Concert Band Review – 40th Anniversary Celebration

An eager audience packed themselves into the beautiful setting of Durham’s historic town hall to celebrate Durham University Concert Band’s 40th Anniversary. Illustrating a challenging and ambitious repertoire, the beautiful programme gave us information about the pieces being performed as well as an entertaining recount of how this band was formed 40 years ago.

The concert opened with Philip Sparke’s Jubilee Overture, an opening fanfare followed by a grand march-like piece. It was a little tentative during the beginning, but soon settled in confidence, clearly illustrating the talent of the full brass and percussion sections. Evan Penn, conductor, had very clear conducting, communicating key to dynamics and sections to the orchestra.

The next piece was One Thousand Cranes by Robert Sheldon. The first few notes created a beautiful and calming atmosphere, contrasting well with the previous triumphant opening. Penn was able to steer the band with skill during this slower piece, helped by the band watching him keenly. The opening notes from the saxophones and percussion showed great control with slow and quite dynamics, really added to by the Tubular Bells (played by Oliver Newton). Despite the sometimes dense texture, the solo lines moved seamlessly through the different band instruments. The tuning at times was a bit questionable, especially in the flutes, but the overall sound was well balanced and a joy to listen to.

Next, the assistant conductor Laura Scott took to the podium to conduct Paul Murtha’s arrangement of Duke Ellington in Concert. After a slow start, the band took us through some of Ellington’s most beloved classics, including Caravan, Mood Indigo and finishing with a toe-tapping rendition of It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). The shinning instrument for me in this piece was the superb Tuba, played by Edward Renshaw, who really pinned down the groove of the piece throughout, giving the band a good ground to bounce off. Scott provided clear conducting throughout, allowing the tempo changes between sections appear seamless, especially when aided by the watchful drummer, Jack Dobson.

The first half was rounded off with an arrangement of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings. We were taken through a journey of familiar tunes, showing off the bands versatility at changing the mood and styles quickly. On the whole the piece was well done, featuring a great saxophone (James Cockain) and Piccolo (Ester Havell) solos, especially with the ‘Shire’ theme section. However, at times the drive of the piece was lost a bit through ambiguity of parts, largely during them more rhythmic and beginnings of different sections.

After a short interval, Scott retuned to the podium to conduct Elmer Bernstein’s Magnificent Seven. This was a great start to the second half, with a perky opening, followed by the main theme being played with ease across the band. The driving bass rhythm in the lower instruments was clear throughout the piece, contrasting nicely to the lyrical solos on the Trumpet (Elizabeth Hopper) and Oboe (Chloe Langham). Although the texture balance during the these solo section were a bit loud, the tempo changes were again handled well by Scott and the clear and crisp theme, helped by the glockenspiel (Alison Lam), made this piece one of my favourites of the concert.

Up next was Holst’s famous Mars, the Bringer of War. This was executed well be the band, showing great control in holding back both dynamics and tempo, which can easily run away with this piece. The dynamics really shone, from the very menacing and quiet opening in the tuba and bass clarinet, to the vibrant swells across the whole band. It was unfortunate that the main melodic idea was sometimes out of sync, but overall the combination of the lovely menacing bass and perfectly staccato upper instruments created an exciting piece.

A complete change in atmosphere was created with Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, arranged for wind band. This piece was truly beautiful, with quiet dynamics and excellent breath control. The rubato of the piece was handled well by Penn, allowing the solo and climax sections alike great breadth in emotion and harmony. There were a few tuning issues, but this did not detract from the wonderful sound made during this piece.

The concert was rounded of ambitiously with Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy. A six-movement work, each featured around a different folksong, and covers a wide range of moods, textures and melodies. The piece does have significant challenges, including irregular and off-putting time signatures and technically challenging lines (especially in the high clarinet parts), which were all handled well by Penn and the band. Particular highlights for me during this work was the lilting solo in the 3rd movement, the fast flute passages and solo baritone solo in the 4th movement and upbeat melody in the final movement. The work had so many great moments, with all the band working well together as a whole, groups and solos.

Overall this concert was a great celebration of the Concert Band’s 40th anniversary, with a great diverse programme covering many different styles of concert band repertoire. The two conductors, soloist and band are all to be congratulated, and I wish them another great 40 years.

For another chance this year to see concert band, they will be joining several other Music Durham ensembles in Castle’s Great Hall on the 4th of June for a celebration of international music.