National Youth Wind Ensemble of Great Britain

Phillip Scott, Conductor

Soloist: Huw Morgan, trumpet

Percy Grainger (1882-1961)The Immovable Do
Richard Rodney Bennett (b.1936)Trumpet Concerto
Anthony Gilbert (b.1934)Dream Carousels
Chiu-Yu Chou (b.1981)New Commissioned Composition
Philip Grange (b.1956)Cloud Atlas

Phillip Scott is a totally uncompromising conductor and programmer, and this was an extraordinary overview of the current state of some of the most contemporary wind music in United Kingdom.His young players are drilled to as near perfection as possible, and tackling three major contemporary works had no terrors for them. This is the third concert at WASBE Conferences at which Phillip and the Ensemble have appeared, 2003 in Sweden, 2007 in Ireland and 2011 in Taiwan, three remarkable concerts with fine performances of difficult works, taking WASBE and the rest of us fearlessly forward to the 21st Century.

I think that while The Immovable Do  might seem the logical start to the concert, on reflection I might have started with Dream Carousels  whose whirling motifs might disguise intonation problems more easily, and then move on to the Grainger when everyone is warmed up.Cloud Atlas is a massive, avant garde work, premiered by the group at the Cheltenham Festival two years ago. It is tough to listen to, more so than the striking Clarinet Concerto which we heard in Ireland, and on reflection too itg is probably not the work to end the concert. I have heard it now on CD about five times, each time with a growing recognition of the material and sense of enjoyment; I still do not understand it, it reminds me of Schoenberg’s Erwartung in its continuous stream of ideas, but I really did enjoy this performance, caught up in the technical maelstrom and hurly-burly. It was a brilliant coup to premiere a work by the young Taiwanese composer Chou Chiu-Yu who is studying with Grange at Manchester University, but I found its limited melodic range turned it into little more than an academic exercise. I hope that she will continue to write for the wind ensemble since she has a voice and all of this experience of the conference.

The Trumpet Concerto by Richard Rodney Bennett I commissioned back in the early nineties, and we gave a clinic on the work in Japan in 2005. I love it, and believe it to be one of the finest contemporary concertos; it is worth noting that the slow movement, Elegy for Miles Davis,  is now available from Studio Music as a stand-alone concert item. Huw Morgan’s performance was subtle, with less of the bravura qualities of those early performances, and the recording, by Martin Winter, but brought out more humour and lyricism. This lightness of touch was perfectly met by the Ensemble and Phillip Scott – what a fine youth group this is, and how lucky they are to have Scott at the helm.

Superb playing then in an exceedingly tough programme, and discussion raged about the music – too modern – inappropriate – poor programme – too much the same. This was a concert which might be presented at the ISCM, International Society for Contemporary Music, or the Warsaw Festival of Contemporary Music or at Huddersfield. Phillip has directed this ensemble for twenty years, and has gradually focussed more on real contemporary music, carrying students and their parents with him Did this programme provide us with serious and distinct medium of musical expression , or should WASBE content itself with John Williams wannabe composers. Clearly, we need to cover the whole range of the best music of all types, from Robert W Smith to Philip Grange, and to get our conductors and composers excited at both ends of the spectrum. I suspect that a more carefully constructed programme might have put the Grange in the middle and ended with a less challenging work, but what a concert.