This evening saw the Durham University Brass Band, along with the Durham University Concert Band present their joint venture: ‘The Most Wonderful Time of The Year’ – a celebration of festive favourites which enticed many into the wonderous surroundings of Durham’s Town Hall. The concert was divided into two halves, with the Brass Band and Concert Band performing in each half respectively.

The first half started smoothly with conductor Thomas Hicken leading the Brass Band’s interpretation of ‘The Spirit of Christmas’ by Peter Graham; based on an all-time favourite ‘A Sussex Carol’. This work clearly showed the bands technical command of the musical idiom. Unfortunately, at times, the drum kit was slightly domineering over the overall texture and the intonation was a little unsteady. However, Brass Band enacted the energetic passages with precision and musicianship. Next up was ‘Gaudete’ by Rodney Newton. Medieval in concept, it’s style soon shifted into that of Newton’s Acid Brass style. The cohesion shown through the first piece was unsettled by a rather untidy entry by the trumpet section here. However, this piece worked well in the programme, including the refreshing sound of the tubular bells in the overall texture. Of special note is the band’s exceptional power and tenacity for endings, and they did not disappoint here! The final work conducted by Hicken was ‘Jingle Bells’ by Derek Ashmore. The tempo settled after a few seconds to the sound of a very cohesive and closely-knit group of musicians. The dynamics were especially evident here, and there is still room to do even more here.

It was now time to hand over the baton to Sean Moran, who introduced the audience to ‘Jubiloso’ by Philip Sparke; a light and breezy march set in the traditional Broadway style, but with some rather unconventional twists thrown in. This was perhaps one of the most memorable tunes from the first half, with the band really blending well together at this point. Sadly, many of the sections with large leaps and jumps were hindered by intonation issues, especially notes of flatness in the upper brass. But the fast passages were of particular commendation, with each section managing to keep with the conductor, whilst always playing with musicality and a sense of energy and excitement. ‘Reverie’ by Debussy (arr. Sean Moran), was well executed. The opening solo line was extremally musical and the intonation here was fantastic. Due to the slow and lyrical nature of the piece, however, intonation issues sadly affected the entire band; and it would have been nice to see a greater dynamic contrast. It was however, very well played, and credit must be given to Sean Moran for personally arranging the work for Brass Band. The Last two works of the first half: ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ by Edward Elgar (arr. Christopher Wormad); and ‘Sing Sing Sing’ by Louis Prima (arr. Ray Woodfield), were both played extremely well, and worked suitably well as the final two works for Brass Band. Especially in the final work, the power of the full band, and the excitement and enthusiasm evident helped to propel this to the desired level. A rather novel idea was introduced at the end, in that the players started swaying their instruments from side to side, upon subsequently elevating themselves to play the final few phrases.

Of special note is the band’s exceptional power and tenacity for endings, and they did not disappoint here!

Especially in the final work, the power of the full band, and the excitement and enthusiasm evident helped to propel this to the desired level.

After the interval, the Concert Band, conducted first by Sean Moran, took to the stage for ‘Troika’ by Sergei Prokofiev (arr. Scott Watson). This was enjoyed by all and added to the festive spirit instantly. The balance was generally very well handled, with only a few instances of the melodic line being covered by the accompaniment figures. It was good to see a number of different sections take turns to play various solo interjections, most notably in the oboes, and flutes. I felt still, that there could have been more dynamic contrast, and perhaps phrases played more musically at times. Next was the classic ‘Irish Tune from Country Derry’. I very much enjoyed this favourite, and it was interesting to hear the Concert Band’s interpretation of a work that is so well known. At times, the intonation could be rather unsteady and the clarinets almost hesitant at entries, but this did not detract from an overall very pleasant interpretation and performance.

I was immediately excited when the next work was introduced: ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ by Danny Elfman (arr. Michael Brown). The band really came together well on this one, with the blend and intonation much more secure now. There was momentarily lapse in cohesion in the middle, where a number of sections got out of sync, but this was rectified instantly by conductor Sean Moran, who manged to draw all of the players back into a cohesive collective. At this point, the conductor’s switched over, and Thomas Hicken took to the podium. The next work: ‘A Canadian Brass Christmas’ arr. Luther Henderson, and Adpt. By Howard Cable, was an exciting medley of some of Canadian Brass’ famous Christmas songs. Here the intonation was extremely good, and it was fun good fun listening out for the Christmas quotations in the medley. It was disappointing at times, however, when the players rushed ahead of the conductor, and this could have been easily rectified by the players. The final two pieces, ‘Winter Dances’ by Fergal Carroll; and ‘The Snowman’ Arr. Stephen C. Barnwell were equally pleasing to listen to. The first saw a very elegantly played solo by Charlotte Clews on the flute, which led smoothly into another solo from the clarinets. A further solo of note was played by Chloe Langham in ‘The Snowman’ which was played musically and with great care in aspects of intonation and tone production.

As we neared the end of the concert, there was a rather exciting opportunity for the bands and audience alike; both bands joined forces and acted as an accompaniment for the audience to sing some Christmas favourites, such as: ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’. Shortly after the carols, the concert was to conclude with a joint work from the power of both bands: ‘A Christmas Festival’ by Leroy Anderson. It was fantastic to hear both bands playing together here, the sound was truly astounding, and here the intonation, balance and dynamics were all handled with care. Overall, a very enjoyable concert, by two very talented bands. It was a delight to see them working together so unanimously tonight, and the sound surely portrayed that. Special mention must got to both of the conductors, who’s work over the past 10 weeks for both bands has obviously been rewarding for everyone involved, and to both president’s for their continued support of the Executive committee’s role in creating such enjoyable occasions for all.

It was fantastic to hear both bands playing together here, the sound was truly astounding, and here the intonation, balance and dynamics were all handled with care. Overall, a very enjoyable concert, by two very talented bands. It was a delight to see them working together so unanimously tonight, and the sound surely portrayed that.