Red Priest


Eastern Virginia Brass at VWC
Hofheimer Theater, November 3, 2014
Review by John Campbell

In a diverse program that spanned the history of concert brass music, the Eastern Virginia Brass Quintet presented a most entertaining concert. The variety kept our interest and the ensemble's newest member, David Newcomb on bass trombone, added a dimension of depth to the overall sound.

The other members are Marlene Ford, horn; Robert Ford, trombone; Wendell Banyay and Lawrence Clemens, trumpets. The ensemble opened with Scherzo by John Cheetham (b.1939) a fun piece—bright, busy and rhythmically engaging. After Cheetham’s Scherzo Mr. Newcombe spoke, telling us that the composer’s son showed-up in the Army band where he plays and he learned that the composer had been at the University of Missouri for many years.

A piece by another contemporary American composer, Eric Ewazen (b. 1954) followed. His Grand Valley Fanfare continues the long tradition of brass playing loud, flourishing fanfares. In contrast to the opening piece, this music seemed, less fun, more serious and urgent.

Looking back into history to early concert brass music, they played Quintet (c.1890) by Russian composer Victor Ewald (1860-1935) with three movements. Lyrical is not a term I associate with brass but the second movement, Adagio non troppo, was lyrical. As the sound swells prettily this gives way to staccato notes for all the players. In the moderato, first movement, the theme passed from one player to the next. In the final movement there was a sound like choral singing that gave way to an exuberant conclusion.

Four pieces commemorating the civil war were introduced by trumpeter Lawrence Clemens. Hail Columbia, Rainbow Schottische and Ellen Bayne Quickstep were by G.W.E. Friederich (1821-1885). Friedrich’s music was published in 1853 and was still in the publisher’s catalogue through the 1890s. Tucked into the set was a fourth piece, Call, by contemporary British composer Liz Lane (b. 1964). It was introduced by Marlene Ford who had commissioned a piece for horn from Lane in 2009, via email. Using an elaborate book of military calls that regulated the companies’ activities, Lane built a concert piece for trio. The Fords and Wendell Banyay played the piece, written in 2013. It was a lively kaleidoscope of calls, at one point the players walked away in three directions as solos, calls and responses and trios filled the hall. Ms. Ford told us that Liz Lane will come to ODU in the spring of 2015.

Canadian composer Howard Cable (b.1920) has been involved with the Canadian Brass for 20 plus years. From his study of Canadian folk songs he has written three pieces including A Newfoundland Sketch (1978), played by the quintet featuring solo passages in a variety of combinations of instruments creating inviting musical colors from folk tunes. Overall, it was brief but exciting.

The concluding three pieces included Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, the American standard by Duke Ellington (1899-1974), one of his 6000 songs. The arrangement for brass captured its jazzy mood in an array of instrumental colors. The Alex Wilder (1907-1980) Suite for Brass Quintet has six movements. We heard movement VI, Finale, an edgy, 1950s composition both adventurous and at times with harmonious melody and an abrupt, quirky ending. The evening ended with Canzona Bergamasca (1606) by Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) (arr. De Jong), an early baroque composer. The light, bright, fleet music with its oft-repeated opening three notes was infectious.

Marlene Ford spoke of the closeness of the quintet with Virginia Wesleyan College over the years. The ensemble often rehearses there.

Putting Red Priest in Context
Hofheimer Theater, Virginia Wesleyan College
November 13, 2014
Comments by John Campbell

This was not a recital of Baroque music but rather a totally encompassing evening of theater with a soundtrack of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and some lesser-known luminaries of 1600-1750. The stunningly virtuosic playing—in both senses of the word “playing”—was by Piers Adams on a variety of recorders, David Greenberg on violins, Angela East, cello and David Wright, harpsichord.

The group, founded seventeen years ago (1997) and named after the flame-haired priest, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) is the only early music group in the world to have been compared to the Rolling Stones, Jackson Pollock and Cirque de Soleil. Their reputation is that of a “completely wild and deeply imaginative” ensemble having a “break-all-rules, rock-chamber concert approach to early music.”

VWC Concert Series Artistic Director Sandi Billy's stated goal is to give every class the experience of Red Priest. We saw them there in 2003 and 2008. By mixing Baroque scholarship with show-business they offer newcomers an open welcome to this repertory and a breath of fresh air to the long-time aficionado of the Baroque period. The more you know of Baroque music the greater will be your appreciation of their sparkling, magnificent humor.

Red Priest
Hofheimer Theater, Virginia Wesleyan College
November 13, 2014
Review by M.D. Ridge

I’m always surprised when people don’t know about Red Priest or think it’s a rock group or Satanic worship or something. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Red Priest is an unusual early music group, founded in 1997 and named for Antonio Vivaldi, who was called the Red Priest because of the color of his hair—a family trait. The quartet performed at Virginia Wesleyan’s Hofheimer Theater November 13 to a standing-room-only crowd.

They’re not only dazzlingly good, they have fun with the music. The leader of this madness is Piers Adams, probably the best recorder virtuoso in the world. Mind you, this is order-of-magnitude different from anyone you’ve ever heard tootling away on a recorder. Not only can he play at incredible speed, he can play two recorders simultaneously— and play them well. It’s a stunt, of course, but it does tend to focus one’s attention. During the performance, Adams had a stash of recorders underneath the harpsichord, ranging from a long, thick, bent bass recorder to tiny sopranino instruments. He’d stoop to lay one down swiftly and pick up another, without missing a beat.

(Students who came to please their girlfriends and thought they could doze—nuh-uh. The young man next to me exclaimed, “I’ve never heard anything like this is my life!”)

The other members of the quartet are just as skilled. David Greenberg is the regular U.S. guest violinist, and has brought to the group not only brilliant baroque violin performance but a grounding in Scottish-baroque folk music and Cape Breton fiddle music. The cellist is Angela East, a powerful player whose mastery of baroque style is evident— as is her sense of humor, when she walks around with the cello slung from her shoulder, strumming it—like a guitar. David Wright is the fine harpsichordist; he joined Red Priest nearly four years ago— “since which time his life has started to unravel,” the program noted.

The program began with a Bach Prelude, then two sonatas in Stile Moderno by Cima and Castello, composers of the very early baroque, which Adams—who looks a little like Rod Stewart— described as an “operatic style of instrumental music.”

Handel’s Recorder Sonata in B Minor began slowly, becoming very fast, sprightly, highly ornamented—and displaying incredible virtuosity, with brilliant trills, first by the recorder and then by the harpsichord.

For Vivaldi’s “Autumn,” from the well-known Four Seasons, the group paid attention to the composer’s own instructions about drunkards falling asleep. So, of course, as they played, David Wright seemed to be nodding over his harpsichord, slumping over to hit a note with his forehead, while Adams lay supine on the floor (and played like that); East and Greenberg joined in—all much fun, but the important thing is that the music making itself was sublime.

After the break, the Four Seasons’ “Winter” had Adams playing soprano and bass recorders simultaneously; he knelt, lay on his back—and East poked him with her bow.

In the prelude to a Bach suite, East’s cello was rich and warm, with a deeply vocal quality. Greenberg’s violin struck up two hornpipes and a reel together with the harpsichord—you could have gotten a dandy case of shin splints from irresistible toe tapping.

“A Suite of Grounds” explored the music of Henry Purcell, Maurizio Cazzati and Diego Ortiz. Adams walked around in an ever-narrowing circle. The cello played a four-note ground over which violin and recorder sang and danced; then the harpsichord took up a two-beat ground. Tasty stuff!

The final work was Bach’s masterwork, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, adapted for those instruments—and no less awesome for that. All one could do was groove on the group’s jaw-dropping musicianship, before the audience erupted into a long, long, standing ovation.

This review was originally broadcast on WHRO 90.3 FM’s “From the other side of the Footlights.”

Printer-friendly format

Back to Review Index

Back to Top

 Calendar  Announcements  Issues  Reviews  Articles  Contact Us