Brass performs at St. Matthew's

Since 1999, New Haven-based Brass has been pushing the boundaries of contemporary genres, reimagining jazz, baroque, and Dixieland styles to provide audiences with new takes on familiar songs. Junius Johnson, one of the group’s founding members, current manager, and resident French horn player, said, “We saw a brass quintet as a way to explore the extremes of what we could do with virtuoso playing on our instruments, in a way that wasn’t really possible in a traditional orchestra or band setting. The idea was that it is more fun to play technically difficult music but especially if that music was also something familiar in another idiom: great orchestral overtures, movie scores, things like that.”

On Sunday, Dec. 15, the group will expand its experimental repertoire by reimagining holiday classics for its highly lauded Sounds of the Season concert at The Arts at St. Matthew’s. Brass initially performed this concert at the Yale Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to a beyond capacity crowd, debuting Christmas songs and carols from its new holiday CD, which will come out early next year.

Despite the group’s recent time in the recording studio, however, Brass feels most comfortable onstage, feeding off the audience’s energy and bringing its original renditions to life.

“The audience has to have fun, you have to have fun, and they need to see you having fun,” Mr. Johnson said. “That’s what separates live performance from studio recordings. Live performance is about the experience, and so even when all the notes aren’t perfect, sometimes the piece is still right because of what it means in that moment, with those people, in that place. Our philosophy of performance is audience-centered, not Brass-centered.”

It is this organic and expressive approach to performing that Brass plans to bring to St. Matthew’s for its winter concert. “We want to give them a powerfully immediate experience of the beauty, majesty, and recklessness of brass instruments,” Mr. Johnson said of his hopes for Sounds of the Season. “We’re there to facilitate a meeting between the audience and the music just as much as we are there to perform.”

The concert will also include a performance by a guest drummer appearing on the group’s upcoming CD and will be Brass’s second performance at St. Matthew’s. The group previously appeared in the Arts’ concert series with the Brubeck brothers as well as Russell Gloyd and Mike Rossi, premiering its original brass arrangement of the orchestral song To Hope. “To play that music, in that setting, with those guys, and Dave [Brubeck] and his wife in the audience, was transcendent,” Mr. Johnson said.

Brass has collaborated with a number of other artists, primarily Yale-based groups, including the Yale Bands, the Glee Club, the Saybrook College Orchestra, and the Opera Theatre of Yale College. This close affiliation with Yale stems from the group’s initial formation — comprised of Yale graduate and undergraduate students — and only strengthened over the past 15 years as Brass became a professional group and expanded its repertoire.

Now in its 15th season, the group has stayed true to its founding motto: “Serious Music, Serious Fun.” It is this passion for technical though inventive renditions of familiar music that Mr. Johnson and Brass hope to bring to Fairfield County audiences this December.

“St. Matthew’s is such a beautiful performing space, both visually and acoustically, and I think people are going to walk away from this performance and be talking about it for a long time,” he said.

Tickets are $40/patron (preferred seating), $20/adults, $10/students.

Information: Lisa Furnivall at or