What a month! Four concerts, each well worth hearing

Review: North Cheshire Wind Orchestra – Saturday 2nd November 2013

North Cheshire Wind Orchestra
Royal Northern College of Music, Saturday 2nd November 2013, 7.30 pm

Conductor Tom Newall
Cello Michelle So

Philip Sparke Overture for a Great City
Akira Miyoshi Secret Rites
Adam Gorb Concerto for Cello and Wind

Ensemble Bojhangaparitta [World Premiere]
Derek Bourgeois Green Dragon Overture
John Barnes Chance Variations on a Korean Folk Song
Maurice Ravel Bolero

The Studio Theatre, otherwise known as The Black Box, is not the ideal venue for a wind orchestra. Seating just over one hundred, it is better suited for small scale chamber music or intimate opera, its dry acoustic gives no help to an ensemble. However, the North Cheshire Wind Orchestra started their season with a splendidly varied programme, two overtures by those experienced writers for wind and brass, Philip Sparke and Derek Bourgeois, a traditional set of variations from a tried and tested American composer John Barnes Chance, a cutting edge Japanese work, the world premiere of a cello concerto by Adam Gorb and Ravel’s Bolero. Many congratulations are due to the conductor and orchestra for tackling so tough a programme so early in the season.

In that tiny acoustic I could not face the second half, so missed the Bourgeois, Chance and Ravel, but the first half was full of interest. Philip Sparke is of course the doyen of British composers for bands, with literally hundreds of original works and arrangements for wind and brass band. This Overture was commissioned the Tamana Girls High School and premiered in January 2010, and can be viewed and heard on Youtube PHILIP SPARKE OVERTURE. This was a high pressured performance, very exciting but without much variety of dynamics. It is hard to achieve lightness in this studio, but moments of relaxation throw the energetic sections into relief; with the wind band we show more by doing less, and the excitement of the genre is occasioned not by the noise factor, but by crescendi (and diminuendi) and variety of scoring.

I first came across the Miyoshi at a WASBE conference years ago, and was delighted to get it published, though I was unable to get Miyoshi to expand this very exciting work into something more substantial. Uncompromisingly contemporary, Tom Newall tackled its rhythmic and technical problems with panache, the orchestra responded magnificently and it was well received.

The Gorb was a commission by a member of the orchestra, Donal Flynn, in memory of his wife. It is scored for solo cello and a chamber wind ensemble, orchestral winds and brass with Timpani and four percussion, but even this light scoring was on occasion too heavy for the very expert soloist, Michelle So. Again, the acoustic did not help her, as the sound was too integrated with the orchestra which of course was sitting on top of the soloist and the audience.

Subtitled Bojhangaparitta, it takes inspiration from the Buddhist chant of that name, and the text of the Bojhangaparitta sets out the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, a set of mental states that individuals need to attain in their journey towards Enlightenment or Nirvana. The work lasts about twenty minutes and is in three sections. I need to hear the work again to be able to appreciate it. This is the Adam Gorb of Farewell, not Yiddish Dances¸ and the result is an intensely argued lyrical piece of great beauty, which needs more performances and a recording as soon as possible.

Review: The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth

– Thursday 21st November 2013

St. Mary’s Church. Fratton

Conductors Bd Sgt Zoe O’Gorman, Bd Sgt Rich Sharp, Bd Sgt Liz Keachie, Bd Sgt Dan Button and Military Expert Ignatius Wang

Saxophone soloist Marry Woolley

Adam Gorb Bohemian Revelry

Luis Serrano Alarcón Concertango

Conductor Tim Reynish

Martin Ellerby Paris Sketches

Symphony No 10. George Lloyd

Conductor Chris Davis

This concert was a real testament to the superb professionalism and training of the Royal Marines and the School of Music in Portsmouth, since including the Principal Director of Music, whose role was simply conducting the National Anthem and the Regimental March, the band coped splendidly with eight conductors in all, and as a further complication, many of the principal brass players were withdrawn to play in the George Lloyd Symphony for Brass. I heard the rehearsal of this work, finely conducted by former Principal Diretor of Music, Chris Davis, which received a stirring performance perhaps muddied by the generous acoustic.

Two conductors Adam Gorb’s latest work, described by the composer as a tribute to the verve and vigour of the music of the Czech republic. It is in four movements and is based on well-known Czech dances and is a splendid sequel to Adam’s It is in four movements and is based on well-known Czech dances and is a splendid sequel to Adam’s Yiddish Dances in invoking the party atmosphere so dear to the composer. The dances are full of good tunes and felicitous scoring, with a certain accidental; similarity to dances by Dvorak. Two other Band Sergeants, together with “Iggy” Wang from the Singapore Armed Forces, gave finely judged and idiomatic performances of Paris Sketches.

I was extremely fortunate to be able to give the UK premiere of Concertango a true fusion work with elements of the traditional wind orchestra together with jazz and the spirit of the tangos of Piazzola. The superb soloist was musician Barry Woolley, and the whole work, well over twenty minutes, made a huge impression on the audience. For any band and conductor needing a cross-over work without dumbing down, this should be your natural choice. In all this was a terrific programme and the band played superbly throughout.

Review: Trinity Laban College of Music

Thursday 28th November 2013

Adam Gorb - Adrenaline City

Timothy Jackson – Passacaglia

Richard Rodney Bennett – Morning Music

Luis Serrano Alarcon - Duende

Simon Wills – Corpus Christi

Just when I thought that wind orchestras in the Conservatoires of UK was almost dead, like London busses, along come two splendid programmes on successive nights. I was heavily involved at Trinity, so will comment of the music but not the performances. Adrenaline City is a kind of son of Adam Gorb’s Away Day, jazzy and racy, very good fun with its 10/8 time signature which can be 3+3+2+2 or 2+2+3+3 or any other combination, usually syncopated with another part. Tim Jackson’s Passacaglia is a wonderful, beautifully structured, simple but with a magnificent climax, and Bennett’s Morning Music remains for me one of the major works for the medium. I would add Alarcón’s Duende to my private pantheon of great pieces, four contrasting movements with some of the most beautiful and exciting music for wind I know. Simon Wills’ very dramatic Corpus Christi was written for the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Wales and I reviewed it in April. I have really enjoyed this arresting 8 minute work, and played it several times on my computer. It starts with an arresting motif on horn, repeated and dying away, accompanied by little dance motifs on clarinets and high woodwind; this leads into a modal folk-like melody intoned by clarinet and bassoon, taken up by other woodwind, until interrupted by rowdy episodes on brass, vulgar glissandi in the trombones and a more extended dance theme which perhaps might have been penned by Shostakovitch had he experienced Bird Flu during the Festival of Corpus Christi. Snippets of marches and dances all combine in a joyous riot of thematic interplay, fading into a coda of the opening horn motif and the modal theme

Here's the programme note:

A couple of years ago, when the bird flu epidemic was at its height, I managed to contract the bug in Mexico City. After a few disagreeable days, I became bored enough with my hotel to venture onto the streets, pale and far from fully recovered. The festival of Corpus Christi was in full cry, and in my fragile state I was overwhelmed by the animals, fireworks, processions of children dressed as gauchos, the drunks, the lunatics and the hundreds of noisy bands - and above it all the great cathedral bells on Zocalo, the central square. It's an uncharacteristic piece for me - I tend towards the introverted in most of my music - and I think it may be more a portrait of a fevered state of mind than of the fiesta itself!


Friday 29th November, 7.30 RNCM Concert Hall

Conductors Clark Rundell and Mark Heron

Gavin Higgins Der Aufstand

Igor Stravinsky Symphony of Winds

Louis Andriessen On Jimmy Yancey

Paul Goodey Hohle Fels (World Premiere)

Back in 2008 Clark Rundell conducted a couple of splendid performances of Stockhausen’s Lucifer’s Dance at the RNCM and Royal Festival Hall, and the piccolo player was Karin de Fleyt, who after much discussion invited Paul Goodey, the then RNCM Head of Wind and Percussion to write a Flute Concerto. The work is not programmatic, but is inspired by the discovery in the Hohler Fels caves in Germany of primitive figurines, together with a bone flute, undoubtedly the earliest known instrument

Excavations in the caves at Hohler Fels in the Swabian Alps date back to 1870, when important palaeolithic finds were made, and from the 1970’s a number of carved ivory pieces dating from 35,000 years ago or more were discovered, together with this flute. Inspired by these finds, Paul Goodey, then Head of School of Wind and Percussion, wrote a 35 minute concerto for bass flute, flute and piccolo, Hohler Fels, which makes use of the pitches the 35,000 year old flute would have made, D#, B, C#, a sharp F# and G#. He quotes Professor Nicholas Conard from Tübingen University:

Music could have contributed to the maintenance of larger social networks, and thereby helped facilitate the territorial expansion of modern humans relative to the culturally more conservative isolated Neanderthal population.

I heard an early workshop of Paul Goodey’s Flute Concerto, and really did not understand it. Last week, the programme helped, as did the larger acoustic, plus wonderful playing from the soloist, the RNCM wind orchestra and excellent control of the huge forces by Mark Heron. This is a magnificent, challenging work, and will repay study. I am delighted that Mark Heron and his forces recorded the work the following day for inclusion in a forthcoming CD by the soloist.

Contact for more details.

The concert began with a work first heard in the BBC Proms in 2012 played by the National Youth Wind Orchestra conducted by James Gourlay. Inspired by the South London riots in 2011, this is an exciting, noisy work, more suited to the Albert Hall than the RNCM Concert Hall, but bands who enjoy the challenges of the music of composers such as Michael Daugherty and James Mackey will certainly enjoy the sheer energy of Der Aufstand.

The first half was conducted by the ever-reliable Clark Rundell, and included Louis Andriessen’s On Jimmy Yancey, written for the alternative Amsterdam street group Der Vollharding, part jazz, part minimalist, good fun but not really my cup of tea. The Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind received a wonderfully balanced performance with excellent choices of speeds, always tricky with its exact alternation of very different tempi.