On a pleasant Sunday afternoon, the Biltmore Brass Quintet presented a fun and varied program at the local St. Matthias Episcopal Church.
The Biltmore Brass Quintet is a group of local brass players consisting of trumpet players Casey Coppenbarger and William Ross, horn player Hobart Whitman, trombonist Rienette Davis, and tubist Kermit Solesby. These musicians are very active in the local musical community, with several members playing in the Blue Ridge Orchestra and the Asheville Symphony, as well as teaching at UNC-Asheville and the surrounding areas.
To begin the event, Ron Lambe, Musical Director of the First Sundays at St. Matthias Chamber Music Concert Series, welcomed the audience and gave a small history lesson about Biltmore Brass, who have played this concert series nearly every season of the almost 20 years it has existed. This chamber music series is primarily a fundraising effort for the nearly 150 year old basilica, making it a wonderful place for local musicians to display their talents while directly contributing to their community.
The first piece of the hour-long concert was Eric Ewazen's (b. 1954) "Western Fanfare." Biltmore Brass certainly made an impression with this opening, as the church went from dead quiet to filled with the powerful, wonderful sounds of brass. Ewazen's high-energy fanfare was very well received. Second came Johann Kessel's (c. 1650 – 1695) Sonata No. 2, a piece that during the time it was written likely would have been played in a church not too different from St. Matthias. This piece was very stylistically accurate and framed the group as technically skilled, which served them well towards the end of the concert.
After the sonata, Ross addressed the audience, letting them know that there was a small change to the written program, and that the concert would be music that the group "really wanted to play" rather than what might be expected of the typical brass quintet. (This became more and more evident as the concert went on.) He introduced the third work of the evening. Arranged by a former member of the Biltmore Brass, the group performed John Adson's (1585 – 1640) Three Ayres.
After this, they played a small sampling from Mozart's The Magic Flute, arranged for brass quintet by Coppenbarger himself. (It was noted that Coppenbarger happened to arrange about half of the program for the group.) Surprisingly, this arrangement of Mozart's singspiel was true to its source material – being energetic and technical – which quite handily demonstrated the talents of each individual in the ensemble.
The last two pieces of the concert were certainly not expected – especially by an audience at a chamber music concert in a church on a Sunday afternoon. That being said, the arrangements were very well received. Biltmore Brass launched into the 1970's rock hit "Carry on My Wayward Son" by Kansas and Lew Pollack's ragtime "That's a Plenty." Both songs, while a departure from the typical brass quintet liturgy, were a refreshing end to a wonderful, short concert.
I would highly recommend both Biltmore Brass and the St. Matthias Concert Series to casual listeners and concertgoers looking for a quick weekend fix after a church service.
The Biltmore Brass has not yet added their next performance to a calendar. The next performance in the St. Matthias Concert Series will feature guitarist Peter Fletcher on September 20 at 3:00 pm at the eponymous St. Matthias Episcopal Church.