A triumphant Michaelmas Concert for Durham University Brass Band

Three conductors brought warmth to a cold November evening with their first wonderful display of a range of genres.

Following in the long tradition of brass bands in the North East, Durham University Brass Band magnificently opened its 2019-20 season showcasing its versatility, from the vivacious pomp of Slaidburn to the sentimental morbidity of In Perfect Peace.

The concert opened with the energetic Prismatic Light which radiated an enviable warmth to the appreciative audience gathered in St Oswald’s Church. The work premiered in 2012 and was written specifically as a concert-opener, a role it fulfilled brilliantly tonight. Amongst the numbers in the first half, Bruce Fraser’s 2014 arrangement of popular songs from the Great War was especially apt and moving on the eve of Remembrance Sunday.  Its juxtaposition of the comic Mademoiselle dArmentières with the stoic Reveille was highly effective.  Isaac Conray’s energetic and flamboyant conducting was a pleasure to watch, and he adapted well to all of the different styles on show.  While the tempo had a tendency to slow down at times in the more upbeat numbers, the band’s synchronicity and wonderfully blended sound more than compensated.

The first half was punctuated by two excellent young soloists. The melodious and sensitive trumpet playing of Patrick Hurley is proof enough that the future of brass music is safeguarded – his seemingly effortless command of high notes was particularly impressive. Sam Musson demonstrated a surprisingly effective arrangement of Elgar’s cherished Chanson de Matin, showcasing some fantastic breath control.  Before the interval, the band enthused the audience with the Cuban showstopper Malagueña, succinctly described by the conductor as “hardcore”.

The second half saw the début performance of the newly-formed Symphonic Ten Piece, whose effective introduction saw them assemble from the back of the church and slow march to take their place at the front during their rendition of their arrangement of the gospel song, Just a closer walk.  The challenging and refreshingly varied repertoire was mostly executed very well under the clear and steady baton of Thomas Hicken.  Their final performance of the classic 1972 rock hit Smoke on the Water was an exciting send-off, whose audacious rendition was seasoned with two coherent and exciting solos.  I am very excited to see more of this promising group of players throughout the year.

When the whole band reconvened, they delivered a sentimental arrangement of the morose gospel hymn In Perfect Peace. Concluding the second half was an effervescent celebration of the golden age of American musicals, in Goff Richards’s Breezindown Broadway. But all was not yet over; after hearty applause from the gathered audience, the concert closed with a punchy encore, Alan Fernie’s African Funk.

The concert was a triumph for the band whose repertoire is pleasingly varied and will surely attract many at its forthcoming Christmas Concert, a collaboration with Durham University Concert Band, at the Town Hall on 13th December.

Samuel Hill