“Exhibition” – a variety of brass, with Wellington bands playing host to the Chicago Brass

Four Bands each play two major works for Brass Bands

Hutt City Brass Band (Matthew Stein, conductor)
Trust Porirua City Brass (Clynton Payne, conductor)
Wellington Brass (David Bremner, conductor)
Chicago Brass (Colin Holman, conductor)

Music by Kenneth Dowie, Marcus Venables, Clynton Payne, Edward Gregson,
Dean Goffin, Hermann Pallhuber, Eric Whitacre (arr. Sandy Smith), Thomas Doss

Salvation Army Citadel, Wellington

Monday 8th July, 2019

Having never reviewed a brass band concert before, I didn’t really know what to expect, other than hearing an evening’s-worth of splendid and varied sounds! On that score I wasn’t disappointed, with the music in every case projected with flair, sensitivity and energy, the sounds at times suitably roof-raising, while tempered by contrasts of every conceivable variety.

Being an “exhibition” concert meant that there were considerable bonuses to be had for listeners, the obvious one being the prospect of hearing no less than four bands “strutting their stuff”, one of which had come all the way from Chicago, Illinois, in the US of A, to perform! Naturally enough, the performance atmosphere was heightened by a sense of friendly competition, each band obviously out to put its “best set of feet forward” in comparison with the other three, but as much in a way that celebrated the occasion as reflected any kind of competitiveness.

Another “exhibition” aspect which I enjoyed was how each group presented itself with a brief video about who it was, where it was from and illustrating something of its “modus operandi” – which, of course varied most entertainingly from group to group in terms of presentation style and content. I liked the “tongue-in-cheek” aspect of them, allowing us to take them as seriously or light-heartedly as we wanted, while still conveying those aforementioned essentials. It did, however, underline for me just how “visual-oriented” we have become when presenting music (or any sounds, for that matter), wanting increasingly to “illustrate” what is heard, engaging the senses fully and in the process perhaps leaving less to the imagination…….

The repertoire played was new to me, except in cases where I was familiar with the melodies that inspired the pieces – thus I was able to prick up my ears with recognition for the arrangement of the “St Francis of Assisi” Hymn, a melody which I knew from a previous life as “All Creatures of Our God and King” –  and also for Hermann Pallhuber’s “Titan’s Progress”, which not altogether surprisingly took and elaborated on various motifs from Gustav Mahler’s well-known First Symphony, subtitled by its composer “The Titan”. Another resonance for me was the Hollywood-like glitziness of Marcus Venables’ “Endless Power”, which readily evoked 20thCentury Fox introductions to that film company’s productions recalled from my youthful movie-going days!

I registered and enjoyed the Benjamin-Britten-like brilliance of parts of Edward Gregson’s “Connotations”, with percussion playing a prominent part in the proceedings and, by contrast, the Brucknerian nobility of textures and long-breathed lines of Dean Goffin’s “Light of the World”. Finally,  I had great fun during the evening’s very last item, Thomas Doss’s “Trance”, teasing out the many and varied appearances of a Chorale by JS Bach as a kind of recurring motif of the work, interspersed among a fantastic array of colour, texture and rhythmic trajectory.

Each of the bands were thus presented with sufficient challenges for them to prove their worth, and all rose to the occasion to give the specific pieces just what was needed to bring out the “character” of every work in turn. We heard the “singing style” of Kenneth Dowie’s piece “The Father’s Blessing” richly maintained by all the instruments throughout, the music ebbing and flowing with oceanic surety right up to the final chord. The contrast with the razz-matazz of Marcus Venables’ piece that followed was all the more marked and effective.

Something of the same contrast of mood was expressed by the juxtapositioning of the two pieces that followed, the first “Hymn to St Francis of Assisi” lyrical and contemplative, and the second, Edward Gregson’s “Connotations”, a more consciously “symphonic” work, though avoiding any “self-conscious” display for its own sakes, musically satisfying in a more subtle way.   This pattern continued, juxtapositioning Dean Goffin’s rich and nostalgic “Light of the World” with Hermann Pallhuber’s overtly demonstrative “meditation on Mahler” , the latter piece’s tumultuous expression seeming to take the older Bohemian composer at his word when he famously declared “Symphony is like the world – it should contain everything!”

As ought to have been the case, much was made of the appearance of the North American band from Chicago, most warmly welcomed at the outset of the concert, and duly acclaimed both before and after their performances. The Chicagoans responded with equal warmth, making a presentation to the conductors of each of the NZ bands, and declaring their invitation to perform in New Zealand a singular honour. Their playing certainly “gave tongue” to their pleasure and delight at being here, and brought the evening to a suitably brilliant and satisfying conclusion.

Band aficionados would have been well pleased with this, a “taster” for the National Championships due to be held in Hamilton beginning Friday 12th July, and finishing on Sunday of that weekend – so, northwards for all, to glory!