Holiday Magic: How Holiday Brass Came Together

Holiday Magic: How Holiday Brass Came Together

By Ellen Dinwiddie Smith

I am thrilled to be writing my first-ever blog post about a very special concert event on December 6 and 8: Holiday BrassIt was a great joy for me to help develop and program what I hope will become an annual holiday tradition for our community’s music lovers. Last season I sat down with my colleagues to discuss the idea, and we agreed that our priority would be finding arrangements that utilize the components of our brass and percussion sections to the fullest. This new holiday concert at two area churches features all the members of the Minnesota Orchestra’s brass and percussion sections as well as celebrated organist Catherine Rodland. There are so many reasons that brass is perfect for the holidays (I’ll admit I’m biased), and composers throughout time have paired brass and organ with spectacular results. The idea for this concert has been germinating in my mind for quite some timeever since I heard a CD called A Brass and Organ Christmas in Grace Cathedral.

On this CD, I was especially inspired by an out-of-this-world beautiful arrangement of Silent Night that features the unique pairing of two rarely-used brass instruments, the alphorn and the flugelhorn. This fantastic arrangement is by Jonathan Ring, a horn player whom I have known professionally for over 30 years. I’ve included another of Ring’s pieces, an original holiday work entitled ’Tis the Seasonyou won’t want to miss hearing it live!

Several phenomenal arrangements by Anthony DiLorenzo will also be featured. Tony and I were classmates at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied the trumpet. His arrangement of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas will be narrated by Henry Charles Smith. Henry is a venerated Minnesota-based musician whose expertise as a brass player (former principal trombonist of the Philadelphia Orchestra) and conductor (resident conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1971 to 1988) makes him a perfect fit for our program. One of my family’s most treasured musical holiday traditions is listening to A Festival of Carols in Brass which features Henry and his Philadelphia Orchestra colleagues.

Interestingly, several other pieces on the program were arranged by trumpet players—Phil Snedecor from the Washington Symphonic Brass and David Baldwin, former trumpet professor of the University of Minnesota. Snedecor’s all-brass version of music from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio features Bach’s original sparkling piccolo trumpet acrobatics, now supported by a full brass ensemble. In the same vein, Baldwin makes his own Baroque contribution with a fine transcription of Handel’s iconic Hallelujah Chorus.

Other arrangers include Stephen Bulla (retired resident arranger of “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band), Ralph Carmichael (arranger for Nat King Cole and Stan Kenton) and Bob Ward (principal horn of the San Francisco Symphony) who kindly sent us his sweet arrangement of The Christmas Nightingale.

In addition to collaborating with us on many arrangements, Catherine Rodland will offer two solo works: Bach’s In Dulci Jubilo and Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster. We are delighted to have Catherine join us! 

This is a perfect program for the whole family to enjoy. It features some of the most beloved holiday music and will be in venues where the audience can get up-close-and-personal with the performers. I know you will have as much fun at this concert as we will have playing it for you!

Of special note: if you come to the Sunday afternoon concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church, come a bit early and hear the University of Minnesota Horn Studio play in the library!

Minnesota Orchestra Staff