Durham University Brass Band kicked off the year with a joint concert alongside the Reg Vardy Brass Band, accompanied by guest conductor David Hirst. As the reigning Champions of the UniBrass Shield, DUBB held their own up against the internationally renowned local band, with a varied and exciting programme. The two bands culminated in one ‘Massed Band’ for a thrilling finale. Set in Elvet Methodist Church, the venue allowed the space for the two bands to combine. The audience was reasonably sized and suitably enthusiastic, but looked sparse purely due to the large hall.

The concert began with DUBB under the baton of  David Hirst, who has worked closely with the band on their repertoire. The opening ‘Punchinello’ march set the tone for the evening. Following this was ‘Manchester’, a hymn dedicated to the recent events in this city.

The low brass excelled at capturing the emotional nuances of the piece, however there were slight intonation issues in the middle of the band. Brendon Wheeler’s arrangement of ‘Alone With My Thoughts’ followed. The baritone solo was played masterfully by Sean Moran, although at times he was battling against the band for prominence, but eventually came out on top. ‘Birdland’, arranged by Philip Sparke, changed the atmosphere, with dramatic crecendos. The trombones played together like clockwork, but sometimes the upper parts were lost in the texture. Regardless, it had audience members grooving along, and it was fun to see that David Hirst kept up the trend of the ‘wiggling conductor’ from last year!

DUBB ended their portion of the evening with the ‘Reunion and Finale from “Gettysburg”’. Despite flawless solos from the flugel horn and euphonium, with special commendation going to the back row cornets for their perfect intonation, the overall piece felt a little under-rehearsed and was a rather solemn way to end their section of the concert. The ensemble absolutely captured the gripping and moving feel to the piece, but it was just lacking a little ‘oomph’ factor that would be expected to end the set. There were also a few balance issues throughout, with the middle brass often becoming lost in the texture.

Following a short 10-minute interval, Reg Vardy took to the stage, directed by DUBB and Reg Vardy conductor, Jonathan Fenwick. This set was a refreshing interlude, and I think it was extremely clever to combine the two bands into one concert as an opener to the year, given their links and history. Highlights of their set included ‘Brilliante’, which is a set of variations on ‘Rule Britannia’. Euphonium soloist Andrew Hedley was absolutely phenomenal, with incredible technique and mastery of overall piece. Another highlight was the arrangement of ‘Sing Sing Sing’ to give exciting flair to the concert, and a brass band staple ‘Pines of Rome’ concluded the Reg Vardy portion of the evening.

Another 10-minute ensued, allowing the two bands to combine forces onstage into a super-band. Under the baton of Jonathon Fenwick, the concert ended with ‘Fanfare and Flourishes’, ‘In Perfect Peace’ and ‘Born Free’, arranged by a member of the Reg Vardy band. Elvet Methodist church allowed for the music to fill the entire space, creating a breathtaking finale. Jonathon Fenwick managed well to command such a large ensemble. There were a few moments in ‘In Perfect Peace’ where control was lost momentarily, but this may have been to the fluid nature of the piece itself.

In all, this concert was an exciting start to the year for Durham Uni Brass Band, and I am looking forward to see them develop throughout the year.