Saturday, December 31, 2011

TSO and Christmas with Canadian Brass

2011 concert attendance concluded with the Toronto Symphony's Christmas Concert.  This year it again featured Canadian Brass, conducted by Steven Reineke.  Mr. Reineke is always entertaining, but this year wisely took a back seat to allow Canadian Brass members Chuck Daellenbach (tuba, and founding member from 1970) and Brandon Ridenour (trumpet) perform most of the intros.  To quote a review from the Toronto Star "no one came to Roy Thomson Hall to hear the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday, very fine though they were" which is likely very true.  Some of the "very fine" orchestra only and orchestra/choir (the Etobicoke School for the Arts Chorus was also on hand) numbers were "Carol of the Bells", "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm", and Mr. Reineke's chestnut of the season, "The Best Christmas of All" from a 1996 TV movie called Mrs. Santa Claus.

"Carol of the Bells" was an arrangement by David Hamilton which is also on my favourite Christmas CD by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.  You hear so much more though when it's performed live.  The beginning had percussionists on two xylophones and the chimes, which sounded awesome and larger dynamic ranges than I recalled from my ISO version.  The music for Mrs. Santa Claus was composed by Jerry Herman (of Mame and Hello, Dolly! fame) and starred Angela Landsbury (incidentally she also starred in Mame).  "The Best Christmas of All" is a sweet song with a catchy tune, emphasizing the family/being together aspect of the holiday season.

The Men of Canadian Brass (Chris, Achilles, Chuck, Eric, and Brandon) with their
24 caret gold plated instruments
Canadian Brass entered to their signature "Just a Closer Walk with Thee".  The three other members making up the group are trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos (the newest member), Eric Reed (horn), and Chris Coletti (trumpet).  Interesting to note, not one of the current members are actually Canadian.  Chuck could be considered honorary having called Toronto home for many, many years, but the rest are from New York, Michigan, Indiana, and Greece!  However, all are extremely talented, some hold positions with other orchestras, and are even composer/arrangers.  So if they want to promote the "Canadian" name, there will be no complaint from me!

Gene Watts
Highlights of the Canadian Brass numbers were Chuck's feature, the melting "Frosty the Snowman", an ensemble piece with the chorus called "The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter" where Chris rocked the piccolo trumpet solos, and "Saints Hallelujah" emphasizing Achilles mellow trombone.  Tuesday night founding trombonist Gene Watts, who Achilles met back when he was 10, was in the audience.  He was introduced before "Saints" and received a round of audience applause.  He's probably the player who most Canadian Brass followers would remember as making it a trombone signature piece.

In the second half the strings were dismissed as Canadian Brass joined forces with the TSO brass section (including trumpet and trombone principal players) to play two arrangements by Stan Kenton.  Kenton switched up the big band sound by replacing the saxophones with more brass, and the sounds of "O Holy Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" were different yet a welcome variation on the traditional.  The combined brass sounds was magnificent.

It was a wonderful concert and Canadian Brass picked up at least one new fan, as the friend I went with purchased some of their music.  The gentlemen were very generous with their time, signing autographs after the show.  They have the best autographs I've seen, each incorporating some aspect of the instrument they play. (photo to come)

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