Annapolis Brass Quintet offers farewell concert after 22-year career

April 16, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Saturday evening in Friedberg Hall will mark an unhappy milestone in the life of brass music in Maryland: It will be the last concert of the Annapolis Brass Quintet.

The ABQ has been a fixture here since 1971, when five young brass players who had been members of the U.S. Naval Band in Annapolis decided to make a go of it as a full-time brass quintet in civilian life.

Their success is well documented. They made more than 15 records, commissioned about 90 new works, toured Europe once (and sometimes twice) a year and spawned imitators everywhere. The extent of that imitation was seen every summer at the International Brass Quintet Festival that ABQ helped sponsor in the Village of Cross Keys shopping center.

The members of the quintet -- trumpeters David Cran and Robert Suggs, horn player Sharon Tiebert, trombonist Wayne Wells and tuba player Robert Posten -- are disbanding for many reasons, not the least of which is the recession, which has sharply cut support for the arts, and the fact that some members want to pursue teaching careers and other musical ventures.

But another reason, says Wells, is that the ABQ became a victim of its own success. Its audiences in Maryland remained faithful. But throughout the nation, the ABQ had to compete with part-time regional brass quintets whose fees were far smaller, and with more famous quintets like the Canadian Brass and the Empire Brass, who took the techniques the ABQ had pioneered to address audiences and brought them to a new -- some would say, lesser -- level.

When the ABQ started out, its attitude was considered revolutionary. Its concerts were accessible and listener-friendly.

"We made an effort to eradicate the barriers between performers and audiences," Wells says. "We talked to audiences, we memorized music so that we wouldn't have music stands between us and our audience, we played from different positions in playing spaces -- we did everything we could to eradicate the stuffiness in classical music."

But imitators like the Canadian Brass and the Empire Brass took these techniques further. They developed comic routines that included tying entire programs together with a series of gags. They played little modern music, concentrating instead on transcriptions of such pop classics as Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries" and Rossini's "William Tell" overture. They even played transcriptions of pop music.

ABQ concerts could be light-hearted affairs, but there was always some new music on almost every program.

"What we are are proudest of is the body of commissioned works we've accumulated," Wells says. "We've always tried to repay the composers who take us seriously and to do justice to the best music for brass quintet."

Annapolis Brass Quintet

When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Friedberg Hall, 1 E. Monument Place.

L Tickets: $17.50, benefits the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Call: (410) 235-4302 or (410) 730-8334.

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