Brass arrangement to herald in season

Courtesy of Music in the Mountains

Brass players from Farmington, Durango, Denver, Albuquerque and Santa Fe will join for Music in the Mountains’ “Best Brass of Christmas” concert Saturday at First Baptist Church of Durango.

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

Palestrina, Victoria, Gabrieli, Byrd and even Francis Poulenc have set “O Magnum Mysterium” differently. The chant comes from the Matins of Christmas and means “O great mystery.”

One version has spellbound listeners since composed in 1994 by Morten Lauridsen. The American composer is professor of music at the University of Southern California and in residence with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. His works have been recorded on more than 200 CDs, five of them winning Grammy Awards.

Fans of the Durango Choral Society have been mesmerized by the original choral version. And now a brass arrangement by Michael Votta will be performed by a group of musicians from the Four Corners in “The Best Brass of Christmas.”

Sponsored by Music in the Mountains, the all-brass format has been around for five years.

Organized by Farmington’s Mick Hesse, the ensemble will perform for its sixth iteration with an expanded program. Eleven professional players from Albuquerque, Denver, Durango, Farmington and Santa Fe will come together to play holiday music Saturday.

The concert will include selections from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” Victor Herbert’s “March of the Toys,” portions of Bach’s cantata No. 64 and the Contrapunctus 1 from the Art of the Fugue.

The concert will open with traditional carols and a fanfare before Lauridsen’s version of “O Magnum Mysterium.” The second half of the program will mix old and new carols and conclude with “Dona Nobis Pacem.” Music lovers will go out with a brass sprinkling of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

New this year will be the brass version of a side-by-side section. Area high school players will join the pros for part of the program.

The young musicians include trumpeters Maryna Pohlman and Mike Smith, French hornist Bryce Hoyt, trombonist JP Skeath and Trent Parker on tuba.

If you’re curious about “O Magnum Mysterium,” check out more than 30 versions to be heard on YouTube – by Renaissance and contemporary composers, for voice or brass choir, and several performances of Lauridsen’s version.

In composing the work he said: “I sought to impart a transforming spiritual experience within what I call ‘a quiet song of profound inner joy.’”

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at

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