Anyone who follows the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra knows the brass section sounds bolder, cleaner and more cohesive since Christopher Warren-Green took over as music director in 2010. Auditions have been held for 12 full-time positions (out of 62 in the orchestra) during his tenure, and six have been for brass players.
“The goal with our brass section is to have a noble sound, a creamy sound. I’d describe it as clotted cream,” he says. “What we can do better than many orchestras is to give music a European sheen while still having an American dazzle.
“This orchestra can play Bernstein or a James Bond film score, and John Parker or Rich Harris can scream top notes the way a jazz trumpeter can. But one of the most important things with any orchestra is not how loud it can play but how quietly. It’s not easy to play very quietly, and they do that, too.”
Principal trumpet Parker came during Warren-Green’s tenure. So did second trumpet Tristan Clarke, principal tuba Aubrey Foard, principal bass trombone Scott Hartman, second horn Byron Johns and assistant/utility horn Andrew Fierova. At the same time, Harris (who was already here) moved up to associate principal trumpet in an audition, and Joseph Peterson came aboard as acting second trombone on a short-term contract.
The CSO has made key hires elsewhere. Three of the five string principals – second violinist Oliver Kot, violist Benjamin Geller and double-bassist Kurt Riecken – are relatively new. “Every section in that orchestra is even (in quality) now,” says Warren-Green.
Yet because the brass players number just 13 in total, the impact of change seems greatest there when you listen from the middle of Belk Theater.
“The brass played ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ outside the Belk before (the season preview concert) Symphony on Tap,” Warren-Green says. “A lot of young kids who came had never been to the symphony before, and they were buzzing about it.
“The brass section is shining at the moment, and that’s reflected all over the orchestra. They’ve raised the game for the rest of the musicians.”