An American Celebration at the Olympic Music Festival

An American Celebration – Cohan, Michel, Walker , Ives, Friedrich, Bernstein, Hawkins, Cannon, Sousa, and trad: Mosaic Brass Quintet; Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 4.7.2010 (BJ)

The fireworks, at this particular July 4th celebration, were all in the music. Departing on the holiday weekend from its usual repertoire and format, Alan Iglitzin’s festival opted for brass music, adding a Monday performance to the familiar Saturday/Sunday pattern, and the Mosaic Brass Quintet responded with splendid playing in a pleasantly wide-ranging program.

We started with a salute to Yankee Doodle Dandy, in the course of a George M. Cohan Medley, and ended by being kind to our web-footed friends, as the unofficial lyrics for Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever urge. In between, we were treated to the rather charmingTrois Pastels sur la Belle Epoque by the French trumpeter-composer Jean-François Michel; Jack Gale’s dazzling arrangement ofThe Original Dixie One-Step; a group of Shaker tunes in a setting by Gwyneth Walker; Ives’s hilariously irreverent Variations on America; the 19th-century G.W.E. Friedrich’s American Brass Band Suite No. 1; and a few other familiar tunes.

All of this was highly entertaining, though I thought Gwyneth Walker’s version of Simple Gifts a touch too fussy, missing the quality of innocence that makes the tune so irresistible. But the most revealing inclusion was another Jack Gale arrangement, this time of a suite from West Side Story. For whereas Bernstein doesn’t perhaps figure on everybody’s list of great American composers, his appearance in this company, even with a work from the more popular end of his oeuvre, suddenly raised the level of sophistication, complexity, and sheer musical invention by several notches.

From beginning to end of the afternoon, the young Mosaic players were stunningly crisp and unfailingly musical, and also had – and gave – a lot of fun. Trumpeters Edward Castro and Matthew Swihart contributed creamy tone and spot-on articulation. Along with cultivated horn-playing by Becky Miller, and incisive phrasing from trombonist Keith Winkle, perhaps the most startlingly brilliant effects came from Paul Evans, who dashed off some incredibly rapid up-and-down scales on his tuba, and who also provided a rock-solid bass for the ensemble in the slower passages. With playing like this, there was no need for fireworks of the more literal sort.

Bernard Jacobson