The word "concert" hardly seems adequate to describe the Canadian Brass' appearance in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall yesterday afternoon. Blending virtuosity, musicality, comedy and wit, they inspired equal measures of laughter and admiration from the packed house, ultimately receiving the inevitable -- and totally deserved -- standing ovation.
What this amazing group of brass players achieves in a performance is absolutely unique. From their entrance down the main aisle playing "Just a Closer Walk" to their encore, an improbable combination of "When the Saints Come Marching In" and Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus, this quintet of artists created an atmosphere of total enjoyment in which laughter freely mingled with gasps of amazement.
The program itself was typical enough, including a Gabrieli canzone surrounded by a host of transcriptions and arrangements of both classical and popular works. It is in the performance of these pieces that the Canadian Brass sets itself apart from almost any other group of its type.
For the Gabrieli, for example, the five players spread themselves around the hall, the trumpets in the balcony on the sides of the hall, the tuba seated comfortably in Row 10 of the orchestra, and the trombone and horn at either side of the stage itself. Lest one view this simply as gimmickry, let it be said that neither ensemble nor intonation suffered under such challenging circumstances.
Perhaps this group's individual style could most aptly be characterized by observing how the players seem to thrive on creating more and more daring challenges to their musical and entertaining abilities. However, neither playing while lying on the floor, nor imitating ballerinas in a marvelously witty "Tribute to Ballet," nor negotiating the unbelievable technical feats of their arrangement of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor presented challenges these men couldn't meet. They'll be back in December to try again.