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Celebrating Vaughan Williams

25-27 January, 2008

Artistic Director Paul Hindmarsh previews a unique weekend of the best of the British brass band tradition

This is the 13th year in which I have planned the programmes for Manchester’s Festival of Brass. It began as a BBC Radio 3 series in 1991, when I was a producer for that august radio station. When the BBC decided to end the studio series, Edward Gregson, Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music, took on the event as a public festival. Under the umbrella of the RNCM, with its vibrant brass tradition, I have been able to expand the artistic agenda, bring in the finest brass bands, ensembles and soloists, with British music at its heart.

Each year I have tried to keep the diet of music as fresh and inventive as I can by looking into the archives to see what treasures might be lurking there ready for revival and re-assessment, tapping into topical themes such as anniversaries, featuring when appropriate major new works that have proved successful elsewhere, especially in the contesting arenas and seeking out new writing that I hope will inspire, surprise and sometimes delight the audience and the musicians.

Celebrating Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958)

From a purely musical point of view the performances of Holst’s A Moorside Suite at the National Brass Band Championships of 1928 was a turning point in the history of the British brass band movement. The clarity and precision of the opening Scherzo was a world away from the usual test-piece challenges of the day. Holst devoted considerable time to writing for amateurs and young people and after the success of Moorside he maintained close contacts with the brass band movement, especially the Carlisle St. Stephen’s Band. He encouraged his great friend, composer and conductor William Gillies Whittaker (1876 – 1948) to work with the band when he was planning to write a brass band work of his own. He never did, but the fruits of Holst’s influence can be heard on 26 January, when Brighouse & Rastrick (Alan Morrison) give the world premiere of Whittaker’s Suite of North Country Folk Tunes in Ray Farr’s realisation.

Holst may well have influenced his other great musical friend, Ralph Vaughan Williams (RVW) to write for brass band. The 50th anniversary of his death in 1958 affords a prime opportunity for reviving all his brass band music and presenting some new brass band versions of his orchestral and wind band music. RVW did not write extensively for brass band but what he completed is of the highest quality. The only work which he scored for band himself was the dramatic overture Henry the Fifth (Grimethorpe, 27 January). Late in his long life, RVW was drawn to the brass band again when he heard the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army under its legendary director from the 1950s and 1960s Bernard Adams. At the suggestion of Philip Catelinet, a Salvationist and the first soloist in the Tuba Concerto, RVW wrote the band a sonorous Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes (Cory, 26 January). RVW entrusted the scoring to Catelinet, as he did his masterly Variations which also features in the Brighouse concert. Although one of his last works, it comes across with a freshness that belies RVW’s great age. To add a further dimension to this 50th anniversary tribute, Grimethorpe Colliery will perform Herbert Howells’ nostalgic suite Three Figures, composed some years after the Variations.

A number of new RVW arrangements will also be premiered, the most substantial being a 12-minute suite from his music to the war-time film The 49th Parallel (Foden’s Richardson, 27 January). This includes one of his most celebrated patriotic melodies. Phillip Littlemore and I have, we hope, created something that will appeal to brass bands at all levels of expertise. As part of a course in scoring for brass band at the RNCM, a group of senior students have worked with me on another Prelude on a Welsh Hymn Tune – Rhosymedre (‘Lovely’). Vaughan Williams’ organ original has been arranged for many different combinations. The RNCM students offer this band version as their anniversary tribute in the first concert on 27 January. The Leyland Band will be featuring a brand new version of the effervescent overture The Wasps, premiered especially by one of the band’s resident arrangers, and the band manager, Gary Westwood.

Lloyd’s brass symphony

George Lloyd was a generation younger than Vaughan Williams. Born in 1913, he was an exact contemporary of Benjamin Britten. His musical idiom was unashamedly old-fashioned and romantic. Lloyd loved writing tunes on a large scale. During his long life, he completed 12 symphonies, the tenth of which, subtitled November Journeys is for symphonic brass. The second movement reveals something of the source of Lloyd’s inspiration – the devotional calm of some of England’s great Gothic cathedrals which Lloyd and his wife visited one November. Symphony No. 10 has never really found its niche in the repertoire, so Luc Vertommen’s impressive brass band version, which receives its world premiere on 26 January in the Cory Band’s concert is to be welcomed. Lloyd always retained great affection for his Diversions on a Bass Theme, which he considered to be his best brass band work. Black Dyke include this favourite work in the opening concert of the festival on Friday 25 January.

A Philip Sparke retrospective

The dynamic sound and consummate craftsmanship of Philip Sparke’s music provides the connecting thread of the RNCM Festival of Brass next month. His work is present in every concert as a tribute to the substantial contribution to the whole brass band repertory over some 35 years. Sparke once said that he didn’t regard himself so much as a composer as a provider of music. How true that is depends entirely on your interpretation of what being a composer is all about and I have never taken the remark that seriously. There is an element of gebrauchsmusik, or writing to order, about any professional composer from the great J.S. Bach through to the providers of film and stage music today. The 2008 festival offers a varied retrospective, including examples of his lighter concert music – the haunting Mountain Song from the Leyland Band (27 January) and the bright and breezy Jubilee Overture from Foden’s Richardson (27 January) – to some of his major test pieces. Philip has developed a virtuoso technique as a composer – the final section of Variations on an Enigma, with its intricate web of counterpoint and reprise, is a tour-de-force. The energy, power and ingenuity of Harmony Music (Brighouse & Rastrick, 26 January) is a magnificent compositional achievement. Year of the Dragon (Cory, 26 January), now a popular own choice selection for first section bands in competition, is one of his most engaging earlier works, revealing his affection for American music, especially the vitality of Leonard Bernstein. Tallis Variations (RNCM Band, 26 January) blends that transatlantic idiom with a melody so timelessly English, that I have programmed it alongside other essays in English pastoral landscape. In his talk on his latest and in the opinion of many one of his finest works, Music for Battle Creek (Grimethorpe, 27 January), Sparke revealed how instinctive his approach to writing has now become. This is absolute music – with no external expressive agenda or programme – and governing its progress is an emotional journey born directly out of the musical material. It shows the composer at the height of his creative powers and will be a fitting climax to the festival.

Out of the depths

The brass world is blessed with an unrivalled depth of ‘low brass’ talent at the moment. We are living through golden ages of the euphonium and tuba – and along with that a timely realisation of the full potential of the baritone horn as a solo instrument. Much of that is down to the skill and artistry of Katrina Marzella, current British Open Solo Champion. David Childs (Cory) and David Thornton (guesting with the RNCM) have chosen euphonium works by Carl Rütti and Peter Meechan, Joseph Cooke (Black Dyke) is the soloist in Phillip Littlemore’s arrangement of the RVW Tuba Concerto, with its haunting slow movement, whilst Leslie Neish (Foden’s Richardson) has commissioned a brand new concert piece for tuba from British Composers’ Award winner Andy Scott.

The RNCM is also delighted to welcome two celebrated guest soloists, who will also be giving Besson-sponsored masterclasses, Steven Mead (appearing with Grimethorpe in the final concert) and James Gourlay (who will feature with Brighouse & Rastrick). Steven’s major contribution will be the flamboyant Concerto by Vladimir Cosma, originally with wind orchestra, but heard here in the brass version by John Meredith. Gourlay has also opted for something new and has invited Bruce Fraser to write him a 12-minute concerto, which is still ‘work in progress’. As a tribute to Leslie Condon, one of the SA’s most original creative voices, who sadly died at 55 in 1988, James will play his fine solo Celestial Morn.

The Festival also marks the 80th birthday of composer Thea Musgrave with a performance of her Variations, the 50th birthday of Peter Graham and the 50th anniversary of the Scottish Amateur Music Association’s ground-breaking commissioning policy.

Spooks and other premieres

No RNCM Festival of Brass would be complete without its fair share of world premieres and I am delighted to reveal that there will be no fewer than 14 first performances in January. Heading the list is the world premiere of Spooks, an outrage for bass trombone and ensemble by Elgar Howarth. Commissioned by consortium of British conservatoires, including the RNCM, Spooks promises to be a hugely entertaining work, especially in the hands of soloist Mark Frost (27 January). Now in his last year as College Principal, Professor Gregson will conduct Black Dyke in the premiere of a new extended version of Edward Gregson’s Variations on Laudate Dominum – he has added two new variations to his much-loved work. Cory and Robert Childs offer a second first performance – that of Actaeon, a symphonic poem by the band’s composer-in-residence Gareth Wood. Brett Baker is going to premiere a brand new concert piece for trombone – Knightmare – from Derek Bourgeois. Leyland band’s composer-in-residence Simon Dobson has prepared a full version of his much talked about European B test piece from 2007, The Drop.

Choosing the music is one thing, finding the bands and conductors to spend time preparing and then performing is another. Each year, I am amazed at the commitment and dedication the great bands and conductors display in coming to terms with the musical adventures they are invited to play. The festival is so fortunate to be able to call upon the skills of the country’s leading bands and their distinguished conductors. The Royal Northern College of Music provides an ideal setting, with its intimate performing spaces and ample facilities. All it needs is your presence in the audience to make the 2008 Festival as previous ones.
The Festival at a glance
Friday 25 January 7.45 Haden Freeman Concert Hall

Black Dyke Band conducted by Nicholas Childs, with guest conductor Edward Gregson*
Prelude for an occasion* Edward Gregson
Diversions on a George Lloyd
Tuba Concerto Ralph Vaughan Williams
Joseph Cook, tuba ( arr. Littlemore)
Variations on an Enigma Philip Sparke
Montage Peter Graham Knightmare Derek Bourgeois
First performance
Brett Baker, trombone
Variations on Laudate Dominum* Edward Gregson
New version, first performance
Saturday 26 January
10.00 – 11.00 Lord Rhodes Room
Besson Workshop (1) James Gourlay showcases some recent music for solo tuba
11.30 – 13.15 RNCM Brass Band conducted by Nicholas Childs and Christopher Houlding with an Inter-Collegiate Brass Ensemble, directed by John Miller
RNCM Brass Band (Nicholas Childs, conductor)
Little Suite No. 1 Malcolm Arnold
Requiem Paraphrases Peter Meechan
David Thornton (euphonium)
Variations Thea Musgrave
Intercollegiate Brass Ensemble
Spooks An outrage for bass trombone and brass ensemble Elgar Howarth
Inter-Collegiate Commission by members of Conservatoires UK, first performance
Mark Frost (bass trombone)

RNCM Brass Band (Christopher Houlding, conductor)
A Forest Symphony Gavin Higgins
Prelude on Rhosymedre Ralph Vaughan Williams
First performance of this version (arr. Hindmarsh)

Tallis Variations Sparke
14.00 – 19.00 Lord Rhodes Room
Inter-Collegiate brass quintet competition
Test piece: Mean Time Op.53 by Paul Patterson
14.00 Studio Theatre
Junior RNCM showcase
15.00 – 17.00 Haden Freeman Concert Hall
Cory Band conducted by Robert Childs
Prelude on three Welsh Hymn Tunes Ralph Vaughan Williams

Symphony No.10 (November Journeys) George Lloyd
First performance in this version (arr. Vertommen):
Actaeon    Gareth Wood          
First performance
Metamorphosis Carl Rütti
David Childs (euphonium)
Year of the Dragon Sparke
18.30 Lecture Theatre
The brass music of Vaughan Williams and his composing friends, with Ray Farr and Paul Hindmarsh
19.30 Haden Freeman Concert Hall
Brighouse & Rastrick Band conducted by Alan Morrison, with guest soloist James Gourlay*
Comedy Overture John Ireland
Concerto for tuba and brass band* Bruce Fraser First performance
Macbeth Peter Meechan
Variations Vaughan Williams
Suite of North Country Folk Tunes, II (1933) W.G.Whittaker
First performance (realised Farr)
Celestial Morn* Leslie Condon Harmony Music Philip Sparke
Sunday 27 January
10.00 – 11.00 Lord Rhodes Room
Besson Workshop II Steven Mead’s euphonium masterclass
11.30 – 13.15: Leyland Band conducted by Russell Gray
Overture The Wasps Vaughan Williams
First performance of this version (arr. Westwood)
Vintage David Gillingham Katrina Marzella (baritone horn)
Infernal Ride Kenneth Hesketh


Concert March Arthur Denis Wright
First performance
The Drop Simon Dobson
First performance of full version
Mountain Song Philip Sparke
Titan’s Progress Hermann Pallhuber

14.00 Lord Rhodes Room
Spotlight Scherzo Brass Quartet (British Open Quartet Champions, 2007)
15.00 – 17.00 Haden Freeman Concert Hall
Foden’s Richardson Band conducted by Garry Cutt and Bramwell Tovey
March Salome William Rimmer
Jubilee Overture Sparke
New Work for tuba and band Andy Scott First performance
Leslie Neish (tuba)
Suite from 49th Parallel Ralph Vaughan Williams
First performance (arr. Littlemore and Hindmarsh)
Life Divine Cyril Jenkins
Masters of Space and Time Bruce Broughton
A Moorside Suite Gustav Holst
18.30 Lecture Theatre
Composer Q & As with Philip Sparke
19.30 Haden Freeman Concert Hall
Grimethorpe Colliery Band conducted by Allan Withington with guest soloist Steven Mead*
Overture Henry V Ralph Vaughan Williams
Euphonium Concerto* Vladimir Cosma
(arr. Meredith)
Three Figures Herbert Howells
March Sea Songs Ralph Vaughan Williams
Vocalise, Fanfare and Rondo Gary Petersen
First performance
Song (In memoriam Bengt Eklund)* Frode Ryland
Music for Battle Creek Philip Sparke

Concert tickets are 12, Masterclasses 5. full festival and day tickets which are discounted, are also available, with concessions.
By phone
0161 907 5555

By post/in person
Box Office, RNCM, 124 Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9RD

By fax
0161 907 5330

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Opening times
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