Brass quintets have been the standard for more than 100 years. But the British brass ensemble Septura, which will perform Sunday at Union College as part of the Capital Region Classical series, aims to change all that.
“It’s a new version but it’s the same as the brass section in an orchestra: three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba,” said trumpeter Simon Cox, the founder of the group.
Trained at two of London’s music conservatories, Cox spent three years as associate principal trumpet with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra all the while dreaming about performing more brass chamber music and perhaps running his own group.
“I’ve always loved the choir-like sound of the orchestra brass section,” he said. “I much prefer that sound to a quintet. That’s when I got the idea of a seven-piece ensemble.”
But there was no brass septet music that he knew of. So, he did some research on what might be out there and finally decided to return to school at the Royal Academy of Music and got his PhD in brass arranging and composing. The next step was to find the players.
“I already knew most of them from school and youth orchestras,” Cox said. “It was clear what the initial lineup would be. Now nine years later we have eleven on the books as a squad to do tours.”
All the musicians are either freelance or are principal players in such orchestras as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, and the Aurora Orchestra.
For this concert, which is part of the group’s fourth U.S. tour and has taken them to Oregon, Utah, Missouri, Texas and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, the roster is: Cox, Aaron Akugbo and James Fountain, trumpets; Matthew Gee and Matthew Knight, trombones; Daniel West, bass trombone; Sasha Koushk-Jalali, tuba.
Cox and Knight both now do the arranging for the group. On Sunday, Septura will perform Prokofiev’s Suite from “Ten Pieces of Twelve,” which was originally a piano piece; Shostakovich’s String Quartet #8; and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
“Prokofiev has a distinctive voice. What was hard to do was to create the sustained pedal effect,” Cox said. “But overall there were fewer notes to fit in. The Shostakovich was the first substantial piece of music that we’d arranged. And the ‘Pictures’ follows our rule to have as much of the original orchestra brass parts — as if the composer wrote the piece for brass septet. That will be more a chamber-like piece.”
Their arranging skills grew when the group got a contract with Naxos Records to do 10 discs, each one with a focus on a period of music, such as Baroque, 20th century, or Romantic.
“We were lucky to get that contract,” Cox said. “It really helped to build our repertoire.”
To date, they’ve released six CDs all to great praise. They were also lucky early on in the group’s career to get a few grants, some trusts, donations and have successful fundraisers that went to sponsor tours and commission new works.
“We have a plan in place for the future: to do more recordings and build a catalogue with at least one disc of all female composers,” Cox said.
And what about a female brass player?
“We hope to have a female brass player,” he said with a laugh. “While the landscape is changing, it is not quickly enough.”
As for rehearsing, that is done on a project basis because their regular orchestral schedules are frequently too full to schedule one, Cox said. So the group often rehearses on tour by arriving sometimes a day before the concert. Their tours, which are generally two to three weeks, have taken them throughout Europe and to many festivals.
Septura also performs in schools, usually at the high school level, in hopes to inspire more kids to take up brass instruments. Currently, they are ensemble-in- residence at the Royal Academy of Music.
“We believe in what we do,” Cox said. “It’s a uniquely expressive ensemble.”
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26
WHERE: Union College Memorial Chapel
HOW MUCH: $35
MORE INFO: 518 941-4331; www.capitalregionclassical.org