A collection of stars

The Fountain City Brass Band, one of Kansas City’s brightest musical ambassadors, brought their award-winning 2017–18 season to an end Saturday Night with “Across the Stars” at the Bell Cultural Events Center.

Many groups in Kansas City deserve more local accolade… but perhaps none more than the Fountain City Brass Band. This ensemble, formed in 2002, has won eight U.S. Open Brass Band Championships, and seven North American Brass Band Championships, including the 2018 Championship last month. In addition, in November 2009 they became the first American Brass Band to ever win a major brass band competition on UK soil at the Scottish Open Brass Band Championships. They have a youth division who continually place at competition as well. As guest conductor Ronald Stinson said, this is an ensemble that should be packing the halls each and every time they perform in Kansas City.

The programming of this concert, “Across the Stars,” was excellent, and well thought-out by Artistic Director Lee Harrelson. A fun end to the season that highlights star players within the ensemble, and a journey into, around, and beyond the stars in the sky. Familiar tunes such as Holst’s “Mars” and the flying theme from E.T. were paired with luscious ballads and rollicking pop sounds. Starting with cornets to the left and right of the Bell Center stage for Ad Astra, a well-known fanfare style work introduced audience members to one of the most spectacular attributes of this ensemble— their ability to sound as one. This sound, partnered with incredible dynamics and artistically and emotionally charged swells of sound, washed over audience ears throughout the afternoon’s concert.

Eric Ball’s Resurgam had stirring solo work by lead cornetist Chris Larios, a member of the President’s Own Marine Band. Also featured was a haunting euphonium solo by artistic director Lee Harrelson, before the low brass broke into a quote of the “Dies Irae” melody. Ball also penned a fun march, March: Star Lake, written just hours before its performance at the Star Lake Music Camp. One of the “star” performers spotlighted this concert was flugelhorn player Dr. Jennifer Oliverio, who recently completed her DMA from the UMKC Conservatory. Her full, rich, moving sound was featured on the Philip Harper ballad A Little Star Went Out, and again on the second half, along with baritone player Helen Harrelson on Peter Meechan’s Starlight, which had a fun, pop feel underneath the pair’s lyrical playing of the simple melody line.

The first half closed with Holst’s “Mars” from his The Planets suite. This arrangement by Stephen Roberts was a crowd favorite, as the ensemble pushed a wide dynamic range, at times a little percussion-heavy over the cornet flourishes. The second half returned with the nostalgic and soaring “Flying Theme” from the 1982 film E.T. Lead cornetist Chris Larios’ virtuosic playing was featured in the Herbert L. Clarke piece Stars in a Velvety Sky. Larios had taken first place in the Adult High Brass Slow Melody competition at the North American Brass Band Championship in April. Andy Scott’s Space Invaders, which was described by conductor Stinson as having “a little bit of that ‘funk’” was a fun tilt-o-whirl of a piece, and the concert closed with Lovatt-Cooper’s Dark Side of the Moon, which featured a syncopated melody passed around between soloists from different sections, before the tubas brought back once again that tremendous “as one” sound that this ensemble epitomizes.

After a well-deserved standing ovation, Stinson, who was a joy to watch and was full of pride for this great group throughout the performance, returned to the stage momentarily to kick off an encore of “The Final Countdown” by 80s mega group Europe. Stinson danced his way back across the stage, encouraging the audience members to clap along.

The Fountain City Brass Band is one of Kansas City’s secret treasures, and its way beyond time to share that secret with audiences across the metro, giving this world-renowned ensemble the audience sizes to reflect their tremendous stature within the Brass Band world.

REVIEW:
The Fountain City Brass Band
Across the Stars
Saturday, May 6, 2018
Bell Cultural Events Center
2030 E. College Way, Olathe, KS 66062
For more information, visit http://fcbb.net/