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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Seraph Brass QuintetArtists Series Concerts of Sarasota
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of All Shook Up and Every Christmas Story Ever Told

Seraph Brass Quintet
Photo Courtesy of Artists Series Concerts of Sarasota
'Tis the season for concerts featuring holiday music, and what grouping speaks more to outdoor caroling than a brass ensemble? Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota recently presented the Seraph Brass Quintet as a holiday gift at the Historic Asolo Theatre.

Women are still under-represented in orchestras across the land, and even more so in the brass choirs, so Seraph Brass Quintet, consisting of five skilled players, all women, goes against these patterns. All have impressive bios, several holding important teaching positions at large university music programs. The players are Mary Elizabeth Bowden on various trumpets and flugelhorn, Raquel Rodriguez on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rachel Velvikis on French horn, Hana Beloglavec playing trombone, and Samantha Lake on tuba. There is a scene in The Music Man, playing across the parking lot from theatre, in which Harold Hill convinces Mrs. Paroo to sign Winthrop up for the band because of his finger position, telling her he might be able to "flugel the minute waltz in 50 seconds." Despite a life lived in and around music, I think this concert may be the first time I've seen a flugelhorn.

The concert opened with Grieg's Holberg Suite, written for piano, beloved by intermediate students. Hearing it arranged for brass ensemble by Jeff Luke is like hearing it for the first time. Next came the "Winter" movement from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," arranged by James Stephenson, who shares a close relationship with Seraph Brass Quintet, arranging most of their music. "Wassail Wassail, All Over the Tuba" by Stephenson gave Samantha Lake a front and center moment, a chance to demonstrate both her skills and the instrument's possibilities. The first half closed with 4 Dances from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky and arranged again by Mr. Stephenson.

After a brief intermission, the holiday music was out in full force. First "Bells of Christmas," followed by "Deck the Horn," both by James Stephenson. Next, four carols, arranged for brass by Richard Price: "The First Nowell," "Rejoice and Be Merry," "Coventry Carol," and "Joy to the World." A certain member of the deer family, beloved of Santa Clause with a glowing proboscis, made an appearance at this point, followed by an arrangement of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody, No. 2" by Jeff Luke which made the thing sound like it should be the soundtrack to a Warner Bros cartoon, but which showed nimble playing by all. For an encore, Seraph Brass took the audience members on a "Sleigh Ride," courtesy of Leroy Anderson.

A fine time was had by all. The ladies of Seraph Brass Quintet play with skills well beyond many brass sections in professional orchestras I have heard.

John Fisher, Managing Director of Artists Series Concerts will be stepping down at the end of the season. I wish him happiness in whatever his future endeavors might be. He will be missed.

Don't forget to check Artist Series Concerts' website for information about future concerts. On January 12 and 13, 2019, a program entitled Who Stole the Mona Lisa? offers some fiendishly difficult piano music, including Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, surrounding a particular favorite of my childhood, Frances Poulenc's Babar le petit éléphant.

Seraph Brass Quintet, December 15-16, 2018, by Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota at the Historic Asolo Theater, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota FL. Box Office 941-306-1201. For more information, please visit