The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain
Artistic Director : Bramwell Tovey
Guest Soloist : Joseph Alessi
Easter Course Concert
Winter Gardens – Weston Super Mare
Principal Cornet : Tom Poulson
Co Principal - Paul Duffy
Soprano : Rebecca Crawshaw
Flugel : David Moore
Tenor Horn : Kate Eggleshaw
Baritone : Michael Wells
Euphonium: Ryan Gray
Tenor Trombone: Helen Douthwaite
Bass Trombone : Louise Godfrey
Eb Bass: Ben Gernon
Bb Bass: James Rennie
Percussion: Emma Crossley
Easter, 1952 saw the birth of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. Founded by Dr. Denis Wright OBE, it welcomed 90 young brass players all under the age of 19 from every corner of the country to its first course, at Thornton Grammar School, Bradford. From the first inaugural rehearsal on 12th April, 1952 this remarkable ensemble has continued to impress and delight their audiences for 50 glorious years. For this years Easter concert, the band had travelled to Weston-Super-Mare.
We arrived early and took a bracing walk along the promenade with the tang of the sea carried in on a fresh breeze. The sea itself, almost the only way I can remember it at Weston, a distant shimmer on the horizon.
For events that require that special elegance, the famous Winter Gardens are certain to do justice to the most special of concerts, as it now boasts an extensive modern Conference and Entertainment facility.
We eagerly took our seats and at seven thirty prompt we were welcomed to the 78 talented youngsters, all between the ages of 13 - 19 who took to the stage, followed by Tom Poulson, the leader and talented Principal Cornet of the band.
Bramwell Tovey opened the proceedings with the National Anthem and immediately followed it with Edward Gregson’s popular Prelude for an Occasion. From the opening fanfare, scored for cornets, trombones and timpani, to the triumphant ending, it was clear right from the very beginning that we were in for a wonderful evening of music making.
The first of two major works was An Epic Symphony by Percy Fletcher. Though we had quite extensive programme notes on all the pieces, Mr Tovey took delight in compering the evening and giving us an insight to each piece and its composer. 'An Epic Symphony' is considered one of the most musically challenging pieces ever written for brass band and is still a firm favourite with bands and audiences. All sections of the band proved themselves more than capable of producing some fine ensemble playing, and with good attention to dynamics, the music remained fresh and exciting right to the very end.
This was followed by Eric Ball’s Journey Into Freedom. This piece, which is one of his most endearing works, was written in 1967 for the National Brass Band Championships at the Royal Albert Hall. The music depicts a man’s struggle through life with the relentless driving, machine like opening, the love melody, a playful scherzando and the triumphant ‘big tune’ revealing man’s inner freedom. Mr Tovey asked the band for a display of hands for those who had played this masterpiece before. A mere 6 hands were raised and a rough calculation made, represented approximately 7.53% of the band had played the piece before. To think that a band can work for weeks on end to produce a performance and we were hearing the results of the work of just one week (well part of one week, as there were three major works plus various other works covered in that time) made the performance even more incredible.
To conclude the first half, Mr Tovey introduced the audience to his good friend Joseph Alessi. Joseph was appointed Principal Trombone of the New York Philharmonic in the Sping of 1985. He began his musical studies in his native California with his father. Prior to joining the Philharmonic Joseph was Principal Trombone of L’Orchestre Symnphonique de Montreal. In addition, he has performed with numerous Orchestras including the London Symphony in Carnegie Hall. Joseph is an active soloist, recitalist and chamber music performer and received a huge welcome as he took the stage for tonight’s performance.
Joseph’s first piece for was Urban Cabaret, for trombone, brass and percussion and written for Joseph and the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain by Bramwell Tovey. Tonight's performance was introduced as a ‘world premiere’, but since the band had played it the previous evening it wasn’t exactly true! The roots of this work lie in jazz and minimalist music, although the virtuoso trombone part is fully notated, it is improvisatory in style and inclined to the world of cabaret. The brass and percussion provide a musical context for the soloist, much as the buildings and streets of a great city provide the urban setting for its citizens’ daily lives.
Bramwell explained to us how he imagined Joseph being stuck in a traffic jam and getting out of his car, trombone in hand, climbing on the roof and starting to play amid the urban chaos. The performance was excellent and the band accompanied well. This piece had certainly entertained the audience as we headed for the interval.
The second half opened with another World Premier! A piece commissioned for the 2006 NYBBGB Easter Course. This was Match Day written by the young Nuneaton born composer Peter Meechan and dedicated to Bramwell Tovey.
‘Match Day’ takes its inspiration from a night in May 2005, when the team Peter has supported from his childhood, Liverpool FC, won the European Cup in what is considered by many to be one of the greatest football matches of all time. The piece is not only inspired by a football match, but also takes it’s musical material from chants and songs that you will hear at 3pm on an Saturday afternoon at any football ground in the country.
’Match Day’ is dedicated to the bands Artistic Director, Bramwell Tovey, and after the performance invited Peter Meechan to stand and receive his well earned applause.
The following item was composed by Bramwell himself, and in his introduction admitted he thought they would have to leave it out of the programme as it was far too difficult for the young band in front of him to rehearse but in a very short time, he was pleased that they had proved this thought to be wrong. This was music written for the British Open Championship in 2005 and of course is The Night to Sing.
The subject matter for this work was inspired by the events of VE Day on 8th May 1945, which culminated in the ending of hostilities in Europe. VE Day gave rise to extraordinary public celebrations all over the country, from street parties to services of thanksgiving, to impromptu singing and community music making. Contemporary reports mention Victorian ballads and Edwardian music hall songs, as well as the latest popular craze - the conga. Festivities continued until dawn when, finally surrendering to fatigue, the remnants of the crowd headed home on foot, long after the last bus. Some felt the celebrations to be inappropriate – much of Europe lay in ruins and war still raged in Asia. Almost everyone lamented the loss of somebody who had not survived to see this particular day. On the famous night, the songs were of public celebration and relief, intermingled with private grief and despair - This was the night to Sing.
Bramwell concluded saying that following just two days of practice, the band were eating the piece! Fortunately they did perform the music and it could only be described as ‘superb’ with excellent detail from all of the soloists and again, almost impossible to believe that this talented group of youngsters were performing this piece within one week of seeing it for the first time.
Aurthur Pryor was one of the finest trombone players and an outstanding bandleader in America. He wrote many popular trombone solos including Love's Enchantment, Thoughts of Love, Annie Laurie and Blubells of Scotland. This was the cue to welcome back Joseph Alessi who took the stage and performed a magnificent rendition of Bluebells of Scotland.
As an encore, and encouraged by the enthusiasm of the audience, the basses were instructed with notes and rhythm and Joseph treated us to Ravels Bolero.
A chair was then provided for Joseph who joined the trombone section for the final piece on the programme, Wilfred Heaton’s Praise. I still find it hard to believe that Wilfred Heaton’s festival march ‘Praise’ was published as long ago as January 1949. This is one of the Salvation Army’s most popular marches and also Heaton’s first composition for the Festival Series Band Journal. Here it received all the swagger and enthusiasm that made it a popular item with the listening audience.
The audience cheered for more, and happily more was to come. Bramwell explained to us that a suggestion had been made for the band to form a choral organisation, this following the singing each morning in assembly when he’d been surprised by the morning hymns being sung in full harmony.
What followed was a version of The Cossack as it’s never been heard before! The band struck up the opening as written, but on the repeat of the first strain, downed their instruments and sang their parts to the end of the repeat and then continued playing to the end. Begged by audience and band members alike, Bram gave in and the instruction was given, “first half, no repeats” and they then sang, the entire first half of the march. To round up on a ‘normal’ note, the evening closed with St Clements.
I'm afraid I didn't attend the concert armed with pen and paper or musical scores, so I'm not able to give you an acurate breakdown and detail of who played what, where or how in a ‘retrospective’ fashion. What I can say is that it was clear to see that both the band and Bramwell enjoyed the evening immensely and this enjoyment was shared, with no doubt whatsoever, by an extremely appreciative audience.
Thank you and very well done to the NYBBGB and Bramwell Tovey.