Durham University Concert Band and Brass Band

Conductors: Emma Maslin | Evan Penn | Matthew Ruddock | Abi Groocock

Last night Durham University Concert Band and Brass Band gave a fantastic winter concert to a receptive audience in St. Oswald’s Church. The concert was so amazing, that both bands treated the audience to their own renditions of Amazing Grace.

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The event opened with the Concert Band, under the direction of their associate conductor, Evan Penn. He had chosen an adventurous curtain raiser in Charles Ives’ Variations On America, a brave choice that paid off well, as the Concert Band really captured the Ivesian colours of the American marching band. The band could have played more together, but this didn’t detract from Evan’s brilliant reading of the piece, he is surely a conductor to watch as his musical career at the university continues.

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After this, the mood was calmed for Frank Ticheli’s arrangement of Amazing Grace which featured a wonderful contribution from the solo saxophonist Laura Scott. Emma Maslin, the band’s principal conductor, then took to the stage to deliver an action packed James Bond 007. This medley of well-known Bond themes, really stirred the audience once again. The arrangement allowed the band’s fantastic trumpet section come to the fore with great jazz affects.

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The Concert Band closed the half with a celebration of the music of one of the most renowned songwriters of the American song book; Irving Berlin in a great finale entitled An Irving Berlin Christmas. It was great to see Emma, who was associate conductor of the band last year, keep such brilliant control over the band, which seems to have grown in size since last year. She really knows her players and the bands capabilities and is able to fluently lead them from one tempo to another with great style and authority. Of particular beauty was the White Christmas section which was played with such emotion.

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After the audience had got into the Christmas spirit, they were treated to a brilliant array of festive interval refreshments including mince pies and mulled wine, which was much needed on such a cold and dark night. It was great to see the comradery of the concert band’s players who by in large stayed at the venue to watch their colleagues in the brass band in the second half.

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The brass band have already performed this term, in Durham Town Hall with the Reg Vardy Band and as such their set consisted of pieces they played in that concert, mingled with more festive repertoire. Their principal conductor, Matthew Ruddock, who like Emma was the band’s associate conductor last year, has really made an impression on the band. Their first item, Pinball Wizard is a great opener for any concert and was arranged specifically for the band by Matthew.

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The traditional French carol Gaudete followed, which featured the brass band’s characteristic choreography which was effective in such a stirring piece. The mood was then calmed once again for two arrangements of choral pieces. The first, Sleep by Eric Whitacre captured the sonorities and blend of the band with its moments of beautiful dissonance and John Rutter’s Candlelight Carol, conducted by Abi Groocock allowed the band’s principal cornet, Shannon Webb to shine.

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A highlight of the set was Amparito Roco which featured great solo contributions from Alfie Leach on Soprano Cornet. The band were not always perfectly in tune, which sometimes detracted in the more lyrical passages, but the piece definitely warmed the audience up with its Spanish rhythms. The brass band then gave us another rendition of Amazing Grace, this time in an arrangement by William Himes.

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Abi took over once again to lead the band through one of their favourite Christmas items; Derek Ashmore’s arrangement of Jingle Bells, her audience participation was a brilliant touch and was well received by the concert goers. The final surprise of the night was that Santa Claus himself came to lead the band through their finale A Christmas Festival – it was a shame Matthew Ruddock did not return to see Mr. Claus lead his band with such panache.

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Overall, this was a fantastic concert that got everyone into the Christmas mood. Both bands are going from strength to strength and need to be supported as much as possible by all of those who enjoy great music making!

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Review: Lewis Wilkinson
Photography: David Cotter