The Great Exhibition Ensemble was formed by Robert Vanryne with the aim of performing Nineteenth Century brass chamber music upon original instruments. Drawn from the upper echelons of the early music movement, members of the ensemble include some of the world’s leading historically-informed brass specialists, all of whom appear regularly with Europe's finest period instrument orchestras. To this end, all instruments used to perform these rarely-heard musical treasures are either originals or accurate copies of those used at the time of composition. Whilst audiences today have become familiar with the standard brass quintet, very few will have experienced the softer, more vocal qualities of the instruments for which this music was first conceived.
The nineteenth century brass revolution came about as a result of the invention of the valve: a whole range of new possibilities presented themselves to musicians and composers alike. Whilst the trombone had always been a fully functioning chromatic instrument, the trumpet and the horn had remained “natural” for centuries past, thus requiring players to circumvent the restrictions of the harmonic series by employing a number of tricks such as crook-changes and hand-stopping.
Composers (in particular Berlioz) inspired by the emerging virtuosi, quickly began to include valved brass instruments and soon, cornets, valved horns and the ophicleide were appearing alongside trumpets and trombones as distinct voices in the orchestra. Today's orchestral brass instruments are larger and more powerful, sometimes precluding the more intimate qualities suitable for chamber music. The use of soft-toned narrow-bore brass instruments reintroduces much of the original beauty last heard a century ago, a quality which surprises listeners today as much as it clearly did then.