The annual concert of Brass Band Solothurn and guest Brass Band of the Conservatory of Esch-sur-Alzette was a revealing insight into how Brass Bands can still provide today modern and yet timeless musical entertainment.
The event, which took place on 25 March in Solothurn, in the northwest of Switzerland, turned into an opportunity for the two Bands to push themselves in some blindingly good playing during over two and a half hours of musical delight. All but a blast from the past, the concert gently accompanied the audience in the discovery of some of the amazing work of a few contemporary composers.
The Solothurn Brass Band, conducted by Uilson Castro, is a young and dynamic ensemble with a good 30 wind instruments and drummers from the Solothurn region. Their musical spectrum ranges from modern concert music to jazz and adaptations of well-known hits from classical music, film and rock/pop.
The Brass Band of the Conservatory of Esch-sur-Alzette, conducted by Claude Schlim and made up of graduates and students of the Conservatory, has given more than a thousand concerts throughout Europe. The Band, who celebrates its 50th anniversary this yesr, has done recordings for radio and television in Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, France, Austria and Switzerland and has played with some of the world’s leading artists, such as Maurice André, Brett Baker, David Childs, James Gourlay, Maurice Murphy and Simone Ribello to name but a few.
Starburst by Dan Price was the concert opener of Brass Band Solothurn. The piece, which draws inspiration from the concept of stars being created, starts with a sforzando strike and a rhythmic ostinato from solo cornets. Broad, heavy chords from the middle and lower end of the ensemble evoke the depth and endlessness of space, whilst the dancing ostinato speaks of energy and life.
Philip Sparke composed Malvern Suite after a visit to Hereford and Worcester. In the first movement (Worcesther Cathedral), a brisk unison opening leads to the first fanfare-like subject on the cornets, followed by a broad theme on the horns, baritones and euphoniums. A lighter passage leads to the central climax; before fading to a close. The second movement (The Wye at Hereford) opens with a trombone solo, which introduces the main theme on the solo cornet. This is followed by a cantabile tune on the euphoniums and baritones, taken up by the whole band. The last movement (Gloucester Market) starts with a perky tune on the horns and euphoniums answered by the cornet and basses and followed by a legato cornet solo over a rhythmic accompaniment, expanding until the whole Band is playing.
Escape Velocity is the scientific term for the speed at which a body overcomes the gravitational pull of another body. Escape Velocity by Major Martin Cordner, the first work performed by the Brass Band of the Conservatory of Esch-sur-Alzette, in the words of the composer “attempts to capture the ‘gravitational pull’ of the fallen world, and the struggle to overcome and settle into the restful presence of God”.
The first bars grasp the attention of the audience, thanks to a decisive timpani and percussion entry. A theme sounded by cornets, solo horn and first trombone follows, evoking a sense of alarm and urgency, which percussion and basses drive forward. The urgency leaves room to a sense of quietness, evoked by the cornets and the xylophone. Then the piece moves into a kind of rock style, with a remarkably energetic, controlled and rhythmic approach.
Benediction, by John Stevens, was originally scored for brass choir. Jeremy Stone’s adaptatiom for full Brass Band features flowing melodies and counterlines in a rich chorale-like setting. The solo part at the beginning and at the end is scored for euphoniums, which play it in a beautiful lyric style.
The Golden Lady (Gëlle Fra) is a musical tribute by Goff Richards to the Luxembourgish Monument of Remembrance, dedicated to the thousands citizens who volunteered for service in the armed forces of the Allied Powers during World War II and the Korean War. Nazi forces dismantled the memorial during their occupation of Luxembourg in World War II,. but several parts of the memorial were rescued. Although after the war the monument was partially restored, the Gëlle Fra herself remained unaccounted for until January 1980, when she was found hidden beneath the main stand of the national football stadium. The music perfectly captures both the solemnity and the relief associated with this discovery.
In the second part of the concert, Uilson Castro and Claude Schlim conducted their respective Bands playing together a challenging Becoming Giants by Ludovic Neutohr. The second and last piece of the two Bands ensemble was Dream Catchers by Paul Lovatt-Cooper. conducted by Claude Schlim.
With lots of jazz and funk influences, this work conveys the idea that every young musician has a chance of ‘catching’ his/her dreams by performing to as high a standard as he/she can. Musicians are required to use their technical ability with lots of intricate playing, whereas in the dream-like middle section they play with beauty and in a more subtle way.
Standing ovation and encore warmly requested by a very appreciative audience in the beautiful Solothurn Concert Hall, close to capacity.
The two Bands will play again together on 29 April at the Centre Culturel Beim Nëssert in Bergem, Luxembourg.