The National Brass Ensemble Story

On all of the pages of Gabrieli music in the Gabrieli/Higgins section, the audio samples are taken from the CD that the National Brass Ensemble recorded in the summer of 2014. This CD is scheduled to be released in October, 2015 and will be available from Balquhidder Music.

From Michael Sachs:

Andrew Kazdin, producer of “The Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli,” wrote the following in 1968:

“The same probability that governs the chance that ninety toothpicks poured out upon the floor will arrange themselves into the twenty-six letters of the alphabet applies to the project of bringing together nineteen busy musicians from the top three orchestras of three states.”

Fast-forward forty-six years and make that twenty-six busy musicians from the top nine orchestras of seven states. When David Stull (then Dean of The Oberlin Conservatory of Music) and I first sat down for lunch in the spring of 2011, I never would have imagined that our discussion that day would eventually take us on a three-year journey leading to this event. With David’s background as a tuba player, our discussion quickly turned to our favorite musicians and recordings. Almost immediately, we both brought up the famous 1968 Gabrieli recording, “The Antiphonal Music of Gabrielli,” featuring brass groups from the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. We agreed that for every brass player of our generation and since, this was the iconic recording that set the bar for American brass playing excellence. Every one of us has a story about the first time we listened to the album and how we were simply awestruck by what we heard.

David and I both expressed how wonderful it would be to try and assemble a similar project now, as both an homage to the 1968 recording and as a modern version of the concept with all that today’s talent and technology could deliver. In the following months, David and I went back and forth with ideas of a “Gabrieli Institute,” exploring many options and having discussions with several of my colleagues. We considered a recording reunion of the current Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago groups, which would mirror the original personnel, but after more deliberation we decided it would be best for this project to take a slightly different direction in order to bring a new dimension to the concept.

During that same period, in the summer of 2011, Chris Martin (Principal Trumpet, Chicago Symphony) and his brother Mike Martin (3rd/Utility Trumpet, Boston Symphony) created the National Brass Symposium in their hometown of Atlanta. This was a fantastic gathering of many of the same players who are here this week. The symposium included education events

and many concerts of all sizes with a large brass group performance as the focus event at the end of each day. The playing was so inspiring, and the camaraderie and chemistry so fantastic, that a number of us realized then that this was the direction to follow for the Gabrieli project.

Once this template became our goal, the daunting question remained: how could we ever get all these players in one place at one time? It took us the better part of the next three years to make that happen, but somehow the ninety toothpicks aligned into the alphabet one more time and we found a week when everyone could be available.

As the puzzle pieces began to fall into place, we came to the important matter of musical specifics and needed an arranger who would bring the highest level of artistry to the project. In discussing this with Chris Martin and Michael Mucahy (2nd Trombone, Chicago Symphony) we quickly agreed that one of our own, Tim Higgins (Principal Trombone, San Francisco Symphony), would be the perfect choice as arranger and we are immensely grateful to Tim for his phenomenal work and for delivering such wonderful and innovative versions of this music.

Our next critical task was to obtain access to the original music. In striving to create something truly new, we needed to start from the original source so as not to merely rehash other arrangements. In November of 2013, I was in Vienna on tour and had the opportunity to seek out the advice of Dr. Otto Biba, Director of the Archives at the Musikverein (home of the Vienna Philharmonic). In our meeting, Dr. Biba was quick to embrace our project and his input proved to be invaluable. Within two weeks, he guided us to exactly what we had hoped to find: out-of-print resource materials with original notation and no modern instrumentation. These scores are the basis of Tim’s tremendous arrangements.

Michael Sachs
Principal Trumpet, The Cleveland Orchestra  

David Bilger (Principal Trumpet, Philadelphia Orchestra) 
Jeff Curnow (Associate Principal Trumpet, Philadelphia Orchestra) 
Tom Hooten (Principal Trumpet, Los Angeles, Philharmonic) 
Mark Inouye (Principal Trumpet, San Francisco Symphony) 
Adam Luftman (Principal Trumpet, San Francisco Opera and Ballet Orchestras) 
Chris Martin (Principal Trumpet, Chicago Symphony) 
Mike Martin (3rd/Utility Trumpet, Boston Symphony) 
Tom Rolfs (Principal Trumpet, Boston Symphony) 
Michael Sachs (Principal Trumpet, Cleveland Orchestra) 

Richard King (Principal Horn, Cleveland Orchestra) 
Jennifer Montone (Principal Horn, Philadelphia Orchestra) 
Jamie Sommerville (Principal Horn, Boston Symphony) 
Robert Ward (Principal Horn, San Francisco Symphony) 
Gail Williams (Former Assoc. Principal Horn, Chicago Symphony/Prof. Northwestern University) 

Joe Alessi (Principal Trombone, New York Philharmonic) 
Nitzan Haroz (Principal Trombone, Los Angeles Philharmonic) 
Tim Higgins (Principal Trombone, San Francisco Symphony) 
Massimo La Rosa (Principal Trombone, Cleveland Orchestra) 
Michael Mulcahy (2nd Trombone, Chicago Symphony) 

Bass Trombones 
Randy Hawes (Bass Trombone, Detroit Symphony) 
Jim Markey (Bass Trombone, Boston Symphony) 

Gene Pokorny (Principal Tuba, Chicago Symphony) 
Mike Roylance (Principal Tuba, Boston Symphony) 
Yasuhito Sugiyama (Principal Tuba, Cleveland Orchestra) 

Marc Damoulakis (Principal Percussion, Cleveland Orchestra) 
Paul Yancich (Principal Timpani, Cleveland Orchestra)

from Tim Higgins:

I am very excited to be able to offer the brass world a substantial number of new arrangements of music by one of our favorite composers, Giovanni Gabrieli.  When Michael Sachs approached me in October of 2013 about creating these arrangements for the concert (and ultimately the CD), it was a humbling and exciting opportunity.  From that point in October through May of 2014, I eagerly dove into each piece that you see here.  The project was not limited to the typical collection of Canzons that are most familiar to the brass world, and this opened up a whole world of possibilities with Gabrieli's choral works, masses, and motets.  In order to best represent Gabrieli's voice on modern instruments, Michael and I got in touch with Otto Biba at the Vienna Philharmonic in order to locate the most authentic Gabrieli scores.  From there, I spent hours pouring over different pieces in the Sacred Symphony trying to find what would work best on brass instruments.  I spent time speaking and singing the Latin text aloud and translated these sounds into brass articulations.  The notation that I ended up using accommodates the vocal nature of the music without forcing the brass instruments to sound "unauthentic".  The final component that makes these arrangements unique is in the specific use of instruments.  The use of piccolo trumpet, Bb trumpet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet, french horn, alto trombone, bass trombone, and tuba in F or C were chosen for their unique sound characteristics, not range demands.  The result is a very unified, organ-like, brandished sound that is very fitting for such sacred music.  I hope you enjoy playing these arrangements.  They are my best representation in modern musical language of some of the greatest music that has been written.
Tim Higgins, Principal Trombone, San Francisco Symphony