Chamber Music Corner
Mike Forbes, Associate Editor
New Mexico Brass Quintet
For this third installment of the Chamber Music Corner where I am focusing my attention on the great faculty brass quintets of the United States, I turn to an ensemble that is quite unlike any other faculty quintet in that its tuba player is always a rotating, two-year graduate assistant. The New Mexico Brass Quintet has had a number of fabulous young tubists perform with the quintet over the years, but I decided to speak to a mainstay member, Karl Hinterbichler, the trombonist about the group. Our conversation is documented below. I urge you to read all about this fascinating quintet and be prepared for the very unfortunate news at the end of the article.
When/how did the New Mexico Brass Quintet (NMBQ) form? Who are the current members?
The NMBQ was formed in 1977 when Jeff Piper was hired as trumpet Professor. I had been on the faculty since 1973. That year we also hired a new part-time horn instructor, Herb Winslow. Herb is now a member of the Minnesota Orchestra. At that time we also got the administration to agree to create two graduate assistantships (second trumpet and tuba) to fill out this ensemble. Paul Carlson, who holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, is the current tuba player.
Your ensemble is especially unique in terms of faculty brass quintets because you have not one but two graduate assistants filling positions. The readership of this Journal would be particularly interested in finding out what the tuba assistantship entails. Also, what are some of the challenges and benefits of having graduate students versus permanent faculty members in this group?
The tuba assistantship has been a very important part of the NMBQ since its inception. We have been very fortunate in attracting some superb players to be part of the ensemble. Some former tuba members have been:
Phil Black – currently Professor of Tuba at Wichita State and tubist in the Wichita Symphony
David Porter – recently retired from the U.S. Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. and a contributing associate editor for the ITEA Journal
John Olah – Professor of Tuba at the University of Miami
Cameron Gates – principal tuba in the Marine Band in Washington, D.C.
Chris Hall – Metropolitan Opera principal tubist
Steve Rossé – Sydney Symphony principal tubist
Jon Voth – U.S. Army Band, Army Brass Quintet
Paul Beauchesne – Foothills Brass Quintet, Victoria Symphony (Canada)
Brian Dobbins – Professor, University of Oklahoma
Scott Beaver – West Point Band
The benefits of having two graduate students have been to constantly get fresh blood into the ensemble. Over the years, they have come from all corners of the U.S. and Canada and have brought their own ideas about music making, repertoire, and ensemble playing with them. This has always kept things fresh and interesting. It also challenges the ensemble to keep rehearsing and learning new repertoire.
Some of the challenges [involved in regularly rotating players] were incorporating new students into the small ensemble culture. Except for the most very fine players, most came to UNM with inadequate experience in this type of playing.
What are some important elements of the history of the group, such as recordings, tours and other special performances, etc.?
The NMBQ has established an international reputation as one of the finest ensembles of its kind. Its first European tour in 1980 took the NMBQ to Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. In the summer of 1989, the NMBQ toured in Europe again, with appearances in Italy and Germany. The quintet also appeared as a featured ensemble at the Philip Jones International Brass Festival in Barcs, Hungary. This prestigious festival/camp and competition attracted brass players, composers, and media from all over the world. In the summer of 1990, the quintet toured in Finland and the USSR and was featured at the International Lieksa Brass Week. Brass players from 12 different countries were in attendance for this annual event. The NMBQ gave a concert for the Joroinen Music Days in Finland and then traveled to Russia and participated in the Kostamus Festival, performing four different concerts. In addition to European appearances, the NMBQ has performed extensively throughout the United States and Mexico, and in the summer of 1992, toured in Australia giving concerts, master classes, and clinics. In the fall of 1996 the New Mexico Brass Quintet toured in the People’s Republic of China with concerts, clinics, and broadcast appearances. In the fall of 2005 the quintet was invited to return to China with concerts in Beijing.
The New Mexico Brass Quintet has also presented numerous concerts and clinics for various national and international conventions, including the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, the Manhattan Brass Symposium in New York, the Music Educators National Conference in Colorado and California, the International Trumpet Guild Conference, the Orff-Kodaly National Convention, the Music Teacher’s National Association Convention, and the College Music Society National Convention. The NMBQ has been featured on many radio and television broadcasts in the U.S., Mexico, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Finland, Russia, Australia, and China and has released four commercial recordings. The first two recordings are available from Crystal (CD 560 and CD 563). The third is a joint project with the Swiss publisher BIM and is also available from the New Mexico Brass Quintet. The fourth will be available in January 2008.
What makes your group different from other faculty brass quintets? What were some indications that this group had something special that would transcend other faculty chamber groups?
Other than its reliance on graduate students, dedication to new music and an intensive rehearsal schedule. Normally the quintet rehearsed three times per week for two hours at a time. Those rehearsals were very important from the teaching perspective as well as preparing for performances. The quintet always had a dual purpose, helping the graduate students become better musicians and putting out a great musical product. We also spent a great deal of time mentoring these students, helping them secure professional positions.
What is the vision and musical mission of the quintet?
The NMBQ has been in the forefront in commissioning new music, having premiered more than fifty such works by composers from the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Australia, Finland, Hong Kong, and China. The National Endowment for the Arts acknowledged the quintet’s leadership in this area by awarding it a $20,000 CONSORTIUM GRANT to commission three major American composers. The quintet also had its own publication series with the leading German publisher, Mark Tezak Verlag, publishing a number of the quintet’s arrangements as well as commissioned works.
I had a chance to ask Jon Voth, former student tubist in the NMBQ and currently the tubist in the U.S Army Brass Quintet what his experience was like in New Mexico. I also asked him what advice he might give to other young players looking to make a career in chamber music.
My advice for anyone aspiring to make a living as a tubist in a chamber music ensemble is to know exactly who is out there and what they are doing. Follow the small brass ensembles working today and their repertoire. Know what they do to make a living, and what their typical schedule would be. Most of us going through school would be happy working for an orchestra, military band, or perhaps teaching, and may not fully consider or even be aware of vacancies in chamber ensembles, so it pays to be in the know. Also try to be bold: form your own group. Learn by example from other professionals, but also be different. I love to see tuba players performing in groups like The Jazz Incredibles, Dirty Dozen, Bad Livers, and Sotto Voce.
My time with the New Mexico Brass Quintet prepared me for my current position in the U.S. Army Brass Quintet by sheer experience. The NMBQ rehearsed six hours a week whether we needed it or not. We performed hundreds of concerts throughout the region, gave recitals regularly, and even did a two-week tour of China. Our repertoire consisted of some of the most original, musical, and interesting pieces I’ll ever play. As a member of a brass quintet, you’re obligated to play a greater role in the music, and pay much more attention to your surroundings than in a large ensemble—you’re one-fifth of what’s going on. There’s no better preparation for an audition than performing in the same type of group, and I would have had no business auditioning for the Army Brass Quintet without my experience in the NMBQ.
Finally, I wanted to ask Karl what were some of the future goals of the quintet, both long and short term? (I was shocked by his answer, as I am sure that you will be as well).
Unfortunately the Chair of the Music Department at UNM has cut support for the NMBQ; both of our graduate assistantships have been eliminated starting next fall. The decision was made without warning and input from the brass faculty. In fact we had auditioned a very fine tuba player for next year, and he accepted the position. A day later the position was cut. So we must sadly report that after 30 productive years, we no longer exist.
This author invites the readership of the Journal to take whatever action you deem appropriate in regard to the dissolution of one of the finest, most active, and well-revered faculty brass quintets of all time. This is truly the unfortunate end of an era.
For additional information on the New Mexico Brass Quintet, please visit their website at http://music.unm.edu/ensembles/fac_dept_ensembles/nm_brass_quintet.htm, where you’ll also find some mp3s for listening.
Karl Hinterbichler (firstname.lastname@example.org ) is recognized as one of the leading low brass pedagogues in the nation. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of North Texas. Additional studies were with Edward Kleinhammer retired bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony, Dennis Smith, former principal trombonist of the Detroit Symphomy and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, at the Darmstadt Summer Institute for New Music in Germany, and the Arnold Jacobs Masterclass at Northwestern University.
He has performed on tenor trombone, brass trombone, tenor tuba, and bass trumpet with numerous professional organizations, including the National Repertoire Orchestra, Florida Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Santa Fe Opera, Flint Symphony, and for fifteen seasons as Principal Trombone with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. He currently performs as Principal Trombone with Opera Southwest and with the New Mexico Brass Quintet .
Active as a writer and arranger, Dr. Hinterbichler has had numerous arrangements, articles, and editions published both in the U.S. and in Europe. He is also an assistant editor and regular columnist for the International Trombone Association Journal and has given lectures, lessons, and master classes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Finland, Australia, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China.
At UNM, Dr. Hinterbichler teaches graduate applied music, music history, and chamber music.
As a result of a grant by the Hewlett Packard Corporation, he was recently selected to team-teach an experimental course for undergraduates combining the disciplines of music, linguistics, and writing. He has also served on the faculty for a National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar on Russian culture and the opera Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky.