BASBWE/RNCM International Wind Festival 2004



  • Blasket Dances / Matthew Taylor / Maecenas
  • Canyons / John McCabe / Novello - Studio Music
  • Firedance / Guy Woolfenden / Ariel
  • L'Homme Armé / Christopher Marshall / Maecenas
  • The Winged Lion / McNeff / Maecenas


  • Call of the Cossacks / Peter Graham / Gramercy
  • Suite of English Dances / Ernest Tomlinson / Novello - Studio Music


  • Echoes in Time / Reto Stadelmann / ms
  • In Wartime / David Del Tredici / Boosey & Hawkes

Chamber Group

  • Reflections on a 16th Century Tune / Richard Rodney Bennett / Novello
  • Clarinet Black Dog / Scott McAllister / ms
  • Euphonium City in the Sea / Nigel Clarke / Maecenas
  • Percussion UFO / Michael Daugherty / Faber

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things

With the normal government health warning that my meat might well be your poison, the new works or publications from BASBWE 2004 that I heard, want to hear again and possibly programme, are as above, with of course considerable overlap between categories. As always, hearing the whole repertoire of pieces in different programmes, perhaps in a better performance, a different acoustic, in a sharper focus or a more varied context, I may well have come to different conclusions, but those are all works which I would recommend for possible performance.

It was good to get back to a BASBWE Conference, having attended the first twenty one and sadly missed the past two. As usual, there were a vast number of works, well over seventy, as usual the arguments raged over whether there was too much elitist music or too much commercial music, and as usual the truth lay somewhere in the middle. It was good to have four experienced American colleagues, Frank Battisti, John Boyd, Matthew George and Joe Missal, bringing us new and old repertoire and sure hands in training and performance. The only overseas group was the outstanding Cork School of Music Wind Ensemble, under their excellent conductor and trainer, John O'Connor. The WASBE Conference for 2007 will be in Killarney, organised by Fergus O'Carroll, and I think we shall all look forward to Irish musicianship and hospitality, and having a crack until the wee hours.

Broad Umbrella

Nothing changes in the range of perception and appreciation; for instance there was one particular piece played that many delegates thought offensively terrible, and yet others felt that that was the one good piece in the concert. A WASBE colleague once pointed out to me after I had been pontificating on repertoire, "One man's meat is another man's poison" so "chacun à son goôt".

With rehearsals, meetings and discussions, I did not manage to get to every concert, and so cannot comment on those aimed at school bands given by Shelley Music Centre and Northampton School for Boys. I also missed the Southwark Concert Band. and a session on transcriptions by Manchester University.

Guy Woolfenden - Best Man

My old friend and Best Man, Guy Woolfenden, was featured composer this year, and it was great to hear him discussing the interpretation of his pieces with the excellent Cork School of Music, fascinating to hear the opening of the slow movement of Illyrian Dances where he encourage the horn and woodwind to think orchestrally sharing the phrase as if handed seamlessly from cellos to violas. This kind of sensitivity in timbre and dynamics was sometimes lacking in performance during the weekend.

With Guy, we celebrated the 21st birthday of Gallimaufry, commissioned by the RNCM for the first Manchester BASBWE Conference in 1983, we explored Illyrian Dances commissioned by Tony Veal for the first Warwick BASBWE Conference, Mockbeggar Variations commissioned for the joint WASBE/BASBWE Conference in 1991, and two recent works, Curtain Call and French Impressions, while the Saturday evening gala had a performance of Fireworks. For anyone unfamiliar with his music, may I urge you buy the CD of Guy conducting the RNCM, and to explore the Ariel publications.

Adam Gorb

Our new representative on the WASBE Council and the Head of Composition and Performance at the College was much in evidence, leading discussions with the composers who were featured and as composer of a number of works at different levels. The Band of the Royal Marines played two Grade 2/3 pieces, an ironic and witty Parade of the Wooden Warriors and the moving Candlelight Procession, his newer piece for school band Eine kleine Yiddishe Ragmusic was played by Northampton and Yiddish Dances was played with great character by the RNCM Wind Orchestra who are to record it for Chandos later this year. Unfortunately it proved impossible to programme his most recent work, Dances from Crete, even more outrageous than Yiddish Dances and promising to be equally as popular.

Wind Octets, Dectets & Bigger

In discussion, the importance of changing the pace and sound-world in programming was stressed several times, and we were led through this repertoire by groups from Wells School and from the Royal Air Force with Raff, Françaix each including wonderful pieces for wind dectet. Guy Woolfenden's Serenade for Sophia is for 10 part wind ensemble, as always beautifully scored and full of good tunes; slightly more taxing but a wonderful piece for your principals to tackle is Richard Rodney Bennett's Reflections on a 16th Century Tune. Both concerts were excellent.

Bolton Sinfonietta very successfully changed the pace of their programme by including the Bennett alongside wind orchestra music. Originally for string orchestra, Bennett has recast it seamlessly for dectet, with flute/piccolo, oboe/cor anglais doublings, and bass clarinet and contra bassoon, and it is now published by Novello as a special archive production at £80.00.


Linda Merrick has been indefatigable in commissioning a series of concertos for clarinet and band and hose who love the music of Philip Sparke will hugely enjoy his new Clarinet Concerto, deftly scored, often witty and authoratively played by Linda with the Birmingham Symphonic Winds. The RNCM with Frank Lloyd as expert soloist gave the premiere of a new Sinfonia Concertante for horn by alumnus Brian Earl, tuba player with La Scala Milan, with some fascinating sonorities from ensemble and a small choir, while in a repertoire session they introduced a Trombone Concerto by Arlene Sierra, brilliantly played by a student Richard Brown. All three concerti were sometimes too over-scored and presented balance problems; the natural brilliance of the wind band or ensemble is emphasised in a lively acoustic like the RNCM Concert Hall. More successful in terms of balance is the virtuoso concerto by Nigel Clarke, City in the Sea, given a terrific performance by Gary Curtin and the Cork School of Music Wind Ensemble, while Sarah Masters joined Bolton in the equally exciting Black Dog by Scott McAllister, a rhapsody for clarinet and band inspired by classic hard rock music including Led Zepplin. Both were played in the Opera Theatre, an unflattering acoustic but one which does give clarity.

School Band Repertoire

Frank Battisti emphasised the importance of our keeping contacts with the High School conductors; sadly I was unable to hear much of this repertoire, but the Royal Marines introduced two new pieces, a new work from Fergus Carroll at Grade 3 level called Song of Lirand a quirky WASBE consortium commission, Dance Sequence by Marco Pütz. The Carroll is wonderfully lyrical, a seven minute tone poem of considerable beauty, the Pütz is in three movements, a little more difficult at Grade 3/4 but rewarding to work on, with some simple mixed metres and tempo changes.

Professional Military & Community Band

In my opinion, the best work for community band and professional bands to emerge recently is the Suite of English Dances based on six wonderful tunes from John Playford's The Dancing Master of 1651, and arranged by the veteran expert in light music, composer and conductor, Ernest Tomlinson. When we began BASBWE over two decades ago I immediately invited Ernest to arrange these wonderful tunes which I had played in the BBC Welsh, and twenty years later he found time to do this. I also enjoyed the two works by Peter Graham.

Three community bands gave concerts. Motherwell Concert Band brought Bruce Fraser's evocative Source, reminded us what a strong piece John McCabe's Canyons is and ended their programme with the master Frank Battisti giving a superbly disciplined account of Robert Russell Bennett's Suite of Old American Dances.

Cork School of Music played the first of my own personal recent commissions, Matthew Taylor's Blasket Dances in its new revision. A kind of fantasy on music of those Western Isles, I think this is a work which will repay attention. I enjoyed Shafer Mahony's Sparkle when I heard it at WASBE in 1999, and it still sounds as original and fresh as then, while Fergal Carroll's Amphionis another strong work, perhaps a little more home-key bound than his more recent Winter Dances.

Acoustic Problems

Both the Friday Gala by the RNCM Wind Orchestra and that on Saturday given by Birmingham Symphonic Winds were in the Concert Hall with its very lively acoustic. Both groups played superbly, but detail was frequently lost in a sound-world dominated by brass and percussion.

In the recent WASBE Conference, oboist Wayne Rapier talked about his experiences as co-principal of the Philadelphia under Ormandy and the Boston Symphony, and of analysing what made Stokowsky performances so remarkable. He found that the great man would have two or three high points in each concert - every other dynamic was part of an architecture of dynamics leading to those points. Mahler is one of the rare composers who will run the gamut in his markings from kaum hörbar (how often did we hear scarcely heard dynamics in this conference) to the molto fortissimos of a hohe Punkt some seventy or so minutes into the work. For the rest, we as conductors have a responsibility to build this edifice and persuade our players of the myriad of differing shades of ppp-pp-p-f-ff-fff depending on the instrument, the tessitura, the function both melodic and harmonic, the place in the movement, the place in the work, the type of work and the period.

In Wartime

Opinion raged over the merits of David Del Tredici's In Wartime. It was described by one pundit as repetitive, by another as trivial; it made an enormous impact in the European premiere at WASBE, and my wife was not the only person in the audience weeping. War is repetitive and trivial much of the time, but the very intensity of the repetitions of what is indeed a trivial tune, if they are carefully handled and imbued with differing characters, will have the same effect as that funeral march in the Milhaud's Suite Francaise. Think Private Ryan or any other war film.

The fateful confrontation of East and West which climaxes this inexorable advance through the desert needs control in this acoustic or any, so that we are involved in the vivid detail, not battling against a noise threshold which becomes painful, while the insertion of the Tristanquotation with its implication that man loves war, killing, blood and guts, and the final overpowering wail of the siren, sensational when I first heard it, need careful treatment.

With the RNCM, Frank Battisti brought his experience to bear in a finely balanced performance of Corigliano's Gazebo Dances, and in the final session wondered whether we should be playing more standard repertoire in every concert.

The BSW is a splendid group, superbly organised in every detail from the programme content to their publicity and public relations and subsequent good audiences, an object lesson for all of us. Their programme went for the brilliant side of the wind repertoire, apart from a sentimental Ave Maria which really was out of place. Seven loud energetic pieces is too much for me, and while we were all completely amazed at the virtuosity of both Simone Rebello and the Orchestra in Daugherty's UFO for percussion, we surely did not need it followed by another loud piece. In one of last year's Young People's Proms, the BBC Phil and Simone's Percussion quartet Backbeat had the entire Royal Albert Hall rocking to the rafters, stamping and clapping, and then tried to follow it by an even louder piece. I would have turned the lights down and have the principal flute play Debussy's Syrinx. New pieces then by Nigel Clarke, Kenneth Hesketh and Guy Woolfenden, which did not make their full effect because of noise factor.