If you happen to be a fan of expertly executed dad jokes seamlessly mixed in with your chamber music, then you can do no better than seeing the Canadian Brass in their “Christmas Time is Here” program which recently made a stop at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium as part of the Des Moines’ Civic Music Association season. From tunes to tennis shoes, the performance was pitch-perfect.
It is clear that Canadian Brass has used it forty-six year history to not only present incredible brass quintet music but to study its audience intently. They know exactly what tickles the fancy of their true fans while holding up the tradition of the music like master craftsmen. From founding member Chuck Daellenbach squeezing through to the center of third row and asking an audience member to hold his iPad while he played his tuba to the friendly jabs trumpeter Christopher Coletti tossed his fellow trumpeter Caleb Hudson‘s way, the audience could not get enough.
Musically, the quintet is remarkable and stereotypically Canadian about it — humble to a fault. Early in the program, Hudson’s pianissimo dynamics on piccolo trumpet during one of the group’s arrangements titled “Bach’s Bells” was a foretaste of their nuanced and thoughtful connection to dynamics throughout the evening. Bernhard Scully‘s precision and sleek horn onsets were as impressive as Achilles Liarmakopoulos‘ warm, legato trombone tone. Their arrangements offer all the familiar tunes while deftly providing a maximum of musical interest. Flugelhorn solos from Hudson and Coletti during the “Glen Miller Christmas” medley were particularly compelling. It is clear that Canadian Brass has just as much commitment to excellent musicianship as to making sure their audiences enjoy their time together.
Both Canadian Brass and Civic Music Association have long-standing, devoted educational outreach programs. One of the highlights of their stop in Des Moines was the ensemble’s ability to partner with the Heartland Youth Choir to perform three selections. The choir was well-prepared by director Barbara Sletto and added a darling affectivity to the set of pieces including “O’ Christmas Tree”, “The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter”, and “Ding Dong Merrily on High”.
The final piece of the evening, “Tribute to the Ballet”, is the definition of an audience pleaser. A parody of Swan Lake and other tunes, complete with thoroughly choreographed “dance steps” for the quintet, is good, clean fun. Without any pretentiousness, they exhibit their memorization, ability to move while still creating fine sound and timbre, and good humor the whole while. Capped with a rousing encore of “Flight of the Bumblebee”, audiences could not have plunged back into the frigid night air more glowing and enlivened.
There are four concerts, featuring both classical and jazz artists, remaining in the 2016-2017 Civic Music Association Season. For more information or to buy tickets, visit: civicmusic.org.