We recently received a phone call from a puzzled reporter asking if indeed our ROCO Brass Quintet concert on Monday at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens was at 10 a.m. Was that a mistake in the press materials?
“Do brass players actually wake up early enough to play a 10 am concert?,” the journalist quipped.
George Chase(trumpet), Jason Adams (trumpet), Gavin Reed, (French horn), Thomas Hulten (trombone) and Will Samson (tuba) may be a fun bunch of guys (ridiculous at times). But one thing rings true: They’re dead serious about having fun with great music and great composers.
Monday’s performance includes ROCO’s own version of the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, arranged by Jason Adams.
Q: Taking a piece that was written for 100 instruments and reducing a score to a handful. Sounds like a daunting process. Where to start?
Jason Adams: Well, luckily for us, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn already did most of the heavy lifting. They took the full orchestral version of the Tchaikovsky score and reduced it down for Duke’s fabulous sixteen piece band. I then further distilled that version down for our seven piece group. Duke chose only some of the specific movements from the Nutcracker for his suite, and I think his idea was to choose the pieces that would best show off the soloists in his band. I tried to do the same when I worked out this version for us.
Q: How do you decide which instrument gets which orchestral lines?
Jason Adams: The range of the instrument has a lot to do with it. Higher parts are generally played more by the trumpets and French horn, while lower parts are covered more by the trombone and tuba. One of the really special things about Duke’s arrangement is the harmonic sophistication he adds to the original, which is why I thought adding a bass and drums was a good idea.
That way the tuba, and trombone, which normally spend a lot of their time functioning as a rhythm section in an arrangement like this, get to be more melodic and soloistic, and we can capture more of the notes from those big amazing stretched-out chords.
George Chase: I was going to go with “rock, paper, scissors” but Jason’s way of thinking is better.
Q: If you could add one more instrument to your Nutcracker mix, which one would it be and why?
Jason Adams: Actually I think a plucky banjo would be fun!
George Chase: I love banjo, but I’d be partial to a didgeridoo, personally.
Q: Why do you think Nut has been such a popular work?
Jason Adams: I think there is something really transcendent about Tchaikovsky‘s writing. His music has beautiful, memorable melodies, and the fact that he was writing the piece for the ballet brings a lot of rhythmic fun to it. You want to sing the tune and snap your fingers when you hear it!
Playing Nutcracker on different instruments doesn’t change this underlying nature of the piece, which is why I think Duke Ellington decided to have some fun with it. The piece stands up well to some pretty humorous treatment.
George Chase: Exactly! Tschaikovsky’s beautiful writing — the melodies stick in the ear (the entire piece is a major ear worm), and we are really looking forward to presenting this new version of the work. It fits into ROCO’s programming of lesser known music of great composers (alongside our performing well known pieces and commissions.) Most people aren’t aware that Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote their own version of Tschaikovsky’s work! Jason has done a really wonderful job of adapting it for our ensemble of seven musicians.
Q: Will you dance during the performance?
Jason Adams: Hmmm… if I did, we would probably have to give out refunds! However, as an audience member, if you hear it and are inspired, please feel free to boogie!
George Chase: My ten year old daughter has expressly forbidden me, but Jason and I know that it’ll be difficult for our audience at Bayou Bend to sit still that morning! Ballet music of Tschaikovsky and Ellington/Strayhorn/Adams, with our own Matt McClung on drums and Erik Gronfor on bass…. what a combination!!
Exposure to ROCO concerts may result in smiles, feelings of joy and wellbeing. The musicians look forward to meeting you and getting to know you. Ask your doctor if ROCO is right for you! But ask him or her on Tuesday, after our Monday, December 7, 10 a.m. Spiegeltent concert at Bayou Bend.
The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra Brass Quintet presents “Christmas Concert” on Monday, December 7 at 10 a.m. at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. Tickets start at $55.