Spring Festival Preview- The Triumph of Time
So, here we are, the last piece to be featured at this year’s Spring Festival, ‘The Triumph of Time’ by Peter Graham which will be exhibited in the Grand Shield Section on Saturday.
This is not an easy piece, in any respect and those who ‘triumph’ will definitely be worthy competitors for the British Open. I had the opportunity to play this piece at the British Open Contest in 2016 and can tell you from experience, it’s definitely not easy. I’ve played a few pieces where, if you’re not sat in a solo seat or tutti solo cornet seat, you are basically used as ‘musical filler’ between the building blocks of melody and solo features. The only challenge for ‘musical filler’ players is trying to stay awake whilst playing 1000 repeated crotchets- yeah not particularly inspiring.
That said, ‘The Triumph of Time’ is certainly a test for all players sat around the stand, including back row cornets and percussion- no one is safe!
The Triumph of Time was written for the Black Dyke Band and was premiered by them at the 37th European Brass Band Championships in Perth, Scotland in May 2014. Drawing inspiration from his earlier work ‘The Essence of Time’, the composer- Peter Graham, wanted to create something that ‘might capture something of ‘The Essence of Time’ without ‘using any of the existing musical content’. During it’s initial performance, a CD of clock chimes was used before the percussion entry to set the scene for the piece. In order to keep the piece to sixteen minutes, for use in set piece contests (and to keep things simple- technical difficulties holding up a contest is never interesting), the CD section was cut, with the piece beginning at the percussion entry.
Enjoy a performance of ‘The Triumph of Time’ played by the Cory Band at the 2016 British Open Contest.
In my opinion, Peter Graham achieved his goal, as ‘The Triumph of Time’ , I feel is a spin off to ‘The Essence of Time’ rather than a sequel. The listener can clearly see the inspiration from the structure of the piece, how the solos are constructed and the intricate ensemble work, yet Peter has created a piece in its own right, that in my opinion holds different values to ‘The Essence of Time’ . ‘Essence’ has beautiful melodic lines which very much personify the ‘essence’ in the title, giving the listener little gobbets of loveliness and I would describe the ending as stunning rather than triumphant. ‘Triumph’ is far more virtuosic in style than it’s predecessor with big chordal moments, rock hard solo lines and busy ensemble work- it aims to be impressive.
Haunting tubular bells begin this piece, before becoming a supporting role to the rhythmic, overlapping melodies of marimba and vibraphone. The complex texture and hurrying feel, in my view, is like an auditory representation of the minutes of life passing by. Cornets are tested with fast, intricate running demi-semi quavers. A breath in the wrong place, incorrect placing of beats can cause this motif to become messy and scruffy. Finding the underlying beat amongst the chaos is important in order to keep the section moving rhythmically rather than a rushed panic.
This rhythmic chaos builds until it explodes into a huge chordal theme; formidable and impressive; yet in an attempt to achieve this, it can be so easily overblown with tuning and harsh sound potentially detracting from the majestic intention of this section- control is EVERYTHING. This is a full fat, full throttle, no calorie-counting beast of a piece.
The solos in this next section are difficult, not just because of their technicality, but because of their abstract, ad lib style. Furthermore, they are a true test of a players lips strength and dexterity with lip trills and glisses- the Colin’s Book of Lip Flexibilities will definitely be your best friend when tackling this piece. However when they are executed well, they are as mesmerising as they are impressive and the soloist definitely deserves more than one pint bought for them in the bar afterwards.
Following this busy section, trombones, together with tubular bells. begin a section of bursts of syncopated beats. The cornets and trombones alternately carry on these bursts of notes, bouncing off each other. This is an exercise in sub-division, one person out of sync completely ruins the effect. I know this, because I was the most likely person to end up out of sync in this section…
The next main section is mysterious and lyrical, with a stunning solo from the baritone which gives the player freedom of musical movement that they should really take advantage of. The Eb bass then gets a chance to shine, with a variation on the baritone melody. An unusual duo of Repiano Cornet and Solo Baritone create a beautiful, moody duet ending with an entry from the flugel. This whole section is full of suspense. Dynamic contrast is key to the whole piece, but more so in this section, to create this moody atmosphere.
The older audience members may want to ensure their pacemakers are in full working order as the solo trombone leaps into action for the second set of solos. It’s exciting stuff with more lip trills and glisses all being involved again, but in a style that’s far more upbeat and jazzy rather than panicky. Again this adds another virtuosic element to the piece.
One of the standout moments for me is the flugel solo. It’s so full of warmth and emotion, it’s beautiful and it really demonstrates Peter Graham’s brilliant lyrical solo writing. The relationship that Peter creates between soloist and accompaniment is incredible. The soloist obviously takes the lead. but the subtle chord changes in the accompaniment can really evoke the feeling of the piece and emphasise the emotion in the solo line. This solo, followed by the piano Adagio section, is a welcome change to the musical chaos that came before. The real challenge here is playing quietly, keeping in tune whilst maintaining a balance between parts and really capturing the mood of the section.
The ending is my favourite part of the whole piece to play. Not because it’s the end and it means I can go to the bar (ok maybe that was a small factor) but the emotion in the big chordal melody is so emotionally charged and really personifies the word ‘triumph’. The driving force towards the end is exhilarating and brilliantly concludes what is a whirlwind (see what I did there?… Peter Graham, Whirlwind? ) of a piece.
This section is just my opinion, feel free to disagree. Believe me I am a massive fan of Peter Graham’s music and it’s not just this piece that I’m criticising, it’s this general movement in test piece writing at the moment.
Although I do enjoy ‘The Triumph of Time’ and all the challenges it presents, I would have preferred to have more solos in this piece in a melodic style rather than two lots of technical, quite harsh solo sections. Peter Graham’s writing in the slower sections, in my opinion, pose a harder challenge as many bands could gloss over the finer details of these sections in order to truly get to grips with the (much less interesting) technical passages.
I think one technical section is enough to make an audience sit up and listen. For me, two quite long technical sections which are sandwiched into an already very technical piece, can run the risk of becoming the type of piece I’ve been comparing to the older pieces chosen this year for the Senior Cup and Senior Trophy. As a player, I soon get bored of rehearsing a piece that is basically an exercise of sub-division and semi-quavers- I have an Arban for that. It becomes repetitive, with often the same technical passage being copied and pasted again and again throughout the piece. By all means have a technical section- I think a test piece does need one- BUT IT’S NOT THE ONLY WAY TO TEST A BAND!
Similarly, as an audience member, listening to passage after passage of technical writing doesn’t make me feel anything other than looking forward to the part of the piece where I can hear the band play some actual music, rather than clumps of semi-quavers.
Hear endeth the rant.
So all that’s left for me to say is best of luck to all bands competing in the three sections at Blackpool this weekend!
Remember whatever happens, this is not life or death. There is always a next performance, there’s always something good in every performance and there is always beer at the end of it. Enjoy the experience!
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