Dawn Mussellam

Dawn Mussellam

Classical Notes: OSO brass reels in music to suit the season

Review: Fish on Five Brass Quintet, soprano and Okanagan Symphony present an eclectic mix of little-known and well-known Christmas music.

Six years ago, when five members of the Okanagan Symphony brass section shared their legendary fishing trip, they played music in a deserted cove at Bella Bella.

Thus it was that the Fish On Five Quintet was born, and this month OSO conductor and music director Rosemary Thomson featured them in the annual Christmas concert.

That crew – of the good ship Jump for Joy – was captained by Reynold Epp, with first mate Dennis Colpitts, bosun Jim Howie, deckhand Edmund House, and chef Wade Dorsey. All have rich musical histories, all play for OSO, and all five performed in the Winter Olympics concert at Silver Star.

Howie (trumpet) has played in brass groups since high school, and now works in music for the North Okanagan-Shuswap school district.  He plays with the Okanagan Festival Singers, the Michael Garding Big Band, and Kamloops Symphony.

Colpitts (trumpet) majored in trumpet, voice, and conducting at UBC. He performs with Vancouver Cantata Singers, the Phoenix Chamber Choir, Coils of Gold Horn Quartet, and the Michael Garding Big Band. He’s co-conductor of Okanagan Youth Symphony, and guest conductor with the OSO.

House (French horn) began with the Winnipeg Symphony, then principal horn with Okanagan and Kamloops symphonies for 25 years.

He was a Fulbright scholar in Munich, and played for the Vancouver and Victoria Symphonies. About boating, he says:  “Musicians are the best comrades one could ask for. We work as a team, whether salmon fishing or performing in concert.”

Dorsey (trombone),  starting at 13, earned annual scholarships at summer music school, and by the early 1980s was in the Edmonton Wind Sinfonia. Although offered more scholarships, he preferred the local music scene, playing with Tommy Banks and other guest artists, also studio, radio, and TV work. He’s played in more than 20 countries, and with the OSO for 20 years.

Epp (tuba) took up tuba in 1967 at school in Prince Rupert. And despite 25 years in business, his passion was music, recognizing that learning tuba is a lifelong endeavour.

As well as principal tuba with OSO and Kelowna City Concert Band, he’s also played with the Kamloops Symphony, and is currently working with Peder MacClelan, principal tuba of Vancouver Symphony.

At this month’s concert the quintet played two stand-alone pieces: Wassail Song, and Good King Wenceslas, both beautifully blending the five instruments, and with startling clarity.

With the orchestra they played Christmas Morning. Starting with a beautifully ethereal sound, the brass’s entry suggested the sun’s rising out of the early mist. All three pieces were composed or arranged by Matthew Naughtin, commissioned at the suggestion of Shari House when the Ogopogo Brass quintet shared the stage with the OSO in 1988.

Bach’s Cantata No. 51 featured OSO principal trumpeter Audrey Patterson on the tiny piccolo trumpet, along with internationally acclaimed soprano Dawn Mussellam (a Kelowna resident who last sang for OSO in 2013 for Last Night of the Proms). The two voices were wonderfully well matched, giving a bright clear sound.

Mussellam (another with an illustrious background) also sang pieces by Hindemith and Handel, as well as more familiar carols.

As with any good Christmas, this was a family-style occasion. And there were two unexpected brass players who’d dropped in:  OSO stage manager Tim Watson (trumpet) and previous OSO executive director Scott Wilson (French horn). Also unexpected was an accomplished and lively arrangement of Jingle Bells by Okanagan Youth Symphony member James Cleveland, attending after a performance in California.

More family fun came with Christmas Toons, a medley arranged by Anthony di Lorenzo.  The Grinch, Rudolph, Santa, Frosty, they were all there! And for this, the brass instruments were now bedecked with Christmas lights.

This concert truly had something for everyone – an eclectic mix of little-known and well-known Christmas music, and the carolers could sing along with the orchestra.

Jim Elderton is a local filmmaker and freelance writer who reviews the Okanagan Symphony season for The Morning Star.