Program Notes - No Borders: Concerto for Canadian Brass and Orchestra

NO BORDERS: Concerto for Canadian Brass & Orchestra
by Saykaly Garbulinksa Composer-in-Residence Chris Brubeck

Two years ago after my jazz group, The Brubeck Brother Quartet, played a special New Year’s Eve concert with Scott Terrell leading the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Maestro Terrell asked me if I would like to write a concerto for the Canadian Brass and premiere it with the LPO. I was excited to have the opportunity to write for some of the most accomplished brass players in the world. The quintet known as Canadian Brass has been a world-renown musical touring and recording phenomenon since the 70’s. I was honored to have a chance to write for them and get to know them, especially since I play trombone myself.

When I write a concerto for an artist, I like to spend time with them so the music can be tailor made for them. So, last December I went on the road with the Canadian Brass when they played a concert at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and also played some concerts and workshops at Michigan State University. This enabled me to get to know them individually and see them play in person. My goal was to write music which would reflect their musical interests and personalities. The Interlochen concert was significant for the group because their newest member, Caleb Hudson, had been a stellar trumpet playing student at Interlochen during his high school years about a decade earlier. It also should be noted that Caleb is from Lexington, so he was well-known as an extremely talented young man in your local community. Beyond all this, I was also a student at Interlochen Center for the Arts from 1965-1969. So reconnecting with the Canadian Brass at Interlochen seemed like a cool idea since I was a bass trombone major there slightly more than a half century ago.

Over a few days in December I saw the group give master classes, rehearse, and perform. Unlike most brass quintets or performers of any type connected with the classical world, the Canadian Brass are consummate entertainers as well as excellent musicians. There is an openness to their collective performance styles that invites audiences into their music; there is no stiff classical “veneer” that can be intimidating to an audience. I believe their openness to allowing their personalities show through in their performances is why they are one of the most popular chamber touring groups ever.

Canadian Brass usually starts their concerts with a procession to the stage from the back of the hall. I took advantage of this non-traditional entrance by having the trumpet start playing from the back of the hall, with the orchestra answering - employing the musical technique of “Call & Response” to kick off the first Movement. This would allow the audience to feel like they were “in” the performance, not just simply watching the activity on stage as in a traditional classical orchestral performance.

The idea for the theme of the second movement grew out of one my daily practice sessions on bass trombone. I was warming up, stretching out my lip and nonchalantly played from an F up to a G, an interval leap of a 9th. On paper this looks awkward and even “dangerous” in terms of difficulty, yet I just played it and the combination of notes and range shifting sounded very musical and natural. I loved the sound and feel of these notes so much that I decided to make this theme the core of the 2nd Movement. Achilles, the great trombonist with Canadian Brass, asked me to write something beautiful for him and the rest of the group to play, so I stuck with this melodic core and started adding other ideas. The “canopy” of the piece started spreading out like branches on a tree. I wanted to be sure that every member of the Canadian Brass had a turn interpreting the melody on their instrument and had the chance to add their own nuances. I was really excited when I heard the opportunity to create an ascending section towards the end of the movement where I could very naturally introduce a Spanish sounding mode to help set up Movement III, which was already planned to be stylistically Spanish in nature.

When I was doing my “research” last December, which included sharing stories on long car rides, and partaking in jolly meals while on the Canadian Brass tour, I discovered that everyone in the group was into the idea of a part of the piece having a modal Spanish/Mexican sound. I planned that the third Movement would reflect that musical direction. It is interesting to note that a Tuba is often featured instead of a bass in Mexican popular music.

This new concerto has been given the title “No Borders.” That title points to the group with a name from north of our border (Canadian Brass) that deftly navigates ALL kinds of musical genres. The music is not compartmentalized; there is fluidity to the styles as they flow together over the course of the concerto. There are no musical borders -- music is the universal language and transcends borders. The living proof of this idea is that Canadian Brass is popular all over the world. This new 19-minute concerto is in three Movements, and follows a rather traditional format of a dramatic, fast and exciting 1st Movement; a slow and more contemplative 2nd Movement; and a 3rd Movement that really establishes an exciting groove that evolves into a rousing finale. There is thematic melodic material that connects the movements.

I hope the audience finds listening to this new piece of music to be an exciting experience. I want them to come away with a deep sense of appreciation for the awesome skills of the Canadian Brass and the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra. This will not be an easy piece for any of the musicians. There are many “odd” time signatures, like 5/8 and 7/8, which drive the piece forward but are unusual to play. I also want the audience to be moved by the beauty of the melodies in the slow 2nd Movement.

For me, music is a very emotionally moving experience. It’s my hope that the musicians and the audience will share a communal connection with No Borders.

Chris Brubeck
Wilton, Connecticut
August 25, 2017