My German Brass Odyssey!
By Chris Van Hof ~ Posted Wed, 08/12/2009 - 2:20pm
All last week, I was in the small town of Lichtenberg, Germany with my brass quintet, the Emerald Brass. We were participating in an exciting event called "Rekkenze Brass Week." It was sponsored by the Rekkenze Brass, a group of international brass players based out of Hof, Germany. Read on for a summary of the highlights of the trip!
The festival was a state-funded event at Haus Marteau, a 19th-century mansion built by the violin virtuoso Henri Marteau that now hosts concerts and mastercourses like this one year-round (a chamber music week, a clarinet week, a piano competition, things like that). It was a stunning mansion set atop a hillside just outside the small town
of Lichtenberg, where we stayed with host families. We spent the week rehearsing quite a bit, being coached by members of Rekkenze and the guest artist who was in residence (who happened to be the trumpet professor at Eastman: Jim Thompson), and attending masterclasses.
The other participants were two other quintets much younger than ours: an undergrad group from Delaware State University (whose teacher used to play in Rekkenze), and an advanced high school group of Germans from the surrounding area. Both played and worked with great attitudes and talent! There were also about 20 amateur brass players ranging from young teenagers to adults with non-musical careers (music Muggles?). Once a day, we played in "Big Band" which was every participant playing in one large ensemble led by one of the trumpeters from Rekkeze, Peter Knudsvig.
On Friday, we traveled to Hof (pop. 60,000) and played a free concert outdoors on the Marketplatz--a very cool pedestrian mall with lots of stores, gardens, fountains, and 19th-century architecture. This show was to promote the Saturday evening Abschlusskonzert (final concert) at the Haus Marteau. I would say about 200 people stopped what they were doing and sat very intently to watch all three of the guest quintets--ours included. German audiences proved to be one of the biggest highlights of the trip. Every time we played, they sat with rapt attention and applauded us heartily. And the most striking thing was the broad cross-section of people listening to classical music: young and old, wealthy and middle-class, musically trained or not. I'll write on this and the differences compared to American audiences sometime in the future
On Saturday, we played the final concert with all the groups playing individually, then concluding with the large ensemble. James Thompson also played some solo spots with Rekkenze, and proved my friend's statement that the professor has "solved the trumpet." What an amazing performer and technician he is! There were probably 500 people at the concert, held in the courtyard of the of castle in Lichtenberg that overlooked the former East German border about 1 kilometer to the north. There was cheap beer and fish sandwiches, and the crowd was really into it. It was the first time in the 9 years of this festival that final concert was able to held outdoors. Previously, the weather had been too inclement, but this week had been unusually sunny and warm (Bavaria is apparently rather Seattle-ish most of the time).
Musically, the week was outstanding. Socially, it was fantastic. We had ample time to interact with the German brass players (in rehearsal, and while sharing outstanding local brews), and we even ahd a little time to explore, spending an afternoon walking around Bayreuth. Germany proved to be a lovely place with very warm and welcoming people who really love good music.
So that's how your afternoon host spent his summer vacation: doing what he loves by playing trombone and making music with good people!