Brass quintet that
emerged from Boston
University in 1971
and has thrived in various incarnations for four decades. Its original line-up was trombonist
Norm Bolter, trumpeter Charlie Lewis, horn player David Ohanian,
tuba player Sam Pilafian, and trumpeter Rolf Smedvig. Of
the five founding members, only Rolf Smedvig
remains. They took their name,
Empire Brass, from the Empire
as they had their eye on the Big Apple. Instead, they wound up conquering
One of their
early albums was a recording of Victor Ewald’s
“Quintet No. 2”, released in 1977. On 16th May 1985, they
made an appearance on Mister Rogers’
Neighborhood. They became
the first ensemble to perform in the renovated Carnegie Hall in 1987.
In the 1980s
and 1990s, they were prolific in the recording industry, releasing CD upon
CD in and around a touring schedule that averaged about one hundred
concerts per year. A snapshot
of their discography during this time requires a wide-angle lens: Bernstein: Highlights from West Side Story;
Selections from Mass; Gershwin:
Porgy and Bess Suite; Tilson Thomas: Street Song (“Street Song”
was commissioned by the Empire Brass in 1988); Braggin’ in Brass; Class
Brass; Fireworks; Joy to the World: Music of Christmas; Music for Organ, Brass & Percussion;
and, Royal Brass.
October 1990, they opened the Orange County Philharmonic Society’s
1990-1991 season at the University of
California-Irvine with the first west-coast performance of “Dance
Suite” by Leonard Bernstein.
Visiting Consultants in Brass at the Royal Academy of Music in 1991. Stateside, they anchored the Empire
Brass Seminar at the Tanglewood Institute, Boston University.
record shelves continued to be regularly stocked with new items from the
five-some: A Bach Festival for Brass & Organ; Baroque Music for Brass and Organ; Class Brass: Fire Dance;
Class Brass: On the Edge; An Empire Brass Christmas: The World Sings; Empire Brass on Broadway; Greatest Hits; King’s Court and Celtic Fair; Mozart for Brass; Romantic
Brass: Music of France &
Spain; Music of Gabrieli; and, Passage
138 B.C.-A.D. 1611.
there, they found time to become their alma mater’s quintet-in-residence. None of this precluded them from
keeping up a busy international itinerary that included their participation
in the Chinese New Year Global Gala in 2005 and a concert captured on CD in
2006 entitled Empire Brass in Japan.
2004 through December 2006, they appeared on American Public Media’s Saint Paul Sunday broadcast of a
Christmas concert of traditional carols and other renaissance and classical
compositions associated with the holiday.
Brass toured a little closer to home during 2006, with a May appearance at Gusman Concert Hall, Frost School of Music, University of Miami,
a September recital at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield,
Massachusetts, and a December trip to the
Terrace Theater at Kennedy Center in Washington,
south of the border in July 2008 to make merry at the Festival de inverno at Campos do Jordao in Brazil. On 26th April 2009, they
collaborated with the Salvation Army band in Niagara Falls, New York. They teamed up with Michael Werner
for a program that included works by Tomasso Albinoni, Sergei Prokofiev, and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, at Benaroya
Hall’s S. Mark Taper Foundation Audition in Seattle, Washington,
in December 2009.
2010, they went on a mini-tour with guitarist Elisabeth von Trapp that
included stops at Culture Shock Miami in Miami,
Florida, the H. Ric
Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University,
and Kobacker Hall at Bowling Green State
line-up comprised tuba player Kenneth Amis, trombonist Mark Hetzler, French horn player Michelle Perry, and
trumpeters Marc Brian Reese and Rolf Smedvig.
Brass has won the hearts and ears of audiences throughout the world. They are purported to be the most
recorded brass quintet in the history of music.
Empire Brass recordings
O Come, All Ye Faithful (Frederick
Oakeley/John Francis Wade)
Arranger – Frank Denson
Music of a Victoria Christmas)