rotate it clockwise and as the rotation ended he would rest the bell on his right thigh. If he did that once, he did it fifty times throughout the concert. He was religious about it. The Canadian only rotated his horn when it started to sound slushy to him. Of course, all of this is about where the spit collects, but we decided not to think about that. Isn't it funny that the New Yorker kept to his routine regardless and the Canadian did only what was necessary?
They played for two hours with only one brief intermission. They also did a couple of encores. The final encore was sort of a 'battle of the bands.' NYP would start off with a serious classical piece and CB would hijack it to jazz or a popular Christmas song. They kept moving their music stands toward each other as if they were advancing for a rumble and at one point that portly, formally dressed French horn player turned his back, bent over and blatted his French horn between his legs. I thought I would fall out of my chair, it was so unexpected and funny.
Another advantage to a box seat is that when the concert is over you get up and leave. No milling, no waiting, no fighting through the crowd. I tell you, I am completely converted.
BET Edited by Carol St. Ann
December 27th, 2005, 5:43a.m.