Having already performed in a lunchtime concert and competed in the National Concert Band Festival earlier this term, Durham University Concert Band have been nothing short of busy. Going by their previous concerts, the evening was sure to provide a diverse programme to appease the musical tastes of all audience members. In the setting of Elvet Methodist Church, the focus of the evening was film music, spanning repertoire from early classics such as E.T to contemporary blockbusters such as Frozen.
Under the direction of Principal Conductor Sean Moran, the concert opened with a compilation of some of the most iconic film music, entitled Hollywood Milestones, arranged by John Higgins. After a grand opening fanfare, the dynamics were effectively brought down to reveal the two-note Jaws motif. Despite the occasional hesitations in the percussion cues, the piece was abundant with silky smooth transitions, taking the audience on a nostalgic rollercoaster from music by composers including John Williams and James Horner. After a finalising crescendo, a closing hand gesture from Moran created an effective end to the piece.
Next on the programme was Queen’s popular song Bohemian Rhapsody, arranged by John Berry. DUCB did an excellent job of performing the piece in a new light, with the motives of the song being passed delicately around the high wind. The multiple solos could have been executed slightly better, perhaps with more attention to Moran’s downbeat. Overall, however, the piece was plentiful in its chilling climaxes and was truly done justice by the band.
Citing back to the 19th century was Brian Bowen’s arrangement of Brahms’ Waltz in Ab, known from its use in films such as Welcome to the Dollhouse and Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters. Despite the soft opening, the lyrical melody in the clarinets could have been more prominent to improve the piece’s effectiveness. However, as the confidence of the piece built, the balance of the performance improved and was brought to a moving close.
On the more light-hearted side of the evening was a compilation of end credit music, arranged by Paul Murtha, from the family classic Shrek. Despite a slightly messy start, the comical work progressed through classic songs, including a brilliant rendition of Village People’s YMCA. As a personal highlight of the evening, I found it hard to resist tapping my foot throughout the entire piece.
Next, we were treated to Paul Murtha’s arrangement of John Debney and Joseph Trapanese’s music to last year’s blockbuster hit The Greatest Showman. The opening was generally very effective, although it did occasionally fall short due to some intonation issues from the horns. As the arrangement paced from one number to the next the band fell victim to a timing issue, however this was promptly recovered by a strong downbeat from Moran.
After a brief interval, the baton was handed over to Associate Conductor Thomas Hicken for Victor Lopez’s arrangement of Howard Shore’s music to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Although the slightly brash opening did partly detract from its effectiveness, the character of Shore’s folk-esque melodies were finely executed by the solo woodwinds. The contrast in the piece’s character was executed well by the band, presenting a palate of sound that transported the audience to Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Returning to another recent blockbuster, the band presented music from Frozen, arranged by Stephen Bulla. The lyrical writing for the solo woodwind parts poignantly presented the themes from the film, accompanied by many members of the audience miming along. The piece was concluded with a challenging syncopated passage which was expertly executed under Hicken’s direction.
Moving on to some core concert band repertoire, the next piece on the program was Eric Whitacre’s bittersweet piece October. The mysterious opening in the oboe poignantly encapsulated the character of the work, succeeded by a skillful execution of Whitacre’s iconic harmonic language in the rest of the band.
To conclude the concert was a 20th century silent film-inspired piece titled Silver Screen by Paul Hart. After a brief reading of the pieces narrative, the band executed a vivid depiction of the outlined story. From jocular clarinet melodies to villainous horn parts, this work was filled with charisma and charm, which must be largely credited to the band’s excellent performance of the work.
Overall, I believe that the band were successful in taking every audience member on a journey through some of the finest repertoire that film music has to offer. Special credit should of course be given to both Durham University Concert Band president Chloe Langham and to conductors Sean Moran and Thomas Hicken for giving us all a musical night that is surely to be remembered.
Durham University Concert Band’s final concert of the term will be their joint Christmas concert with Durham University Brass Band on Wednesday 12th December, Durham Town Hall. More information and tickets available here.