San Francisco Symphony horn player Jonathan Ring is so enamored of brass that in his limited spare time, he acts as a spark plug for a little-known group called the Bay Brass.
“I’ve always loved playing in a brass ensemble, with its huge variety of repertoire. It can be beautiful and subtle at one moment, then be the closest thing to rock ’n’ roll that you can get in the classical world, all in the same piece,” Ring says.
Even though the group of 13 major brass players has been around for 17 years, has performed many concerts and has a Grammy-nominated CD, the group hasn’t been publicized — at least in part because its members have been satisfied simply with making music.
But the Bay Brass is now stepping into the spotlight on behalf of a similarly self-effacing, but vitally important, participant in the local brass community.
On Tuesday, the ensemble will play a concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to honor instrument repair expert and craftsman Dick Akright, who has provided essential support to the Bay Area and national brass player community for more than 42 years at the Best Instrument Repair Company in Oakland.
Called “Birthdays and Anniversaries,” the program features world premieres by trombonist Wayne Wallace; John Wesley Gibson’s “The Great Golden Gate”; and works by Debussy, Gabrieli, Philip Glass and others, all with special connections to the year 2012.
Proceeds from the concert will be donated to scholarships in Akright’s name for deserving young musicians to attend La Honda Music Camp, one of his favorite causes.
“Dick has been the foremost primary-care brass instrument doctor when repairs are needed,” Ring says, “helping his musical patients to achieve high-level performances whether in the local schools, symphony orchestras or jazz and rock bands.”
Ring’s designation as a spark plug is in lieu of an official title. Neither he nor anyone else is the head of Bay Brass, or its music director or permanent conductor. The democratic organization reflects the motivation of its members just to have fun.
“Bay Brass has allowed me to assume many roles which I never get to play in my work with the San Francisco Symphony,” Ring says. “Helping with the choice of programs, coming up with interesting new music, working with composers on commissions, and also arranging and conducting some of the music myself.”
In addition to Ring, other San Francisco Symphony musicians in Bay Brass include Glenn Fischthal (trumpet); Bruce Roberts, Robert Ward and Kimberly Wright (horns); and John Engelkes, Mark Lawrence and Paul Welcomer (trombones).
Musicians from the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra include Skip Wagner (trumpet), Jeffrey Budin (trombone) and Peter Wahrhaftig (tuba). Trumpet player David Burkhart is from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and James Dooley, also playing trumpet, is from Symphony Silicon Valley.
The ensemble prides itself on the diversity of its programming, combining traditional brass repertory with jazz and other contemporary styles, commissioning new works, and featuring a mix of large-scale symphonic brass ensemble works and compositions for smaller combinations of players.