Review|Young Brass Award 2016
BBC Two Young Brass Award Contestants 2016: Top Left-Right: Jack Lapthorn, Daniel Thomas, Kyle MacCorquodale, Sam Dye. Front Row: Adam Bokaris, Ben Goldscheider, Michael Cavanagh, Marija Anna Novicane. Photo:BBC Website
So, on 15th April I visited the Royal Northern College of Music to watch the brass equivalent of The X Factor (except lip syncing is banned, the contestants are talented and sob stories aren’t necessary) and I have to say, I was impressed by the competition last year, but the standard this year was ridiculously high. Last year although I was still impressed, I found myself drifting off a little during some of the pieces (which may have been partly down to being mentally exhausted from cramming a lorry-load of A level revision into a brain which is not fit to bear a lorry-load of revision…uni should be fun!), whereas this year I was entertained throughout the entire concert, and for me it was the repertoire that decided a clear winner.
Now, I’m no adjudicator, I left that job to Edward Gregson, composer and educator extraordinaire , tuba star- Les Neish and former principal horn for the BBC Concert Orchestra- Stephen Bell, so I’m not going to be poking holes in the contestants’ performances. Performers (speaking from experience) tend to focus on the insecurities and don’t notice all the glorious awesomeness (technical term) that went on during the time they were on stage, so I’m choosing to focus on the glorious awesomeness…plus I am in no position to criticise four performances that took serious commitment and guts. So, now I’ve got that little disclaimer out of the way, I shall offer my humble opinion.
Click here for Young Brass Award recording
Grimethorpe’s opener- Ride by Samuel Hazo (arranged by Jonathan Bates)- a piece written to depict a car chase scene was an exhilarating start to the evening. It really showed off the prowess of this band, with all technicalities nailed, emphatic theme produced time and again with gusto and power and lyrical melody lines played with brilliant expression, not to mention a damn good drum line (I do love a good drum part) and a percussion part which both complimented the band and drew musical interest in its own right. It really got the audience sat up and hungry for the evening’s performances.
The Main Event
Photo: BBC Website
White Knuckle Ride by Philip Wilby: a strong impactful piece, with a lot of room for error. As soon as Sam hit those few opening interval jumps, I was awake and impressed. To play first, harness your nerves and smash an opening that is just a minefield for split notes was impressive. Sam’s dynamic control and technical accuracy was not only of a high standard (which is to be expected in such a competition) but executed with such musicality, it maintained interest from beginning to end.
Summertime- George Gershwin arr- Howard Snell: I love this piece (me gusta Gershwin), I love the jazzy feel and the influences from African-American Spirituals that are featured…and as I said, I love anything from Gershwin, so I was rather chuffed when it was announced as the next piece. It was a stunning arrangement by Howard Snell, very moody and atmospheric. You could tell that this is a genre that Sam enjoys to play; it was effortless, laid back and so easy to listen to. I particularly enjoyed the fantastic ad lib section over the top of the accompaniment playing the melody. This performance was classy, smooth and stylish right until the end. Despite being a piece that has been arranged and performed soooooo many times in soooooo many different musical presentations both instrumental and vocal, Sam made it his own and I really enjoyed his interpretation.
Ben Goldscheider|French Horn
Photo: BBC Website
Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto (Movement I): As it is a popular repertoire piece for horn, similar problem with Summertime, it would be tricky to present an original interpretation of this piece, but I felt Ben achieved this. Ben played the opening strong and confidently with a lovely sound. The upper register was reached effortlessly, with good dynamic control and some lovely lyrical playing. Overall it was an impressive performance.
Hunter’s Moon- Gilbert Vinter: I really liked this piece, for me it conjured up images of Elmer Fudd (yes, really) stomping through a dark wood with the moon peeking through the trees. Now I know this sounds like a very uncultured point of view (and yes it’s not often classical repertoire gets compared to the Looney Toons…unless you count that one time Bugs Bunny did opera…creepy, but fabulous…anyway I’ll get back to the point) but when I did some reading up on the piece, it is supposed to depict a comical image of a hunter which makes the daft choice to take a journey through the woods in treacherous conditions and bangs his head, resulting in a delusional hallucination…so Elmer Fudd isn’t a million miles away. It showed off all aspects of Ben’s playing with a noble-sounding melody with good uses of stopped horn effect. I loved the slow melodic section which represents the Hunter hallucinating visions of Diana- goddess of the hunt (not quite bugs bunny) after banging his head. It showed good dynamic control and melodic interpretation- a very pleasant listen.
Bugs Bunny does opera…weird is an understatement…what’s even more disturbing is that I can vividly remember this episode from being a kid…
Photo: BBC Website
Michelangelo- Sigvart Dagsland: Absolutely stunning piece, such an emotive melody executed with such tenderness and care. Dan’s tone and phrasing was simply beautiful. The piece was based on a pop song which pays tribute to the eponymous artist , a motive similar to Don McLean’s Vincent. I was completely speechless (a rare thing in itself!) during the quiet section near the end. To play upper register notes with so much control in such a quiet dynamic was breathtaking…probably literally for the soloist. A truly beautiful performance.
The Dragon’s Den (Movement III)- Andy Scott: Oh my days where do I begin with this?! The style was right up my street- not your average repertoire (and it had a wicked drum beat!) It definitely had my vote. As you’ll hear in the recording, the technical accuracy was astounding. Jumping from the lower to the upper range was so effortless. I loved the little burst of chords that served as a kind of false endings within the piece. I’d heard a lot of good stuff about Dan since he studies alongside a few of my friends at the RNCM and with him being Gary Curtin’s right hand man on Second Euphonium for Black Dyke, I was expecting a reasonably high standard …but I wasn’t expecting that. Wow.
Kyle MacCorquodale| Bass Trombone
Photo: BBC Website
The Days of Wine and Roses- Henry Mancini: A romantic, nostalgic, jazz-style piece played with beautiful dynamic contrast and a laidback, smooth sound with lovely phrasing. Sometimes the bass trombone can be resigned, as Kyle said in his introduction, to being the comic relief within the band, forever destined to play the comedy glissandos, blast out the bottom parts of end chords and forced to turn out Frosty the Snowman every Christmas. However this was a very sophisticated and emotive performance, like something out of the soundtrack from a classic musical starring Gene Kelly or Bing Crosby.
Concerto For Bass Trombone- Derek Bourgeois: Another good choice, which opened showing off (in typical style for bass trombone…if you’re good at something you might as well flaunt it) the ever-powerful lower range. The fast pace technical passages and jaunty melody that followed were tackled confidently and accurately. Overblowing in the lower range and technical passages becoming sluggish and heavy, could have been a real risk with this piece however neither became an issue.
Final Thoughts…and a rant
So, I had the pleasure of watching four musical, well-planned, well-executed performances and I could find reasons for each one of them to take the title, so much so I annoyed my mum (and probably everyone sitting in the surrounding seats) with my running commentary of how amazing everyone was (still a better commentary than Michael Owen’s). However for me it was Daniel’s choice of such contemporary and imaginative repertoire (a risky move that paid off, in my opinion) which showed off all aspects of Dan’s outstanding ability that *SPOILER ALERT!!!* made him the winner. Although all performances were good and they should be immensely proud of themselves, it was Dan’s that stuck in my mind more vividly than the rest and I totally agreed with the judge’s decision.
More importantly for me, it was inspiring and motivating to see such a brilliant display of young musical talent and I have no doubt that all four will go on to achieve great things…
[Just as a side note to anyone who enjoys a bag of Werther’s Originals (or granny sweets) during a concert (as some people did during this performance) and I’ll admit I do enjoy them myself…would it kill you to not open the bag/wrappers during the most quiet part of the piece?! For future reference, loud sections are for this purpose and/or loud coughing, sneezing, belching, farting and any other extraneous racket. Granny sweets: eat responsibly! Rant over…]