The Washington Symphonic Brass is a relatively new independent performing arts group in our area, but it already has both a well-established reputation and a bright future. After performing under "guest artist" billing in its earlier years, the Symphonic Brass is now midway through its second full season on its own.
The size of the group -- 17 core members -- is also unusual. There are only a handful of larger brass ensembles in the United States; brass quintets are still much more common. But similar ensembles are taking root in cities such as New York and San Francisco.
As the popularity of these ensembles grows, so does the number of composers writing for them. One is American Eric Ewazen, from the faculty at the Juilliard School. His "Symphony for Brass" is being featured in a series of concerts the group is performing this month, including one next week at National Presbyterian Church in the District, in addition to the program in McLean.
For these concerts, which close its current season, the Symphonic Brass has chosen the theme "Wind and Song," inspired by the concept that good brass playing involves "singing" through the instrument. So, while the group will play music written for large brass ensemble, it will also present selections written for chorus or solo voice. Performers will include 13 brass players and four percussionists.
The group has performed what might be considered "singers' songs" before. In February, the Symphonic Brass released its third CD, "Dances With Brass," a collection that includes material from Louis Prima and Icelandic pop star Bjork alongside music by Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich and Leonard Bernstein.
The McLean concert will have something of a hometown feel. Among the ensemble's members are a number of Fairfax County residents, including co-founder and conductor Milton Stevens of Falls Church and David Brown of Oakton, who will solo on tuba. Percussionist Shari Rak of Dunn Loring has played with the group since its founding in 1993. The Symphonic Brass's administrative office is in McLean, and the group has a long-standing relationship with St. Luke Catholic Church, where it has performed and where it recorded its first CD in 1993.
The Symphonic Brass's members are sought-after soloists, chamber musicians and orchestral players. They come from the National Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the U.S. armed forces bands and some of the region's best suburban orchestras. Stevens is principal trombonist for the National Symphony. Co-founder, manager, arranger and trumpet soloist Phil Snedecor performs with the Baltimore Symphony, the Harrisburg Symphony in Pennsylvania and the Alexandria Symphony.
Soloist Martin Hackleman is principal French horn player for the National Symphony. He will perform "Che gelida manina," an aria from Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme," at the concert.
Other featured works will include transcriptions from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana"; "Gloria" and "Benedictus" from Symphonic Brass member Joseph McIntyre's "Missa Brevis"; the motet "O Magnum Mysterium," by choral composer Morten Lauridsen; and "Spain," a piece by jazz singer Al Jarreau.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
St. Luke Catholic Church is at 7001 Georgetown Pike (Route 193), about a quarter-mile inside the Capital Beltway. Tickets are $20 ($10 for students) and can be purchased through Washington Symphonic Brass administrator Margot T. Young at 703-243-1127 or at the door. For more information, visit www.wsbrass.com.