Stand up and cheer.
That’s what the audience did, enthusiastically, at the season-opening Southern California Brass Consortium concert the other day at Los Altos United Methodist Church.
They had reason to. The group, beginning its sixth year of existence, has grown immensely in quality during that time. I don’t know if the players have gotten better, or they’ve gotten better players, or what it is exactly, but the sound is more cohesive and better balanced compared to when they first started, the ensemble tighter, the dynamic range and expressiveness greatly expanded, and the programs more varied and better curated.
Sunday’s concert was a good example. Titled “American Dreams,” it began with not just any old national anthem, but an interesting concert version by house arranger Scott Ninmer. You couldn’t sing along, but you could enjoy the varying textures, the clever use of percussion, and the interplay of tunes, and I did. And then Rick Kirby’s “An American Fanfare” got the program proper off to a vigorous start.
Many of the pieces had the word “American” in the title, but all was not simply rah-rah patriotism. The dark side of the American experience was represented by Frank Ticheli’s “An American Elegy,” composed in memory of the Columbine High School massacre. Ticheli is one of Southern California’s best composers, and his piece is majestic, with soaring, attractive tunes that are a fitting memorial to the lives lost. First trumpet Drew Ninmer (brother of Scott) had a moving solo from the back of the hall.
Composer Rossano Galante is an audience favorite, and it’s easy to see why. His “Resplendent Glory” is full of the instrumental flourishes and bold colors that characterize his film music. The Civil War tune “The Battle Cry of Freedom” received an attractive setting (a world premiere) by the other staff arranger, Anthony O’Toole, a member of the percussion section. And the first half ended with Morton Gould’s familiar “American Salute.”
O’Toole also composed the first piece on the second half, a lively number called “From Above” that was another world premiere. Drew Fennell’s “Apollo 11” was a programmatic rendering of that memorable event. Henry Fillmore’s “Americans We” march was reminiscent of John Philip Sousa’s best work. And Bob Lowden’s perennial “Armed Forces Salute,” a medley of service anthems, remains a stirring tribute to those who served.
Carmen Dragon’s timeless arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” reworked for brass by Drew Ninmer, ended things on an inspirational note. And then Morton Gould’s take on “Yankee Doodle” was the humorous encore.
Unless otherwise noted, most of the arrangements were by the group’s two leaders, conductor Hector Salazar and executive director Lee Coduti. They are to be congratulated for adding this excellent group to the Long Beach music scene.