American Brass Quintet launches new brass chamber music program at Aspen Music Festival and School |

American Brass Quintet launches new brass chamber music program at Aspen Music Festival and School

American Brass Quintet
Courtesy photo

Suddenly Aspen is a hotbed for elite young brass musicians and a breeding ground for the next generation of brass players in both the jazz and classical fields.

Along with the relaunched JAS Academy running its intensive program for big band players this month, earlier this summer the Aspen Music Festival and School hosted the inaugural American Brass Quintet Seminar @Aspen.

The four-week program hosted four brass groups to study with members of the iconic American Brass Quintet, which has been on faculty and in residence at the Aspen Music Fest since 1970. It was founded in 1960 and has rotated members since then while holding its place as the premier brass quintet in the nation.

“Over the years, ABQ has looked for something like a seminar — we’ve wanted to start something,” said John Rojak, bass trombone player in the American Brass Quintet since 1991.

So the group was pleasantly surprised last year when the administration at the Aspen Music Fest suggested they launch a specialized chamber music program aimed specifically at brass quintets.

“I said, ‘What? We’ve been talking about doing this here fore 15 years!’” Rojak recalled. “Having it fall in our laps was just incredible.”

Applications poured in. Rojak and his bandmates selected four groups for the inaugural summer program: Avery Brass Quintet, The Brass Project, Bulldog Brass Society, and Wayward Brass Quintet.

The ABQ members provided coaching, open rehearsals, workshops, private lessons and classes on topics like how to speak to an audience and how to market yourself at the outset of a professional career. They also integrated them with the other brass students at the festival and the larger student body, encouraging them to attend concerts in the Benedict Music Tent. The groups played regularly at six venues throughout Aspen and Basalt, including gigs at the Pitkin County Library and Paepcke Auditorium. And, of course, the young students bonded.

“We didn’t realize how these groups would get along and spur each other on to excellence,” Rojak said.“It was an ideal musician’s experience in that the groups played music, each group collaborated, they all had interaction with us and hung out and had some stories and laughs.”

At the American Brass Quintet’s annual recital at Harris Concert Hall last month, they brought all four groups onstage, totaling 26 players for Giovanni Gabrieli’s “Canzon XVI à 12.”

“It was a blowout,” Rojak said.

With the imprimatur of the American Brass Quintet, and personal instructions from its members, the Seminar @Aspen became the premier brass chamber music program in the U.S. as soon as it was announced. After seeing it through its inaugural season, Rojak thinks it lived up to the hype.

“We were hoping it would be good,” he said, “but I think it exceeded expectations.”

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