It will probably take several months for music lovers to fully realize the Annapolis Brass Quintet has gone out of business. But when Christmas comes without traditional holiday concerts by that masterful ensemble, everyone will surely see the quintet's dissolution as a terrible loss.
"Their success is well documented," The Sun's music critic, Stephen Wigler, wrote in his farewell tribute. "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 ABQ had been a fixture on the musical scene since 1971, when five young former brass players in the U.S. Naval Band in Annapolis decided to form a quintet and blow some new life into classical music. Not surprisingly, the chamber ensemble's membership changed somewhat over the years and the venue for twice-daily practices moved to Baltimore City. But it kept its Annapolis name and strong ties with the state capital, including an annual festival and frequent appearances with guitarist Charlie Byrd.
When the ABQ announced its termination just before last Christmas, it said "the most compelling factor in making this choice has been what many have viewed as a national decline in support for and interest in the arts."
That weakness of support had made it increasingly difficult for a private, full-time ensemble to tour successfully. Audiences, it seemed, had become less interested in serious music. Unwilling to spend their time rehearsing gimmicks and comic musical routines, ABQ members decided to disband.
When the ABQ started out in 1971, it did all kinds of things to remove the traditional barriers from between the audience and the performers. It did not use music stands; its musicians played from different positions. Back then, these were considered revolutionary changes.
Coming at a time when much of traditional public support for cultural endeavors is being privatized, the ABQ's discontinuance is a reminder of the fragility of true excellence. What is taken for granted will not survive unless it is sustained.
The ABQ's fate is a call to all culture lovers to nurture their favorites so that the demise of this excellent brass ensemble will not start a trend.