It’s a relatively quiet night in Ocean Grove, NJ, this July 6, 2017 evening, and to prove it, there isn’t even a line at the historic Days Ice Cream shop on Pitman Ave.
We order our vanilla, chocolate chip, and peanut butter treat appropriately called “It’s a Goody” and sit outside in the park on Pilgrim Pathway to enjoy it. Here, we can hear and enjoy the sounds of the Imperial Brass practicing before their 7:30pm concert tonight in Ocean Grove’s historic Great Auditorium.
The Imperial Brass is a New Jersey-based 28-piece brass ensemble founded in 1991 by alumni of Rutgers University. The group was created so that New Jersey area musicians could play a challenging repertoire of diverse styles, often on the same stage with world-class soloists. In addition to two percussionists, the group consists exclusively of brass players who perform on instruments including the Eb soprano cornet, cornet, flugelhorn, alto horn, baritone, trombone, bass trombone, euphonium, in addition to Eb bass and Bb bass tuba!
Tonight’s concert will be conducted by Ronald Waiksnoris, who ranks among the very best conductors and musicians in the worldwide brass band scene. His achievements include serving as the musical director of the Salvation Army’s New York Staff Band and as music secretary for the Salvation Army. He also achieved international acclaim as a cornet soloist who has performed in such world-renowned venues as London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Waiksnoris, who marks the completion of his first year as the conductor of the Imperial Brass with tonight’s concert, tells us, “I’ve enjoyed my first year,” adding, “This group loves to play — they’ll try anything!
The Imperial Brass and Waiksnoris open tonight’s performance at The Great Auditorium with “Midwest March,” a rousing piece which engages the audience, the band’s big brassy sound making the crowd want to march along!
The principal cornetist for the Imperial Brass is Mitch Brodskey, from Matawan. Although his day gig involves working with technology, Brodskey is a trained musician who enjoys performing with this talented group of performers whom he describes as “volunteer teachers, professional musicians, and non-professionals from all walks of life.”
One of tonight’s special guests is Philip Smith, a former principal trumpet player of the New York Philharmonic. A graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, Smith has performed with such world-renowned conductors as Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Leonard Bernstein, and Lorin Maazel. Repertoire highlights of Smith’s career include the world premiere of New Jersey composer Joseph Turrin’s “Trumpet Concerto.”
For the second number of tonight’s concert, Smith and Brodsky perform a duet on “Deliverance” by Philip B. Catelinet.
The duo impresses the audience with their brilliant tone and technical expertise on this delightful number, their horns fluttering faster and faster before ending with a flourish!
Next up is “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind, especially arranged for the Imperial Brass by founder and current group member Mark Freeh.
The tune’s pretty melody evokes memories of the classic film of yesteryear, conjuring up vivid images in the mind’s eye of Tara, the fictional Southern plantation featured in the Hollywood film.
A second special guest tonight is jazz cornetist Warren Vaché who guest solos on the Imperial Brass band’s next piece, “Afternoon in August.” The soothing melody of this summery tune floats high above the auditorium as Mr. Vaché’s solo rises and falls on this jazzy number.
Says Vaché about performing with the Imperial Brass, “I’m a jazz guy, so this type of music isn’t exactly my genre, but I really enjoy playing with the group because they are truly a wonderful bunch of people.”
Next up is “Hymn from Civil War Suite,” arranged by Mark Freeh and written by New Jersey composer Joseph Turrin, who is seated in the audience tonight. This beautiful piece features muted sounds which create contrast — peaceful at times, but building in intensity and dynamics — yet still invoking a contemplative mood.
Says Turrin, who had the world premiere of his “Trumpet Concerto” performed by Philip Smith, and who has even written several Hollywood film scores including A New Life with Alan Alda, Weeds with Nick Nolte, and Tough Guys Don’t Dance with Ryan O’Neil, “I’ve had my music played all over, and it’s always a pleasure to hear these pieces performed live.”
“Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is an all-time favorite which is beautifully played by the band. Featuring a trombone solo by Robert Tiedemann, the soft sweet melody echoes throughout the auditorium as brass harmony and percussion support the sound.
To conclude Act I, the Imperial Brass performs “Southland Memories,” a piece which features several well-known songs by Stephen Foster including “Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” and “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River).” Before conducting this medley, Waiksnoris jokes with the crowd announcing, “If you want to sing along… just control yourself!”
Following a short intermission, Act II opens with another piece by Joseph Turrin, “Eternal Song,” which features the Imperial Brass band’s cornet section.
Next up is Leroy Anderson’s waltz, “Belle of the Ball” which is followed by “When You’re Smiling,” featuring Warren Vaché on cornet and vocals. Both pieces were arranged by Mark Freeh. Hailing from Belleville, Freeh is not only one of the founders of the Imperial Brass, but also a bass trombonist in the band.
The group’s repertoire consists of many of his custom arrangements. Originally done “by hand,” using a pencil on score paper, Freeh says he now arranges music using the Sibelius computer program.
“You learn by doing,” says Freeh, who tells us that some of his all-time favorite arrangements include the spiritual “Deep River,” Ernesto Lecuona’s “Malagueña,” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” which the band performs every year for the holidays.
A third composition by Joseph Turrin, entitled “Landmarks,” is up next. The piece’s first movement, “Central Park Afternoon,” features melodic scales followed by dissonance which is beautifully resolved. The second movement is called “Skyscrapers,” the low brass rumbling and moving skyward, building in tempo and intensity, lifting the audience upward in a crescendo towards the powerful coda.
Following avid applause, Philip Smith makes his way back onto the stage to perform “Scherzando,” a piece which opens with his cornet expertly trilling and tripping around the melody as the rest of the brass accompanies him.
“It’s a treat to be ‘live’ on The Pilgrim Pathway,” says Smith to the audience, referring to the street address of Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium.
“We love spending our summers here in the sea air,” continues Smith, “breathing in the atmosphere that happens right here in Ocean Grove.”
Segueing into the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” the audience softly sings along to this classic piece, cheering and applauding at its conclusion.
The Imperial Brass’ final number of the evening is “Songs from the States” by Bruce Broughton. Featuring such classic tunes as “Blue Tail Fly (Jimmy Crack Corn),” “Erie Canal,” and “Bound for the Promised Land,” the sound of percussion punctuates the brassy American story told by the band.
At the conclusion, the audience stands in appreciation for these dedicated and talented musicians.
For an encore, the Imperial Brass plays a jazzy upbeat version of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” for which they receive a second standing ovation, followed by a bow by conductor Ronald Waiksnoris and company.
After the concert, we talk to several members of the audience who share their thoughts regarding tonight’s performance with us.
First, we chat with Sam from Scotch Plains who exclaims, “The Imperial Brass is amazing — the concert was wonderful, and it ended on just the right note!”
Janet from Toms River comments on the unique sound of this brass ensemble when she says, “I love all kinds of music and I say, ‘Who needs violins all the time?,” also going on to add, “The sound in this room is phenomenal!”
Janet’s sister, Charlotte from Williamsport, PA, states, “It was so uplifting! It opens your heart!” going on to note, “And Warren Vaché was wonderful!”
Gerry from Ocean Grove comments, “Philip Smith is an amazing talent — and it was especially great to hear him play here inside the Great Auditorium.”
Referring to the historic ice cream shop on Pitman St. just outside the Great Auditorum, Mike from Ocean exclaims, “Imperial Brass and Days Ice Cream — perfect together!”
Lastly, Kathy from Scotch Plains tells us, “We’ve heard the Imperial Brass many times. It was nice to hear them play for such a large audience. They’re a phenomenal and talented group of people,” before concluding, “They’re one of the best kept secrets in NJ!”
To learn more about the Imperial Brass, please go to imperialbrass.org. For more information on upcoming performances at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium— including pianist Gleb Ibanov on July 20, guitarist Chaconne Klaverenga on July 27, and Orchestral Legends and Romance! on August 3 — please go to oceangrove.org/summer-stars.Photos by Love Imagery
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