Composers not yet 'lost' to brass bands.

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Chat' started by Thirteen Ball, Mar 16, 2012.

  1. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    At the suggestion of one Sandy Smith, (I'm never one to take credit for a good idea that wasn't mine) Who's still around and writing in other musical circles that you'd like to see approached to write a significant work for brass band?
  2. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    JR already weighed in with these suggestions in the other thread.

  3. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

  4. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    "Others would be Lucy Pankhurst, Andy Scott for starters"

    Lucy Pankhurst and Andy Scott have already written a number of significant works for brass bands. In Pankhurst's case, one of them was sufficiently significant to win her a British Composer Award last year.

    If, on the other hand, by 'significant work' you really mean 'testpiece', I think you can probably rule Andy Scott out. Anyone present at the composers forum during the RNCM festival in January will have heard what he thought about treating music as a mere technical exercise. I agree with him.
  5. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    I suspect Lucy might be of a similar mind. She's on record as not being a big fan of contesting! I was privileged enough to play in the premiere and recording of In Pitch Black, for which Lucy won her award. Although the first half of it is fairly uncompromising, the context of the premiere (as the centrepiece of a concert commemorating a pit disaster in Westhoughton) and the way the other works around it were presented gave the audience a clear understanding of what Lucy was trying to do, and as a result the work was very well received.

    For me, this is the way forward for band concerts and for "significant" works generally. Bands at the elite level are now so technically capable that only the most extreme difficulty really challenges them, and my impression is that the pool of composers prepared to compromise what they want to do in order to write a million notes a minute for 17 minutes is diminishing. I worry that we're unlikely to see pieces like Contest Music, Cloudcatcher Fells or Of Men and Mountains again, because the only serious commissioning is done by contests and they want ever more difficult fodder. That's not to diminish the musical challenge that all of those works pose, by the way. Simply an observation that if they were written for the Open or Nationals this year, they would be seen as nowhere near techncially difficult enough for that level.

    [Paul McGhee, on the other hand, has already written a very interesting (and apparently rock hard) test-piece, and given that his influences appear to include Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa rather than Eric Ball or John Williams, his works cast a refreshing new light on the concept.]
  6. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Forgive me, I used the term 'Significant work' because I prefer it to 'test-piece' - so any misunderstanding on that score is my fault.

    Indeed it seems most of our significant repertoire comes via selection for contest-purposes, however I'm a firm believer that the truly great contest works stand on their own in a concert or receital context just as well - and that a significant work does not necessarily have to be written as a test-piece.....
  7. Sandy Smith

    Sandy Smith Member

    Got to agree with messrs Yelland and Baker on the prospect of attracting quality composers to compose music for contest use while the current narrow minded policy exists.
    My own views on the current state of play are probably quite well known but for those who may be interested here is a link to a presentation I did for ABBA in January - the first half of which covers this subject.

    ... to throw a name into the ring - how about Iain Farrington ( pianaist / organist / composer) here is a you tube link to an example of his work

    Any thoughts ?
  8. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Brian Ferneyhough. He's quite famous for writing 'unplayable' music, but having spent an enjoyable week playing some of his stuff last year his sound world is quite a unique one. Rhythmic complexity is the game, but there is always an underlying lyricism to his works. On top of that, he's an ex-bander! I give you a picture of a good friend of mine at the beeb with one of his rather complex scores! CaptureFerneyhough.jpg
  9. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    I disagree. As I said in a different thread quite recently, contests militate against most of the things which make a piece of music significant. Pieces which feature non-band instruments or voices, pieces which use advanced musical language or atonality, pieces which use contemporary notation, pieces which are longer than about 15 minutes, pieces which use live or recorded electronics, pieces which use aleotoric devices - all of these pieces already exist, they are all (in my opinion) significant in terms of the development of the brass band repertoire, and none of them were written for, or have been (or ever will be) used for contest purposes.

    In that other thread (Innovative new test pieces) some of the ideas of test piece innovation put forward included off-stage solos, quiet endings, use of two flugel horns and the requirement to produce farmyard animal noises (that last one was my suggestion and it was tongue-in-cheek, in case anyone was in any doubt!). Even if all these things hadn't been done decades earlier in other musical fields, I for one wouldn't regard them as being of any great significance.
  10. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I take your point - but it's also necessary to appreciate that the only time probably 90% of bands run out a piece with challenging harmony, unusual rhythmic devices etc. is when they cross a contest stage.

    I'm not saying that' a good thing - far from it in fact - I'm just saying that most of the more contemporary-influenced repertoire that makes it's way into our bandrooms at present does so via contest selection. Of course there are the exceptions, the bands who play at the Northern every year very often bring some interesting and challenging stuff that won't ever find itself on an areas list and long may it continue. But those bands are in the minority in that respect. Few of us who play at a lower level will have the opportunity or indeed the correct musical context to rehearse and perform such repertoire on a regular basis.

    I'm not pretending contest repertoire is what mainly pushes the boundaries of brass music because - as you say - the format is restrictive as regards duration, instrumentation, level of difficulty etc. and therefore a certain amount of what the composer has to write is prescribed for them before they start, and that can be off-putting. What I'm saying is that though the musical ideas you outline in your post above may not occur in contest repertoire first, the music that brings a lot of them to the mainstream of brass banding is contest repertoire that builds on the ideas already established elsewhere.
  11. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    As I'm at a loose end this afternoon, which pieces do I think are of real significance in the BB repertoire? Here are the main ones which come to mind:

    Denis Wright's Cornet Concerto - the first full scale cornet concerto
    Joseph Horovitz's Euphonium Concerto - the first full scale euph concerto which inspired dozens of others
    A Moorside Suite (Gustav Holst) - the first original work by a composer of international stature
    The Trumpets (Gilbert Vinter) - the first (I think) large scale choral work (c. 45 minutes) in which band, choir, bass and trumpet soloists are given equal prominence
    Grimethorpe Aria (Harrison Birtwistle) - the first (I think) atonal work for band
    Echoes (Tim Souster) - the first work for band and live electronics
    Cataclysm (Paul Patterson) - the first (I think) work which features contemporary notation and aleotoric passages
    Songs of the Aristos (Robert Lennon) - the first (I think) work for band and recorded electronics

    Two observations. One, none of these pieces (as mentioned above) were written for contests. Two, the most recent of them (Echoes) is already 22 years old.
  12. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    If they spent less time on contest stages they would have more time to explore the challenging harmony etc. of non-contest repertoire!
  13. Statto

    Statto Member

    I wholeheartedly agree with many of the comments made re test piece 'music', 'millions of notes', time restrictions, etc but I'm wondering where and when many of the current composers (already established or fledgling) will gain exposure for their compositions if they don't embrace contesting? The recent RNCM was relatively poorly attended, certainly not a sell-out, and there have been comments made elsewhere on tMP to suggest that some people don't attend because they don't want to hear 'squeaky' music! I have also turned down the chance to attend many concerts given by the top bands as I choose not to sit through 75% or more of the concert listening to populist drivel!

    If not music festivals or concerts, then maybe good old-fashioned contests remains the best way to gain credence and acceptance by the wider brass band audience?

    Elsewhere in tMP, someone commented on the quality and 'innovativeness' of some of the European set pieces over the years. Certainly, if I was given the choice of listening to a playlist of the European set pieces or our National pieces in recent years, I know which list I'd choose! A few of the works commissioned by bands to play as their own choice in the European have also been excellent as well as 'forward-looking'.

    It wouldn't be the first composer to be 'pilloried' by the banding public for having foisted upon them a piece that is deemed to be 'unacceptable' - Songs for BL and Maunsell Forts are two obvious and recent examples - but composers just need to develop the thickest of skin and not read too much of what is written on here or any other forum! And anyway, how many great composers have written music that was 'acceptable' (or understood!) at the time it was written?!!

    Whether we like it or not, contesting is likely to be here forever and I would urge all current composers to embrace it and keep banging on the door of the music panel to ensure that their music is heard by the widest possible audience.

    Gordon (aka Statto)
  14. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    It depends what you mean by 'significant.' As I said earlier I use the term 'significant work' because I don't like the term 'test-piece' since it rules out works like the ones you suggest which haven't ever been a contest-work. The other thing is it avoids the arguments over what constitutes a test-piece, which is a whole other debate in itself!!

    What I mean when I say it is a work of a certain duration and musical stature, a bracket into which many test-pieces fall but not necessarily restricted to test-pieces. I do not necessarily mean a work which does something no-one has ever done before, because that, by it's nature severely limits what you can consider in that bracket - however if we're discussing comissioning something from someon who doesn;t usually write for brass bands then by definition they are likely to bring at least something we've not experienced before to the table.

    As regards your point about doing less contesting and playing more challenging non-contest repertoire, that's a very noble objective - but you have to accept that for 95% of bands, running Grimethorpe Aria out at a concert is likely to dent the audience figures the next time out. The very action of rehearsing and performing any piece is all about context and the vast majority of bands do not have the ability to put a work like that into context. What they can put into context is contest repertoire - so pieces suitable for contest selection play an important part in bringing new ideas to a wider playing audience. (Albeit, often quite a time after those ideas were first kicked around....)

    In reality, if we're looking at a piece which bands will play on a large scale and audiences will subsequently hear on a large scale, we are talking about who we would consider approaching to write a work which was possibly useable as a contest work - though not necessarily a piece exclusively for that purpose. I'm not arguing that this should be the case - but if a new work is to be commissioned and gain maximum exposure, it's the surest way to ensure that.

    You might think I am, but I'm not actually disagreeing with you Jim!
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2012
  15. Pete Meechan

    Pete Meechan Member

    I think that there is a flip side to that coin though - if you want younger and/or newer compositional voices writing for the brass band maybe bands need to provide a platform for their music other than contests (by which I mean concerts!). There are many different combinations of instruments, brass bands being just one of them - and it seems to me that the stronger and more gifted (in terms of voice, technique and all round ability) of the younger/newer composers who write for brass band write for many of them. This being the case, isn't there a chance that composers who have expressed a dislike for contest works may simply walk away from brass bands? And if they do, who does this help or benefit?

    re: RNCM - it was as well attended this year as it has been in every FoB I've been to, which is especially notable this year due to the financial climate.
  16. markh

    markh Member

    I would love to hear/play something by Steve Reich
  17. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    Yeah, could be interesting.
    Definitely in favour of a piece of music that would never be heard on a contest stage.
  18. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I thought you would have moved each post on a little!
  19. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    My apologies
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    My apologies
  20. bbg

    bbg Member

    Phew! At first reading I thought that this was either a list of

    a) new pieces composed for fullband, kitchen sink and nose flute


    b) some imported "deps" for upcoming "regional" contests where "local" pride is at stake

    Silly me.

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