The Great Hall at University College tonight played host to a wonderfully diverse concert of music for brass bands. From folksong to video games, this was an exhibition of the versatility of brass players from around the country. Durham University Brass Band was joined by their counterparts from the universities of Leeds and Warwick, all of whom offered their own performances before joining forces to close the concert with a truly magnificent culmination of collaborative music-making.
Undeterred by the droning bagpipes outside celebrating Burns’ Night, the University of Warwick Brass Band opened the concert with the punchy Mercury Contest March written in 1990 by the Dutch composer Jan Van der Roost. Although lacking clarity in places, the band delivered an enthusiastic start to the evening. Joe Morgan, the first soloist of the evening, delighted the audience with his sweet tone in the next piece, the light-hearted arrangement of the pop song California Dreamin’, first released in 1965. The adaptability of Warwick was on full display tonight: their penultimate performance was the reflective The Irish Blessing. Beautifully contrasting the grander works presented this evening, a small ensemble beautifully delivered this peaceful setting which, though short, was a welcome calm. Warwick closed its offering with a playful and idiosyncratic arrangement of a Russian folk song Korobeiniki commissioned by the University of Warwick Brass Band, which is better known for its use in Tetris.
Responding superbly to the acoustic of the Great Hall, Leeds University Union Music Society Brass Band immediately captivated the audience with their energetic playing. Star Lake was the first of two Salvation Army standards which were played this evening. This march showcased varied dynamic contrasts, which the band captured with great aplomb. The Shepherd’s Song was arranged from a French folksong, and its calm, flowing melodic lines provided the opportunity for the band to play in a beautifully lyrical fashion. Ethan Skirving, the engaging conductor of the Leeds band, delivered a thrilling end to the first half with Pound the Streets, a pounding rock number, which gave the talented percussionists occasion to shine.
The second half of the concert began with an arrangement of the medieval Christmas carol Gaudete, which was at first sight somewhat out of place, but in fact a rousing start to Durham University Brass Band’s set. The Little Suite for Brass presented three contrasting movements of unashamedly English ‘light music’. The first of three such suites he composed, the bold yearning melody of the Siciliano was particularly poignant. The final number was a show-stopping arrangement, Shine, of the gospel favourite This little light of mine. An exciting twist on an old favourite, this jazzy version was performed with contagious enthusiasm, not least when the band had the opportunity to sing a verse.
The final portion of the concert was a truly exciting spectacle — over seventy players came together to play three varied pieces to round off the evening. The first, the stately Fanfares and Flourishes by the contemporary American composer James Curnow, takes its theme from Charpentier’s Te Deum, famously used in the Eurovision Song Contest. The bands let their hair down in the foot-tapping Sway, a Mexican song which allowed the players to enjoy playing in a large ensemble. The concert concluded with fast-paced title music for Iron Man 3. The skill of the bands was on full display, especially in the percussion section, whose driving rhythms kept the music alive.
Tonight’s concert was a vehicle for the three bands heard here to exhibit their hard work, which will be put to the test in the UK inter-university Brass Band competition, UniBrass. It was a pleasure to welcome musicians from Leeds and Warwick to Durham, and we wish success to both our guests, as well as our own university Brass Band.