Brass and voices create a glittery holiday gift

Is there any holiday or season more celebrated by music than Christmastime? I think not. Among the plethora of Christmas concerts, you couldn’t go wrong if you decided to attend the Artists Series Concerts production featuring the Axiom Brass and Gloria Musicae Singers.

The first half of the concert was the domain of the splendid Axiom Brass, a quintet consisting of trumpets, Dorival Puccini Jr. and Kris Hammond; French horn, Jacob DeEdwardo; trombone, Serdar Cizmeci; and tuba, Kevin Harrison. My own musical preferences for the season do skew toward brass and Baroque, so I happily enjoyed their smooth blend and precision in three spectacular selections from the Baroque period.

Starting with their most astounding playing of the evening in five movements from Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas” Concerto VIII: Fatto per la notte di natale, they negotiated some difficult passages originally written for strings that don’t come easily for brass. Trombone and even tuba popped out pristine 16th notes with perfect articulation and spacing. Horn and trombone made it sound like they trill (rapidly alternate between two notes) all the time. Singing on the high lines like violins were the two trumpets.

No one knows for sure if J.S. Bach’s Art of the Fugue was intended for keyboard or string quartet, so why not brass quintet? The Axiom Brass soared through it as if it was composed for them. However, their introductory exercise to define a fugue and illustrate its devices was so entertaining that it almost outshone the music.

The bread and butter of Baroque brass music can be found in the Canzonas of Giovanni Gabrieli. Always crisp, the ensemble delivered the Canzona per Sonare No. 3 with exquisite taste and a laser-beam crescendo at the end, one of the composer’s trademarks.

What sweeter music could there be in the bleak midwinter than playing the tuneful music of Brits Gustav Holst and John Rutter? You could top it off with a cool jazz Nutcracker from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

These Axiom guys were the bomb! 

By Gayle Williams - Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Axiom Brass Quintet serves up a generous helping of Latin music

Fresh-faced and sharply dressed, the Axiom Brass Quintet wowed the crowd Sunday on the St Martha–Yamaha Concert Series with the aptly named “New Standards” program. St Martha also celebrated their new location at Barry University’s Broad Center for the Performing Arts, a cavernous space with surprisingly good acoustics.

First trumpet Dorival Puccini, Jr. and tuba player Kevin Harrison delivered program notes and educational comedy from the stage, allowing the quintet necessary chop rests. However, when combined with St Martha’s announcements, intermission, and a bonus performance of George Gershwin’s sprightly Rialto Ripples rag by founder Paul Posnak, the concert ran nearly three hours.

With more ripples, Axiom’s jazzy, dissonant harmonies and cascading lines in living composer Bernard Rands’ brief, powerful Fanfare generated excitement that carried throughout the afternoon.

Three Baroque masters followed, beginning with Puccini’s arrangement of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Si ch’io vorrei morire,” a stately chorale with staggered suspensions, bringing out traded lines with gorgeous clarity.

Harrison had the players surround the audience with their slick iPad music stands to ‘kick the tires’ of the new space with his arrangement of Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzona per Sonare No. 3. The thrilling, super-sized antiphonal effect was sublime.

Although claiming to have “no idea what a fugue is,” Axiom’s performance of J. S. Bach’s Contrapunctus VII from Art of the Fugue proved otherwise, delineating Bach’s dense music well, including sublime descants by French horn player Jacob Diedwardo and second trumpet Kris Hammond.

In Victor Ewald’s romantic Quintet No. 3, Op. 7, trombonist Orin Larson and Harrison’s long, lyrical hunting calls made for an exciting Allegro moderato. Puccini and Larson’s brooding octaves in Intermezzo were set off by perfect alternating eighth notes in tuba and horn, and rapid, bright fanfares. Gently moving sustained tones in the Andante supported Puccini’s melancholy melody, and Axiom’s virtuosic Vivo delivered rollicking, fast-tongued notes.

Five short movements showcased each performer in Patrice Caratini’s Passages. The best of these were Harrison’s Morse-code rhythms under modern harmonies and jagged counterpoint in the first movement; his mellow, rounded tone in the second movement; and the quintet’s lurching rhythmic syncopations of the third movement.

In Liduino Pitombeira’s Brazilian Landscapes No. 2, Op. 78, “Santo Antônio” represents his mother’s hometown, evoking calm distance through slow inner chords and a languorous melody in trumpet and tuba. Pitombeira portrayed Ingá, his father’s hometown, with festive Brazilian dance music in quintuple time, briefly interrupted by Axiom’s heartfelt rendition of the mother’s theme.

In Paquito D’Rivera’s Danzón, simple, nostalgic melodies including a brilliant, stratospheric trumpet duet alternated with authentic Latin-dance syncopations, and jazz muting by Puccini added old Havana colors.

Mutes were also central to Ástor Piazzolla’s Two Tangos from the operita María de Buenos Aires. “Fuga y misterio” was a showpiece of muting colors on a highly animated tango theme passed through the upper instruments, before a powerful statement in low, unmuted brass, morphed into an ensemble melody over a tango tuba. Diedwardo’s pristine horn theme in Piazzolla’s Milonga de la Anunciación was genuinely impressive.

By Dorothy Hindman - South Florida Classical Review

Well-Founded Axiom Brass 

A standout ensemble from Chicago, Axiom Brass, makes a sterling West Coast debut, performing challenging and rewarding works.

In the life of largely unknown ensembles, there’s that moment when the group has solidified in a way that its performances portend that future notoriety is almost a given. It can be likened to a garage band that plays at a club for the first time, where everyone in attendance has that “I was there when they were nobody” moment.

This was the undercurrent felt during a stellar performance by the Axiom Brass Quintet Wednesday evening. This fresh-faced quintet, which hails from Chicago — that great breeding ground for brass playing — was making its West Coast debut. The concert was the first of the 2013 New Millennium Concert Series, held at Sacramento State University’s Music Hall.

Looking crisp in their identical dress blacks and performing behind stands holding iPads instead of sheet music, this ensemble made a bold statement by the way they tackled a tricky assortment of works, some written for brass, others far from the brass realm.

The program veered from the Renaissance to new music, and showed off the talent of Brazilian trumpeter and cofounder Dorival Puccini Jr., trumpet player Colin Oldberg, trombonist Caleb Lambert, hornist Matthew Oliphant, and tubist Kevin Harrison. These musicians not only showed a capacity to engage their audience musically, they also weren’t afraid to engage it on a personal level in discussing the program. Their banter between works revealed a quirky, almost sarcastic demeanor.

Most engaging, and a highlight of the concert, was Puccini’s smart arrangements of works by Astor Piazzolla. Could the sensual and lurid allure of Argentine back alleys be conveyed fully by a brass ensemble, a listener might have wondered? Would the warmth of the bandoneon shine through at the back end? Axiom proved both in the positive. In their hands, the music of Piazzolla bloomed as well suited to the brass quintet format — they made Nuevo Tango seem almost intuitive for that family of instruments.

The Axiom approach was one of restraint. That quality was brought to bear on two Piazzolla works: Oblivion, and Milonga de la Anunciacion, from the operetta Maria de Buenos Aires. On the first work, trombonist Lambert was given the melodic line early. This is music that is usually parsed out to the earthy bandoneon, and Lambert played it with a gritty demeanor. Punchy but clear bass notes from tubist Kevin Harrison kept the rhythm moving, while the mood of restraint added a sultry depth to the music.

The two Piazzolla works capped a concert that began with Witold Lutoslawski’s powerhouse work written for brass: Mini Overture. This 3-minute piece, from 1982, offers many mood shifts and ample opportunity for the quintet to make bold exclamations when playing in unison.

The mood, and era, shifted to Monteverdi’s Si’chio vorrei morire. This madrigal saw the ensemble play with dissonances — and it did so with a warm, but delicate, touch. Moving from the 1980s to the Renaissance, and honoring the qualities demanded from each, proved no challenge at all.

The ensemble then paired two works by musicians with the last name Bach, together. The first was J.S. Bach’s Contrapunctus VII from the Art of the Fugue, and the second Triptych by Illinois-based hornist Jan Bach.

It was a curious pairing. In the first, clarity was the watchword. The second work, written for the American Brass Quintet in 1989, saw the ensemble tackle complex yet intriguing music. Axiom performed only two of the three movements, with the first movement using trumpet smears for color. In the second movement, the use of mutes brought the musical palette down to a narrow bandwidth of musical color, though within that bandwidth a lot of shades and tones were found.

The quintet also performed Malcolm Arnold’s Quintet for Brass, Op. 73, a brass quintet standard. They honored its cinematic flair. This ensemble really stands out when tubist Harrison gets to show off his chops, as he did with powerful but well-shaped music in the Allegro. Trombonist Lambert was charged with a tricky cadenza in the Chaconne, and his playing did not disappoint. In the third movement, Puccini and trumpeter Oldberg battle each other for musical supremacy before the focus evolves throughout the rest of the ensemble. Puccini is not only an expert arranger, he also plays his instrument with a distinctive and radiant sound; it has as much heat as shimmer in it.

The quintet also performed Suite Impromptu, by 20th-century French composer Andre Lafosse. The quintet honored Lafosse’s directives of casting away vibrato and glissando. And what came through was something patently Gallic, but without the the weight of ornamentation.

It may very well be the case that Axiom remains a Chicago-based brass quintet of little renown. However, their performance Wednesday suggested otherwise. Chamber music and brass fans would do themselves a great service by keeping an eye out for this standout group of musicians.

Edward Ortiz is the arts critic for The Sacramento Bee and has written for The Boston Globe, the Berkshire Eagle, and The Providence Journal. He is also a contributor to www.newmusicbox.org.

By Edward Ortiz - San Francisco Classical Voice

Axiom Brass at Nichols Hall - Bringing Brass Forward

As part of its 2010 – 2011 season of the Faculty and Guest Artist Series, the beautiful Nichols Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago hosted the remarkable and talented Axiom Brass for an evening of great music and a mission of hope in the classical community.

The quintet of young, smartly dressed musicians filed onto the stage with speed and precision, facing each other in a relaxed yet confident stance. The opening notes of Witold Lutoslawski’s Mini Overture begin bouncing through the hall in staccato bursts, catching momentum from trumpet to horn then up into the rafters via tuba. Harmonies meet then diverge, chords ringing sonorously at moments then hitting a musical brick wall and audibly falling to the floor. The piece ends on an unsure tone, only defined by the unison snap of horns away from mouths and the choreographed V formation bow, all done with a casual ease and professional class. Meet Axiom Brass.

Almost immediately after entrenching my expectations with the fully modern, the stately full harmonies and sweeping sustains of 17th century Isaac Posch begin ringing from the stage. A beautiful and regal sounding piece, the musicians were better able to exhibit their skill in balance and unity of sound, offering sweet and assertive notes in fat bold strokes. Bosch's contrastingly traditional Paduana from Centone No. 8 was performed with equal intensity and rigor to the modern virtuosic style of Lutoslawski, but with a composed, almost deliberate respect for the gravity of the romantics. Bach’s Contrapuntus VII, a spirited and audacious study in counterpoint, blended the virtuosic and the classic with a high caliber of performance, showcasing the high level of skill each musician possesses.

Dorival Puccini, Jr. (trumpet) peppered humor and humility in with engaging historical information as he spoke of the ensemble’s music selection. It is clear Puccini is an educator, as in some way all musicians must be, as he passionately contextualized the pieces, with help from Kevin Harrison (tuba). Their arrangements essentially speak for themselves, but hearing an explanation of composer Eric Ewazen and his motivation for the piece Colchester Fantasy makes it all the more enjoyable to hear as it is revealed to be essentially an ode to the tavern houses he visited on vacation. The whimsical, almost drunken candor of the third movement of Morley Calvert’s Suite from the Monteregian Hills would have seemed almost poorly played, if it weren’t for the explanation that valse ridicule does, in fact and in musical execution, translates to mean “ridiculous waltz”. The interplay between jazzy and modern, stately and serious made for a performance that really kept the listeners on their toes.

Perhaps the most lasting impression of the evening was the mission of Axiom Brass. A group of students and educators, Axiom tours the country and the world acting as stewards of classical chamber music. Garnering acclaim in musical and educator circles alike, the ensemble breathes life into a genre beset on all sides by genres littered with amplifiers and synthesizers. The resonance of live instruments performing challenging music is a unique experience, one that is becoming an unceremoniously rare experience among American children (and adults). As an expression of the level of their commitment, Puccini asserted that the proceeds of Axiom’s recently released CD would go entirely to continuing the groups mission at home and abroad. 

Certainly the weight of spreading the classical chamber tradition doesn’t rest on the shoulders of this plucky brass ensemble. Not entirely at least. That said, as far as champions go, the genre could do worse."

By Jonathan Rayfield - Chicago Splash Magazine

Axiom Brass and the Adrian Symphony - Adrian Symphony Orchestra's 'Festive Brass' holiday concert lives up to name.

In all the years the Adrian Symphony Orchestra has been producing a Christmastime concert, those concerts have never had quite the same feel twice, and Saturday’s rendition of the ASO’s annual holiday tradition certainly followed suit. Couple that fact with a guest appearance by a first-rate ensemble of young musicians, Chicago’s Axiom Brass Quintet, and the result was as spirited as the concert’s title, “Festive Brass,” would imply.

The performance began with a work, for the ASO alone, that perfectly set the tone for the rest of the evening: a set of traditional French carols arranged by ASO Music Director John Thomas Dodson that’s as beautiful as any other carol arrangement Dodson has ever done.

Dodson also arranged two of the other pieces on the program that were performed by just the orchestra, a lovely rendition of the Pachelbel Canon in D — not a Christmas work, of course, but it fits perfectly with the atmosphere of such a concert — and a setting of the traditional carol “What Child Is This?” that was hauntingly beautiful (and featured some excellent solo work by principal trumpet player Lori Bitz and principal horn player Andrew Pelletier as a bonus).

The evening’s other works featured the Axiom Brass, a group that has performed around the world, including just recently in the Dominican Republic along with Dodson. Unquestioningly, this is a very fine ensemble, and their top-notch musicianship and warm, easy rapport with the audience — and with each other — made for a really nice, and thoroughly entertaining, performance.

Axiom’s music for this concert included a whole range of holiday tunes ranging from “Joy to the World” to “In the Bleak Midwinter” to even a Hanukkah medley and more, in some really interesting arrangements — or, more to the point, reimaginings — done by Chicago-area arranger and composer James Stephenson.

One of the challenges of performing Christmas music, as with any other music that everybody knows, is to make listeners feel like they’re hearing it for the first time, to not have it sound like the same stuff you’ve heard a million times.

Happily though for the listener, Stephenson’s arrangements are like nothing at all you’ve ever heard. He plays around with meter, with styles, with the tunes themselves, and the results are creative, fresh and fun.

His “Joy to the World,” for example, uses a tarantella rhythm, of all things, while “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is a veritable mashup of everything from Latin to fusion to blues to a martial beat. And the cheekily titled “Wassail, Wassail All Over the Tuba” — in addition to being a rather rare example of a work featuring solo tuba — goes from a concert-band feel to a jazz vibe. And along the way, it gives its soloist, in this case Axiom’s Kevin Harrison, a real workout.

Most of the pieces which Axiom performed Saturday were done in conjunction with Dodson and the ASO, which sounded as terrific as the brass ensemble did. But two works featured the quintet alone, and both of them, “I Wonder as I Wander” and “O Holy Night,” which was performed as an encore, were also beautifully done. In fact, from beginning to end, both the quintet and the orchestra more than deserved the enthusiastic standing ovation they received from the audience as the evening concluded.

This concert came of course during a time when much seems wrong with the world, a fact that was noted by both ASO board chairman Chris Miller before the performance, and by Axiom trumpeter and co-founder Dorival Puccini Jr. as the ensemble prepared to play that encore, a piece which was chosen very deliberately for precisely that reason. But, you know, a performance like Saturday’s can serve as a reminder that as long as there is music, there is good and beauty and joy to be found in the world as well.

By Arlene Bachanov – The Daily Telegram – Adrian, MI. 


“The Axiom Brass Quintet is committed to honest and serious music-making at the highest level. Their chamber-music sensibility reflects the tradition of the most venerable and respected string quartets, even as the group displays a unique and compelling aesthetic around passionate and poetic brass performance.”

Cliff Colnot - Conductor Civic Orchestra of Chicago / Award Winning Composer

“…beauty and fullness of tone, precise intonation, virtuosic technique, expressive dynamic range, and stylistic flexibility. Axiom commands a repertoire ranging from Early Music and Renaissance to the most challenging contemporary compositions of today not to mention a fluency in the jazz idiom that puts most ensembles to shame. I have been consistently moved by their interpretations and inspired by their expressive maturity. …It is rare to find an ensemble possessing such artistic qualities also so devoted to education and outreach in its community, but this quintet is such an ensemble. They have performed over 100 educational concerts throughout the Chicago area as well as a summer brass seminar. Education is not just a side project for these men; it is one of their driving forces and a cornerstone of their mission.”

Christopher Martin - Chicago Symphony Principal Trumpet

“I have had the pleasure of working with Axiom Brass for many years in many capacities. They are world-class artists and collaborative colleagues! I gladly offer my highest recommendation….Your ensembles and audiences will love them and find them inspiring!”  

Mallory Thompson - Band Director, Northwestern University and Northshore Concert Band

"It has been my great pleasure to collaborate with the Axiom Brass Quintet at Tanglewood for the past several summers. They are all wonderful musicians and terrific teachers. The performances when they have been soloists have been highlights of the summer. In addition to their remarkable abilities as musical artists, they each have a fantastic sense of humor.” 

H. Bob Reynolds - World Renown Conductor

“The Axiom Brass has a crystalline beauty of sound that is pure joy to hear. Thank you so much for your splendid performance of my "Duxbury Fanfare"!

Lauren Bernofsky - Award Winning Composer

“I thought the Master Class was enjoyable, informative, and I had fun!! Thanks for the memorable instruction, our group will make better music...” 

William Howard - Saginaw Brass Quintet, Saginaw, MI


“Bravo…  It was truly a pleasure to work with each of you this past week. Your professionalism and talent is remarkable, and we were so proud to present you as the 2011 Fischoff Educator Prize Winners for this fall’s residency.  The DeBartolo Concert and Celestial Suites debut at Jordan Hall of Science DVT theatre were exceptional. People around campus are still talking about it!  I know the elementary kids loved your presentation of Imogen’s Last Stand; it was clever and kept their attention each time!  I loved how they laughed at the“wah, wah, wah” and the demo of making a sound from buzzing. Seeing and hearing your instruments in their own schools is something they will remember for a long time.  Your workshop at LaSalle Academy & Dickinson Middle School were excellent and provided a chance for these young musicians to better hear the sounds they strive to make. We have had rave reviews.  And a special thank you also for the Piazzolla you played so beautifully. I am in Axiom withdrawal!  So again, thank you from all of us!”

Pam O’Rourke - Fischoff National Chamber Music Association

“Their performance at Walk Festival Hall was excellent. From the moment they stepped on stage to the final standing ovation the group proved their experience, talent and personality. Their level of playing was superb and equal to the many great musicians who have played on our festival stage.”

Tracy Jacobson - Executive Director - Grand Teton Music Festival

“I was struck not only by their high level of musicality and technical ability, but also by their poised and assertive stage presence. …They have a clean, clear and precise sound. …This group does not miss a detail; they have a wide dynamic contrast, play with impeccable intonation, and have a balanced blend and approach to ensemble. Each performer is a virtuoso player.”

Erin Ellenburg - Editor, Journal of the International Brass Chamber Musical Festival

“[Axiom Brass] has quickly become one of the most popular tickets of the presenting series in Nichols Concert Hall…I have no doubt that any presenting venue would benefit from adding Axiom Brass to the series roster. The level of their professionalism, technical skill and musicianship is truly superior.”

Fiona Queen - Director of Performance Activities Nichols Concert Hall - Music Institute of Chicago


“Words cannot express how pleased I was with their joyful performance and the delight of our students. …Their dedication to music and enthusiasm for music-making was exuberantly transmitted to our students as they presented their diverse repertoire. I particularly liked the contemporary pieces they played, which were as engrossing and expressive as their Bach fugue. They augmented the performance with lively explanations of their instruments, background information on the music and composer, and a patient and informative question-and-answer session.” 

Denise Y. Knox - K-8 Music Teacher - LaSalle Language Academy

“We always need to raise the bar, and the only way to do that is to see how high it can go!  You guys certainly showed us that!”

Russell Hilton - Band Director, L’Anse Cruese High School


“I hit a brick wall before I came here and I could never get past it for the longest time.  Being able to listen to the Axiom Brass has gotten me past that brick wall and they have inspired me to go beyond what I have ever thought I could go.  The Axiom Brass is by far the best brass quintet I have ever heard!”

Travis Hempel - Axiom Brass Seminar Student

“A musical experience that taps into your musical core and takes you on a journey to find new musical heights.”

Cristian Escobar - Axiom Brass Academy Student

“…learning how to practice was probably the best thing for me.  And I even learned a bit about jazz…”

Brett Syndergaard - High School Student, Pocatello, ID

“This was by far the best music camp I’ve ever attended.  I loved how all of the Axiom Brass was so personal, helpful, and fun with the students.  I also learned so much not only about music for a concert but music for my whole life.  Thanks so much for this wonderful experience! 

Liza R. Zumbrunnen - Axiom Brass Seminar Student

“I loved all my classes, and took a lot of notes.  I truly believe my playing has gotten to a point that would have normally have taken me months to get to.  Again, I can’t thank you enough.  All of you taught me things I won’t ever forget.  What really got me, wasn’t your teaching skills or your playing (which are awesome), but it was the fact that I really felt important everytime anyone of you worked with me.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Chris Coccia - Axiom Brass Seminar Student

“Thank you so much for coming to Century [High School] and helping us become better musicians.”

Melodie Barnhisel - High School Student, Pocatello, ID