Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Brief History of the Premiere Brass Quintet

For many years I've enjoyed playing in a group of Los Angeles-area professional musicians known as the Premiere Brass Quintet. We've made some good music and had some good times. When the group was formed in 1984 in Southern California, we knew of no other group with that name, but a Web search today shows several Premier(e) Brass Quintets. Perhaps we were the first. I don't know, and it doesn't matter. But it seems like it's time to tell the story of "my" Premiere Brass Quintet.

New logo by Emilie Pallos Graphic Design.

In 1983 I began a master's degree in Trumpet Performance at the University of Southern California. One of the very first USC students I met was Morris "Mo" Anderson, a tubist from Boston. We hit it off right away and were assigned to play together in a student brass quintet. Mo has a keen taste for adventure, and since our Friday afternoon brass quintet rehearsals ended just as rush hour clogged the LA freeways, we pretty often found something interesting to do after quintet practice. He was one of the finest tubists I have worked with, and we have remained friends all these many years. Now he devotes his energies to other creative arts, designing and making fine jewelry and pottery.

Morris "Mo" Anderson

The Premiere Brass Quintet was Mo's idea. Sometime in 1984 (I think), Mo formed his own brass quintet with me and trumpeter Kevin Brown and two other USC students, hornist Steve Becknell and trombonist Rick Spitz. For the first few years, the personnel varied occasionally, but Mo, Kevin, and I were consistent members. Finally, even Mo moved away, and with his permission I continued to use the name, "Premiere Brass." Kevin has played in the group all these years, and many other good friends have played in the group as time has waddled on.

The 'original' Premiere Brass Quintet, ca. 1984 (L-R): Rick Spitz,
Raymond Burkhart, Kevin Brown, Mo Anderson, Steve Becknell.

Early in January 2004, I awoke one day thinking, "I need to record my brass quintet pieces." I'd been writing music for brass quintet for many years by then, and it finally hit me that a CD needed to be made. By late June – in a remarkably short time for producing a full-length recording, and during which time I was taking doctoral courses full time and continuing my normal performing and teaching work  – my CD, "Watercolor Menagerie," was completed. It includes 15 different works comprising 22 tracks, including secular and sacred compositions and three of my popular brass quintet suites, Watercolor Menagerie, Italian Postcards, and Love Letters. (Bouquet de Brass, Mishap, and Isle of Colours were composed after 2004.) Kevin Brown and I played trumpets, Steve Durnin played horn, Loren Marsteller played trombone, and both Norm Pearson and Fred Greene played tuba. (Neither Norm nor Fred was available for all three days of recording, and since both are long time friends, it was a treat to have them both on the CD.)

Only now do I realize this was something of a 20th anniversary project! To purchase the CD or listen to clips, see my Website -- -- or search on "Raymond David Burkhart" at CD Baby or iTunes.

The Premiere Brass Quintet, 2004 recording session: (L-R) Raymond Burkhart,
Loren Marsteller, Norm Pearson, Steve Durnin, Kevin Brown.

The Premiere Brass Quintet still gathers from time to time in my living room in Los Angeles, and we still perform. I'm thinking about making another recording, too. I've composed a lot of new music for brass quintet since 2004. Kevin, Steve, and Loren all live nearby. William Roper (see my blog, Roper Remembers) often plays tuba. Dr. David Holben has also worked with us, anchoring the May 2012 recital of my compositions that was given in Stanford, California. A new work was commissioned for that concert by the scientific publisher, Annual Reviews. Entitled Isle of Colours (see blog), it is a three-movement homage to three of my favorite British painters: JMW Turner, John Constable, and David Hockney. You can view videos of this concert at my YouTube channel. (Many thanks to David Holben for producing the videos from footage taken by his wife, Cielito, on her cell phone as she was being more or less constantly besieged by bees!) Sheet music for all of the pieces on this concert is published by Premiere Press. Check out my many other works for brass quintet and other ensembles while you're there!

Needless to say, if you are looking for a brass quintet for your special event, drop me an email. We'd like to hear from you. We play all kinds of music, not just my compositions!

Of course, if you'd like a special program of my music or would like to commission a new work for brass quintet or any ensemble, let's talk! The world is full of musicians and audience-goers. There are not as many composers, and there are even fewer patrons of new music. Those who have the world view and resources to commission new works play a very important role in culture and human history, and their support of living composers may be even more important today than in centuries past.

I'm truly indebted to my many friends – fine musicians all, and especially Mo – who have played in the Premiere Brass Quintet in the last 29 years. You know who you are, and I hope your memories are as fond as mine. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the Premiere Brass. We'll have to do something grand to celebrate. Perhaps there will be a new commission or two!

And so, to "my" Premiere Brass Quintet, the other Premiere Brass Quintets, and to all brass chamber ensembles everywhere: let's keep making good music, having fun, and passing down fine chamber brass traditions to future generations.

Dr. Ray

1 comment:

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