Axiom Brass Quintet

The Axiom Brass Quintet features unexpected arrangements and transcriptions that cross musical and global boundaries.

Brassy new act opens New Millennium series at CSUS

Published: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5AANDE
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - 9:21 am

The brass quintet? It's the new kid on the block in classical music.

Although a trumpet was found in a drawing in King Tutankhamen's tomb, dating back to 1500 B.C., it wasn't until the 19th century that the first valved brass instruments began to appear.

As a result, the repertoire for brass quintet is tiny compared to what has been written for the string quartet and the piano trio.

Most of it was written after World War II, when young servicemen, who played in military brass bands, returned home and flocked to music conservatories.

Today the brass quintet is typically one where the established repertoire is paired with edgy arrangements of works originally written for strings or other instruments. The emphasis is on performing new music.

That evolution is one that defines the Chicago-based Axiom Brass Quintet.

"We don't want to follow the road of the average brass quintet," Dorival Puccini Jr., founder of the quintet, said via phone.

The quintet will open the New Millennium concert series at CSUS at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. This year this top-flight series also brings standout violist Kim Kashkashian to Sacramento. Kashkashian will appear with noted pianist Lydia Artymiw on March 17.

A big draw at the series, which is in its 13th year, will be the final appearance of the venerable Tokyo String Quartet, whose members are calling it quits after a stellar four decades on the concert scene. A gala concert honoring retiring CSUS clarinetist Deborah Pittman will be given April 12.

Puccini hopes that his focus on unexpected arrangements and new music will set it apart from other quintets, such as the more traditional Canadian Brass quintet.

"Most brass quintets can be placed exclusively in the entertainment act category," said Puccini. "When you think of the brass quintet you think of a lighter musical experience, like a bigger entertainment act with a theatrical part … something the Canadian Brass has made so popular."

Puccini said he would like nothing more than for Axiom to be at ground zero in redefining the notion of the brass quintet.

"When you think of chamber music, you think of the Tokyo or Emerson string quartets, or the great piano trios. You don't necessarily think of the brass quintet," he said.

The fondness for humor and theatricality that defines the Canadian Brass quintet? That won't do, Puccini said.

"Our programs always have the element of new music, but we also enjoy doing transcriptions … as long as the pieces are dear to our hearts," he said.

This will be the first appearance on the West Coast for the ensemble. In Sacramento, Axiom will perform Witold Lutoslawski's "Mini Overture." That two-minute piece is a powerhouse work that the Polish-born Lutoslawski wrote expressly for brass. Also on the program is J.S. Bach's Contrapunctus VII from the Art of the Fugue. "Suite Impromptu" by 20th century trombonist-composer André Lafosse and the 1989 work "Triptych" by new- music composer Jan Bach will also be performed.

The program also includes two arrangements of works by Astor Piazzolla that Puccini arranged for brass quintet. One of those is "Milonga de la Anunciación" which hails from Piazzolla's tango opera "Maria de Buenos Aires."

That's not your typical brass concert.

The appearance of the Piazzolla signals Puccini's willingness to cross musical boundaries as well as continents in finding pieces for Axiom's program.

Not only is a Piazzolla not typical in the brass setting, it's also tricky to perform in that setting.

"Arranging Piazzolla was extremely challenging," said trumpeter Puccini. "We had to re-create the color."

In arranging the Piazzolla, Puccini did not want it to sound like a brass quintet emulating a string quartet. "The goal was to reinvent the music on a brass quintet medium," said Puccini.

The quintet, whose members include second trumpeter Colin Oldberg, hornist Matthew Oliphant, trombonist Caleb Lambert and Kevin Harrison on tuba, likes competitions, many of which have been the sole domain of the string quartet. Most recently, Axiom made a splash by taking the top award at the 2012 Chamber Music Yellow Springs competition in Ohio.

"We became the first brass ensemble to compete there and the first to win that competition," Puccini said.

That maverick approach deeply piqued the interest of New Millennium series director Andrew Luchansky.

In planning the concerts, and before having booked Axiom, Luchansky realized that the series was too focused on goodbyes and the musical past, given the retirement of clarinetist Pittman, who has taught at CSUS for 25 years, and the farewell appearance by the Tokyo String Quartet.

The well-established violist Kashkashian, not anywhere near retirement, signaled an artist in midcareer. Luchansky felt the series was missing a key component: the future.

"The Axiom are a young, vibrant and inventive group who are clearly on their way up," Luchansky said. "Plus we've never had, and always wanted, to book a brass group for the series."


• Axiom Brass Quintet

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday Tickets: $10-$20

• Kim Kashkashian, viola

w/Lydia Artymiw, piano

When: 7:30 p.m. March 17

Tickets: $20-$30

• Deborah Pittman Faculty Gala concert

When: April 12

Tickets: $10-$20

• Tokyo String Quartet

When: 7:30 p.m. April 19

Tickets: $20-$40

Where: Capistrano Hall, CSUS, 6000 J St., Sacramento

Information: (916) 278-5191;

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