Not-so-Big Easy

I’ve fallen behind and I can’t get caught up.

Or maybe I can.

Last month, the Historic Brass Society hosted its 24th Early Brass Festival, descending on the campus of Loyola University in New Orleans for the event. Quite a few baroque trumpet players showed up, but ophicleide, serpent and horn were represented, too. The festival usually spreads over a long weekend, with as many as a dozen talks on various subjects, informal playing sessions and one or two concerts.

Lovers of the baroque trumpet — and trust me, there are dozens of us worldwide — were treated to two players tackling some of the most difficult pieces ever written for the trumpet. And both players have new recordings.

Robert “Bahb” Civiletti’s “The Art of the High Baroque” ( features six concertos festooned with high notes. Bryan Shaw’s “Virtuoso Concertos for Clarino” ( duplicates three of them and adds a fourth.

Shaw gave a lecture/demonstration on the concerto by Franz Xaver Richter, performing with a recording of the string parts; Civiletti gave a concert with a harpsichordist in which he played the Richter as well as two other concertos — then repeated one of them as an encore. Unbelievable.

It was instructive to compare the different approaches of the two players, Shaw slighly more lyrical, even in faster movements, often with a flute-like tone; Civiletti more aggressive, keeping a brassier sound. Both were nimble, and fearless in ascending to the extreme high register demanded by the works.

If these concertos are better known for being hard to play than for being great music, well, that puts them in a pretty big club. But they’re fun to listen to and genuinely scary. It’s good to have two players bringing them out of the curio cabinet.

Coming back

And what of New Orleans? This was my first trip since 2003, and I wondered what the post-Katrina place would be like.

The areas I was familiar with — the French Quarter, downtown, the Garden District, St. Charles Avenue, Magazine Street — looked little changed (although the St. Charles streetcar has only restored its full route in the last month or so). Lots of buildings with signs in front saying who was doing the painting or restoration, as many restaurants as before (one cab driver said he thought there were more now). If things seemed a little slower in the French Quarter than I remember, it could just be that July is not the best time to visit.

But thanks to a tour recommended by our hotel, we saw areas that haven’t recovered. Lakeview, Gentilly, Arabi and Chalmette were just names on the map to me before, but seeing block after block of empty houses, with here and there a few people working on a house, or a trailer set up in a yard, was very sobering. Whole neighborhoods with only a handful of people who’ve returned to fix their homes. Some of them pretty nice-looking homes, too. Scattered among them the occasional FEMA trailer, still being lived in. Hospitals that were flooded and never reopened; same thing for shopping malls, strip malls, countless businesses.

The water may be gone, and its downtown may be bustling, but New Orleans still needs our help.

One Response to “Not-so-Big Easy”

  1. Brian Shaw says:

    Thanks for plugging my site and the performance at HBS!
    The CD is out now – let me know if you’d like one.
    All the best,

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