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Concert Review
Black Dyke Band
Conductor - Nicholas Childs
First Concert as Band in Residence at the Royal Northern College of Music
January 18th 2002

This was the Black Dyke Band's first concert in residence at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester: with the emphasis very much on new, original music. In fact, they featured three world premieres.

The evening started with a typical "Dyke" performance of William Walton's 'Crown Imperial' - broad, noble and with the basses leading the band through crescendos and phrases. This the 100th year since Walton's birth and this will not be the last time that his music is aired this year. It made for a very solid start to a busy evening's work for the band.

The first of the premieres offered was Michael Ball's 'A Cambrian Suite'. Nicholas Childs was particularly pleased to present this three-movement suite of traditional Welsh tunes. This intricate but accessible music will prove a welcome addition to the concert repertoire of Championship and 1st Section bands while providing an enjoyable test piece for outfits in the lower section. There were many opportunities to demonstrate warm, fluid playing through the solo lines and Micheal Ball's stamp of lyrical ensemble lines made for easy listening. The Welsh have all the best tunes!

Roger Webster was the first of two soloists on the night and had chosen a substantial work to showcase his abilities. He performed the little-heard work by Torstein Aagaard Neilson - Concerto for Cornet and Brass Band. This performance underlined his reputation as possibly the world's finest cornet player at the moment in a work that explores areas of technique and musicianship that only players of the highest class can accommodate. There were some breathtaking moments from the soloist - especially the way he moved around the instrument and demonstrated power and precision throughout the range. The fifteen minute work culminated in a valve glissando to a high Eb (are we right Roger?!) which was pin point accurate and rang like bell. Class indeed.

The playing throughout the piece also saw Dyke in good ensemble mode with the offstage players executing their parts with precision and balance from the Concert Hall gallery and the middle of the band adding warmth and texture. A first rate performance all round.

As you would expect from a concert of this nature, there were a number of famous composers, conductors and players present: James Gourlay, Michael Ball, Peter Graham, David King and some YBS principal players, Martin Ellerby, Richard Evans to name a few. Amongst these names was Phillip Wilby, who was present to introduce his new work 'Atlantic'.

Dr Wilby explained that the work was in "Concerto Grosso" form and took inspiration from the book of Psalms - "They that go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters, These men see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep". This work is to be used at the forthcoming All England Masters Championship in May, and this incredibly difficult composition will leave some bands wanting. It will require a band with a line up of top rate soloists (those YBS players present, listening with interest!) as well as a band that can extend its technical capabilities to the very limit that will be amongst the honours at Cambridge. Musical Directors will be having cold sweats in trying to master this one.

It's unfair to comment whether the piece will enter the Pantheon of "Greats" from the pen of Dr. Wilby on hearing just this single performance, but it does seem to have a great deal going for it. Well done the "Masters" for the choice. It's perhaps also unfair to single out any individuals in a performance containing so many high quality soloists but special mention must go to John Doyle for his difficult Flugel cadenza and Ben Rapp's offstage repiano solo. Both added great distinction to a pretty stunning performance.

The third premiere, "The Alchemists Journal" took its place in the 2nd half of the programme. For us, the work did not seem to live up to the introduction and programme notes provided by Kenneth Hesketh, who was present. However, due to the quality that he has produced in the past, this work certainly deserves at least a second hearing to fully appreciate what Mr Hesketh was trying to achieve. It was for us a valiant attempt to make gold from base metal.

The second minor disappointment came in the form of Salvationist composer Ray Steadman-Allen's 'The Eternal Quest', performed by Brett Baker. As usual, Brett Baker performed with his usual style and conviction but there were too many times when the band, soloist and conductor seemed to be disagreeing on tempo and phrasing, resulting in some messy moments. There was however some exquisite pp playing from band and soloist in the central movement that introduced the hymn tune theme and Brett Baker continues to enhance his already formidable reputation.

The 2nd half started with the unfamiliar 'Agincourt Song' and finished with Boellman's 'Suite Gothique' that is now a central part of Dyke's concert repertoire. They offered one encore in the form of JJ Richards quick march "The Waltonian", which to be honest wasn't really needed and seemed out of place after the gourmet offerings on the menu. Still a great night's quality entertainment from the National Champions.

Throughout, the Black Dyke Band demonstrated why the are amongst the finest: there was more than enough brilliant playing from both individuals and ensemble to keep the large and knowledgeable audience happy and to keep filling concert halls (just about on this occasion) and enables Dyke to pioneer new works. With the recent rediscovery of contest form as well, it could prove to be a momentous year for Nicholas Childs and the band. A late entry to the Masters perhaps?

John Ward

John Ward

John is currently 21 years old. His musical background has been within the Salvation Army. He is a member of the Castleford Citadel Band in Yorkshire on Flugel and one one of the conductors of the 40 strong Yorkshire Area Youth Band. His trips to the summer schools have allowed to him to play under Stephen Cobb, Keith Wilkinson, William Himes and other SA leading conductors and musicians. He has an active interest in music as a whole, particularly the playing and performances of the best championship bands and orchestral brass groups.

John is employed with a large European paper merchant on the Inside sales team and lives with his family near Leeds. Other than music, his hobbies are playing football and watching Leeds Utd (we've got a young side but we're not dirty!)

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