Quality rather than quantity makes for exciting concert programme

With only days to go to the Regional Finals, Hepworth Band proved they could challenge the likes of Black Dyke and Brighouse and Rastrick bands at Yorkshire Brass Band Championships in Huddersfield Town Hall. Throughout its concert, the live audience were taken on a musical journey that was ambitious yet engaging.

With twelve pieces (including an encore piece), one could be forgiven for thinking “this was a short concert”. As two of the pieces were over ten minutes long, we got a full two hours at Boarshurst Band Club with Ryan Watkins and Co. Not any old pieces, only two of the best known test pieces in the brass banding world.

The second half was inspired by artists, including an original piece about a famous Yorkshire sculptor. This was the most experimental part of the concert, which gave the audience some little heard pieces and completely new works. On the whole it worked well and gave us a good account of Hepworth Band’s playing abilities.

For Musical Director Ryan Watkins, it was a return to familiar territory at Boarshurst Band Club. He has visited The Mecca of Brass Banding on previous occasions with Slaithwaite Band.

The Programme

First Half

  1. March: Marche Lorraine (Louis Ganne);
  2. Overture: Overture from The Thieving Magpie (Gioachino Antonio Rossini, arr. Denis Wright);
  3. Cornet Solo (performed by George Newbould): Before The Cross (Edward Gregson);
  4. Light Concert Music: Perpetuum Mobile (Johann Strauss, arr. M. Bale);
  5. Light Concert Music: The Girl With The Flaxen Hair (Claude Debussy, arr. Howard Snell);
  6. Test Piece: Cry of the Celts (Peter Graham).

Second Half

  1. Overture: Ruslan and Ludmila (Mikhael Glinka, arr. Andrew Duncan);
  2. Original Piece: Second and Third Movements of Rhythm of Light (Liz Lane);
  3. Original Piece: Middle Movement (Family Portraits) of Lowry Sketchbook (Philip Wilby);
  4. Euphonium Solo (performed by Ben Smith): Michaelangelo (Bengt Palmers and Björn Skifs);
  5. Test Piece: Spectrum (Gilbert Vinter).

Encore

  • Light Concert Music: La Danza (Gioachino Antonio Rossini).

Act I: A Traditional Programme

In traditional style, we opened with a march. This time, a French march in the form of Marche Lorraine. Composed by Louis Ganne in 1892, it was written for the XVIIIe Fête Fédérale de Gymnastique de France. It became a standard march of the official French Military Repertoire. This made for a rousing start to the concert.

The second piece was an overture, and what an overture it was. A cracking one in the form of Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie. For the band, this was a test of their skills in the slow melody and fast melody departments, due to the piece’s change of tempo. The first performance of the comic opera was on the 31 May 1817 at La Scala, Milan. In his native Italian, it is known as La Gazza Ladra. It was used to good effect in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (1971). In 2011, a snatch of it was used in Adam Curtis’ three-part documentary series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. As for Hepworth Band’s performance, a joy to behold.

Next up was our first of two solos: a cornet solo by George Newbould. He performed Edward Gregson’s Before The Cross. Written in 2003, it is an arrangement of an earlier choral work with a similar title. It was made for a solo album featuring International Staff Band principal cornet player David Daws. As for George’s performance, a fantastic one.

The fourth piece of the night was another classic: a bit of Johann Strauss in the form of Perpetuum Mobile. The term means ‘infinite’ – something that goes on forever in relation to a set of musical notes. We heard the scherzo of Johann Strauss II’s piece, which is probably the most famous example. A snatch of it could be heard in Michael Roberts’ arrangement which was used as the startup music for ABC Television (weekends in the North of England from 1956 to 1968) and Thames Television (weekdays in London from 1968 to 1992). As for Hepworth Band’s performance, well played.

Our fifth piece of the night was the shortest one of the night. That of Claude Debussy’s The Girl With The Flaxen Hair, arranged by Howard Snell. The piece is based on a poem by Leconte de Lisle, with Debussy’s work composed in 1910. The brass band transcription, as we found on Sunday night, is another crowd pleaser. One short enough to leave you asking for more; Hepworth Band’s performance was no exception.

This took us to our final piece of the first half, a most entertaining test piece by Peter Graham. As test pieces go, Cry of the Celts is accessible for both the concert environment and the contest environment. It is in five movements: Nightmare (which includes Lord of the Dance and Stolen Kiss); Suil a Ruin; Breakout; Lament; and Victory. The last movement includes Lord of the Dance, which should be enough to get audiences tapping away. A fantastic finale to the first half.

Act II: Art for Arts Sake

For the second half, every piece had an artistic theme. Each piece was inspired by, or paid homage to artists.

First off was a classic overture: that of Mikhael Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila. it is based on an 1820 poem by Alexander Pushkin (Russlan and Ludmila) and the overture is the best known part of the opera. At any brass band concert, it never fails to please the audience. Something that Hepworth Band did with ease at the start of the second half.

From Russia we moved to Wakefield. From Moscow, the journey to Wakefield Westgate takes 3 days and 1 hour with two coaches and eleven trains involved. The most famous person to come from Wakefield is Barbara Hepworth, which inspired Liz Lane’s piece Rhythm of Light. We heard the second and third movements, which reflected Hepworth’s upbringing and her rise to fame as a sculptor. Based at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Dr. Liz Lane wrote music from an early age. As for Rhythm of Light, it is a sparkling, refreshing piece. One with a nice choral air to it, expressed in the two movements we heard.

From Wakefield, we continued our journey to Pendlebury, home of a certain Lawrence Stephen Lowry from 1887 to 1948. Instead of a brass arrangement of Brian and Michael’s Number One single from 1978, we had the middle movement of Philip Wilby’s Lowry Sketchbook. Known as Family Portraits, it focused on L.S. Lowry’s family life – back when he lived in the same terraced house as his mother till her death. The piece has a slightly dour, melancholy nature, which is reminiscent of Lowry’s paintings. It is one that’s an acquired taste for some listeners, though one I was fine with myself. Once again, another fine performance.

For the next piece was our last soloist of the night. This time with Ben Smith on euphonium with Michaelangelo – a Swedish song about a famous Italian artist from 1975. It was written by Bengt Palmers and Björn Skifs as a possible Eurovision Song Contest entry (fifth in Sweden’s equivalent to Song For Europe) and topped the Swedish singles chart for seven weeks. As for Mr Smith’s performance, superb.

For our finale, we came up with another cracker. Another legendary test piece in Gilbert Vinter’s Spectrum. If you’re following this year’s Regional Finals at the end of this month or the start of next month, this is the First Section bands’ Test Piece. There are seven movements, representing each colour of the rainbow. Each movement is pithy with enough to keep the listener engaged whilst testing each band to their full potential. In the context of the second half’s artistic theme, it is dedicated to all famous painters. With a superb performance by Hepworth Band, there was a lot to like in the volume, depth and dynamics department. Brilliant work.

To finish off the concert proper, we had another classic piece of light concert music in Rossini’s La Danza. Written in 1835, it is described as a Patter Song, which means it has a very fast tempo (another example of this is I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General which appears in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance). As encores go, a fantastic lively one to sign off with, taking us towards our cars and buses with a smile on our face.

*               *               *

We wish Hepworth Band the very best of luck in the Yorkshire Brass Band Championships at Huddersfield Town Hall. This takes place on the 5th and 6th March 2022 with Sections 2, 3 and 4 playing on the Saturday (all day tickets are priced £9.00, or £5.00 for children under sixteen years of age). On Sunday, the morning ticket for Section 1 bands is £7.00 (£4.00 for children), whereas the afternoon ticket for Championship Section bands is £12.00 (£9.00 for children).

Please note that the Championship Section contest has allocated seating (at the other contests you can sit where you want on the day). The cost of a weekend’s worth of bands would set you back £28.00 (or £18.00 for children).

Next at Boarshurst Band Club…

The second Sunday in March (13th March) will see our first Cheshire band of 2022 at Boarshurst Band Club. That of Stockport Silver Band. Doors open at 6.30 pm for the usual 7.30 pm start. As always, please arrive as early as possible to be sure of a good seat.

Buses:

  • 350: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham.

Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. The 350 route is operated by First Greater Manchester before 7pm and Stagecoach Manchester after 7pm. Unless we know otherwise, First Transpennine Express drivers might still be on strike on the 13th March, which will affect Greenfield’s train services.

Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 17 February 2022.

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