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The Story Behind The National Brass Ensemble Performing In Chicago Sunday

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 18, 2015 4:00PM

Photo courtesy The National Brass Ensemble

In 1968, a collaboration took place between members of the brass sections of the Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The group gathered to record arrangements of Renaissance era composer Giovanni Gabrieli. That recording, Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli, became a legend. The combination of talent created a widely admired repertoire piece.

This weekend, that music gets a fresh spin by the top players of nine of the finest orchestras in the country as they form the National Brass Ensemble. We spoke with Michael Sachs, the group's artistic director and principal trumpeter of the Cleveland Orchestra about how the unique group got formed, and what to look forward to for Sunday's concert at Orchestra Hall.

Sachs told us that he and the other 26 players from around the country grew up admiring the original players involved in the recording. "These were the guys that inspired us and were really our heroes, and who we looked up to as the finest brass players in the country. This album [the original Galbrieli] holds a very special place in all of our minds and all of our hearts."

It was this admiration that led to the formation of the National Brass Ensemble. It started as a lunch in April of 2011 between Sachs and David Stull, then the Dean of Music at Oberlin. Sachs floated the idea of doing a new recording, perhaps with his own home orchestra in Cleveland. Stuhl was immediately on board.

Sachs and his colleagues didn't want to just re-record with the same group. Sach explained: "It's already been done, we didn't want to do a remake. That summer at the symposium, many of the same symphony players were there, the camaraderie was so great, the vibe was so great, the music making was so great—this was the template for the new Gabrieli."

Sachs sought out the top seven orchestras in the nation, which includes Cleveland, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He was looking for those group's principal players, and people who had good chemistry with one another. The group first met for a recording at Skywalker Sound in Sonoma and made a subsequent debut concert at Sonoma's Green Music Center. This year Chicago ended up looking like a good spot to meet for their annual concert. Even though it was stressful getting everyone together, Sachs says it's also a work of passion and mutual admiration.

"You're in the middle of a rehearsal, even a concert, and you hear something that's so extraordinary that it's like a comet flying by—I wanted this to be as much fun as possible, and as satisfying musically as possible in every way, and I feel like we got very lucky and the people we got together, we got exactly that and more. I think you'll see at the concert the admiration and appreciation for everyone on the stage."

Some special highlights of the show for Sunday include Maestro Riccardo Muti taking the reins to conduct a few pieces, as well as a special piece commissioned for the group by John Williams. "Music is about the enjoyment, the gathering, being able to feed off each other's energy," said Sachs. He also has some advice for aspiring musicians. "Keep your curiosity, always be a student. Enjoy the process, enjoy the results, enjoy the opportunities that music will give you."

We can see that this group of elite brass players has taken that advice, and we think that will make Sunday's performance truly special.

The National Brass Ensemble will perform on Sunday, September 20th at 3 p.m. at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. in The Loop, $33-$116.