Durham University Concert Band’s (DUCB) Town Hall debut was a particularly patriotic performance. Living up to the highly professional poster and programme created by Shauni McGregor, the concert delivered a variety of musical styles. Simultaneously diverse in genre but linked in heritage, the Britishness of the selected pieces shone through, celebrating the contributions of British composers across the last century.
The jolly Trailblaze set a confident tone and the percussion drove the piece along with excellent gusto. Insecurities in running passages failed to detract from the piece’s overall quality, with Evan Penn successfully navigating the band through the tempo changes. Despite it being my first time hearing it, it bore all the trademark characteristics of a Goff Richards classic.
The great programming continued with Whitacre’s October. Whilst far from ‘Springtime,’ it was certainly appropriate, given last season’s prom dedication to Whitacre. The band took the audience on an emotional journey, providing a great release that was largely unaffected by some slight issues with tuning and intonation. Tremendous credit should be given to Ryan Kerr for beginning the piece with a commendable oboe solo.
The end of the first half saw principal conductor Emma Maslin take to the stage for Symphonic Beatles. This whirlwind medley of the Beatles’ much-loved classics — including A Hard Day’s Night, Hold Your Hand, Yesterday, and Hey Jude— was helped along by George Dobson’s excellent drumming. It would have been nice to see the rest of the band use their dynamic range pushing through to the end giving the piece a greater impact. The trumpets taking to their feet in the final flourish was a nice additional touch.
Following the short break in which audience members were able to explore the stunning surroundings and medieval furnishings of Durham Town Hall, the proceedings recommenced with the pre-concert highlight that was Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite. Reminiscent of the rolling hills of the English countryside and the good old pastoral days of yesteryear, the second movement may have suffered from some insecurities but benefited from a surprisingly large bass sound despite a incomplete lower section of the band. A solid attempt at dynamic contrast helped the third movement flow, whilst some recognisable tunes evoked a sense of nostalgia amongst those present.
The concert ended with bold and valiant attempt at prom classics Nimrod, Jupiter and the Fantasia on British Sea Songs. These well known tunes could have benefited from some more musical crafting to realise their full potential, and more progressive tempos could have created a greater hype amongst the audience. Nonetheless, the atmosphere created by distributing flags to wave allowed the listeners to feel involved in the performance and truly evoked the spirit of the last night of the proms. The union flag hat sported by Emma for the finale neatly encapsulated this patriotism, and many a flag could be seen waving along as the spectacle was brought to a merry conclusion.
Having had the privilege of seeing multiple Concert Band performances, this was undoubtedly one of their best yet. It was great to experience sixty people enjoying performing in Durham’s largest non-auditioned ensemble. I hope to see DUCB continue to grow, particularly in the bass end of the band, which will only take them from strength to strength.