By Ryan Chen (PhD Candidate, Management Science & Engineering)


The American Brass Quintet is coming to Stanford on Sunday October 15 and I couldn’t be more excited! For fans of brass music, there haven’t been too many opportunities to hear musicians of this caliber on campus, especially since the final year of the Summer Brass Institute in 2016. In the scope of the sorts of artists and groups on a typical Stanford Live season, a brass quintet is already somewhat unusual, but the American Brass Quintet stands apart even from the rest of the brass quintet world.

The most common instrumentation for a brass quintet is: 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba. Many of the prominent brass quintets in this country use this instrumentation: Empire Brass, Dallas Brass, Boston Brass, Meridian Arts Ensemble, and Atlantic Brass Quintet, just to name a few (these are also great groups for an introduction to the medium).


However, the American Brass Quintet substitutes a bass trombone for the tuba chair in the group, moving the sound away from the rounder and more diffuse timbre of the tuba and toward the more direct and archetypically “brassier” sound of the bass trombone. The usage of the bass trombone in the brass quintet is on the rise, with the Triton Brass Quintet and newer groups like the C Street Brass also employing this configuration.

The most common instrumentation for a brass quintet is: 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba. 


In addition to instrumentation differences, the American Brass Quintet is distinct from most brass quintets in their focus on serious classical music. In an effort to reach broad audiences, many brass quintets will perform and record pops-oriented music – movie music, Christmas music, pop covers, etc. In contrast, the ABQ’s discography page is filled with heavyweight composer after heavyweight composer (Joan Tower, William Bolcom, Elliott Carter, and David Sampson, to name a few), the sort who might not draw the attention of the general public, but who command respect within the musical community as the vanguard of contemporary classical music.

(Side note: I’m by no means passing judgment on which approach to the brass quintet is better! I think there’s incredible value to both and I’m glad that there’s enough room for both to thrive. Musicians getting paid is almost always a good thing in my book.)

To close, here a few quick factoids about the program the American Brass Quintet will be performing at the Bing:

  • All three pieces by living composers (Steven Franklin, Kenneth Fuchs, and Eric Ewazen) were written for and premiered by the ABQ.
  • How’s this for nostalgia? The program will feature two sets of pieces written in the 15th-17th centuries, a set of consort music from Elizabethan and Jacobean England and a set of 16th-century canons.
  • The selection of 16th-century canons on the program were edited by Raymond Mase, a trumpet player in the ABQ from 1973 to 2013 and also principal trumpet of the New York City Ballet Orchestra and chair of the brass department at The Juilliard School.

Hope to see you at the Bing on Sunday!

Upcoming Event: Sun, Oct 15
Bing Concert Hall
American Brass Quintet

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