The Bay Brass Review - Blowing the Dome Off Stanford's Memorial Church

On July 14, 2014, we attended A Festival Concert: The Art of Sound, featuring the Bay Brass, in their eleventh annual appearance with the Summer Brass Institute at Stanford University’s Memorial ChurchThe Bay Brass, an ensemble formed in 1995 and composed of players from illustrious groups such as the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, includes four trumpets (in all sizes and keys), three French horns, two trombones, and one tuba, not to mention a truckload of mutes.  They were joined this year by two percussionists and four visiting artists.

The Bay Brass outside Memorial Church

The Summer Brass Institute, founded and directed by Vicky Greenbaum, brings together young brass players from around the world who aspire to musical excellence and professional careers.  Participants study and train under the guidance of top-level musicians such as the Bay Brass and the visiting artists.  This concert, which is co-sponsored by the Office of Religious Life at Stanford, is always one of the highlights of the summer for all involved.

2014 Summer Brass Institute at the Menlo School

The free concert started off with a bang, going from the pre-concert silence to the fortissimos of the timpani, bass drum, and gong, the opening of Fanfare for the Common Man by the definitive American composer, Aaron Copland.  The fanfare reverberated within Memorial Church, where the rich acoustics mean that sounds can take over a second to die out.

Brass trio beneath the stained glass

Other numbers on the program included works from the late 16th century by composers Hans Leo Hassler and Giovanni Gabrieli,  up to works by living composers.  Of particular note was a moving arrangement of Edvard Grieg’s Funeral March, and a fun treatment of George Gershwin’s Three Preludes performed by four trombones.  The arrangement of Le Cathedrale Engloutie by Claude Debussy offered lush sonorities and dissonances especially fitting the setting. 

The last number on the program was the “Gathering of the Armies” from Wagner’s Lohengrin.  Here, the “armies” started off stage, one group of trumpets off stage left, and another group off stage right.  As the armies approached, they joined the rest of the ensemble on stage for an ending worthy of a Wagnerian opera.

Horn quartet

Since it was less than 24 hours since the World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina, the Bay Brass decided to be politically correct with their encore number.  What Richard Wagner is to Germany, Astor Piazzolla is to Argentina.  So, it was only fitting to end the evening with his Libertango.

One audience member, a trumpet player himself, described the concert as “ear candy for brass players.”  But, you don’t have to be a brass player to appreciate the high level of musicianship in this amazing acoustic setting.  Watch for their annual free concert next July.


A scene from the sound check earlier in the day

For more information on the Bay Brass, contact:

Jonathan Ring
(510) 652-6277
[email protected]

For more information on the Summer Brass Institute, contact:

Vicky Greenbaum, Director
Summer Brass Institute at Menlo
50 Valparaiso Ave.
Atherton CA 94027
[email protected]

Photographs by Vicky Greenbaum, used with permission


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