On 6 March, Durham University Concert Band took to Elvet Methodist Church for an evening of Concert Band classics, featuring numbers from renowned films and musicals. Building on the success of Michaelmas term, with two of their own concerts, a joint concert with Durham University Brass Band, and a performance at the National Concert Band Festival, Concert Band filled the stage for a night of enjoyable music at a very high standard. The band is an un-auditioned ensemble open to all brass, woodwind and percussion players with the aim of creating a relaxed and informal atmosphere, and I certainly felt welcome as an audience member at my first ever concert band performance!
The first half of the programme was conducted by Sean Moran, who brought a taste of Spain to Elvet Methodist with the dance ‘Amparito Roca’, composed by Jaime Texidor and arranged by Aubrey Winter. The very smartly dressed band gave a confident start, led by Moran. This piece was an excellent opener, introducing us to the full sound the band is capable of, with a particularly strong contribution from the brass.
Next came Holst’s ‘First Suite in Eb’ for Military Band, Op28 No. 1, consisting of a Chaconne, Intermezzo and March. A diverse range of dynamics was displayed in this work, with Moran excellently controlling the quiet playing; often a very difficult task with such a sizeable ensemble. However, Moran did not seem to struggle in maintaining a sense of direction in the music throughout the suite. Although the last note of the Chaconne was a little too piercing, this was not detrimental to the overall enjoyment. The Intermezzo included some great solo playing from across various sections in the band, and the character of the March was well defined, with a nicely executed ending.
Following Holst, we delved into musical numbers, with the band producing a nicely lyrical and full sound in ‘Send in the Clowns’ by Stephen Sondheim, arranged by Frank D. Cofield. This relatively short piece was enjoyable to listen to, with its playful character really coming across.
The Intermezzo included some great solo playing from across various sections in the band, and the character of the March was well defined, with a nicely executed ending.
Frank Ticheli’s arrangement of the traditional tune ‘Amazing Grace’ was a delight, with an excellently controlled melody by the saxophone soloist at the beginning and ending, for which she received well deserved applause at the end of the piece. In general, all solos were performed well, with the saxophone and flute particularly shining through during this piece. It was a shame not to be able to name the soloists, allowing for maximum credit to be given; perhaps it would be ideal to list all players by instrument in the programme, allowing for maximum credit to all the soloists.
I particularly enjoyed Sean O’ Loughlin’s arrangement of ‘How to train your Dragon’, scored by John Powell. The band captured the drama of the piece, including very energetic tutti moments, and impressive control of the dynamics from Moran. The percussion section in particular really contributed to the texture of the piece, especially the accurate playing of the xylophone. Credit too should go to the lower brass, who supplied a well-grounded bassline throughout, enforced by the bassoon.
Moran finished the first half of the concert with ‘Sabre Dance’ by Adam Khachaturian, arranged by Jack Bullock. This piece was my personal favourite in the concert, with the band effectively capturing the energetic dance from the ballet ‘Gayane’, composed in 1942. The drummer gave a steady pulse throughout, and the strength of the brass section was really shown off here. The challenging rhythms and use of hemiola were successfully articulated, finishing the first half with great excitement.
In general, all solos were performed well, with the saxophone and flute particularly shining through during this piece.
All transitions between songs were smooth, with the band paying rapt attention to the conducting of Hicken, and the dynamic contrast was superb, capturing the style of each song. This medley was clearly enjoyed by the audience.
The second half was conducted by Thomas Hicken, starting with ‘A Huntingdon Celebration’ by Philip Sparke. I agree with Hicken’s enthusiasm of using Sparke as an opener, as the piece was bright and cheery throughout. The concert band displayed good balance, with the melody being evident most of the time. I would have liked to see Hicken attempt to shape phrases even more, yet he always maintained excellent clarity in his beating, which was reflected in the unified sound of the band.
A medley of selections from the Lion King followed, arranged by Jay Bocook, beginning with the Circle of Life. Although the accompaniment could have been a little quieter and the opening intonation of Can You Feel the Love Tonight slightly more accurate, this was not detrimental to the performance. All transitions between songs were smooth, with the band paying rapt attention to the conducting of Hicken, and the dynamic contrast was superb, capturing the style of each song. This medley was clearly enjoyed by the audience.
A more unusual choice of programming followed, hearing the ‘Elizabethan Serenade’ by Ronald Binge, arranged by WJ Duthoit. This piece was dainty and pleasant, with the melody effectively being passed between flute and brass. The lower brass could have played a little lighter, but this interesting piece showed off the versatility of the band well.
The programme was completed with ‘Selections from Les Misérables’ by Claude-Michel Schonberg, arranged by Warren Barker. The bold opening raised the excitement in the audience, with ‘At the end of the day’ featuring some effective percussion solos. ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was captured well, particularly by the trumpet solo, though I would have liked ‘Master of the House’ which followed to be taken at a quicker tempo to really make the most of the contrast between the two tunes. ‘On My Own’ was played with apt sensitivity, transitioning brilliantly into ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’, which provided a loud and dramatic finish. This was an excellent piece to end the concert with, and I was certainly right to look forward to this piece all night.
The concert band produced a very successful concert and congratulations should be given to both conductors. As a member of the audience, it was lovely to be addressed by them both throughout as they introduced each piece in the programme; something which added to the friendly atmosphere the band aim to achieve. Congratulations too to President, Chloe Langham, and the rest of the exec for all their hard work. I look forward to the next concert, which I’m sure will be another evening of great fun!