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Future encores?
Can more bands follow Tredegar's success at the Proms?

Tredegar's appearances at this year's BBC Proms gained widespread critical acclaim — but now they've blown the doors open can anyone else follow them in?


Henry Wood will always look down on the Proms performances -  including more brass bands? 

Tredegar came to the Royal Albert Hall and blew the hinges off the hitherto stubbornly closed doors of BBC Proms performance access.

They left lauded by acclaim; the demand from the audience for not one but two encores at their Late Night Prom on Tuesday evening backed by the critical appreciation that followed their debut the previous night with the National Orchestra of Wales (NOW).

Now it is a question of whether others will be able to follow in their explosive wake.

Deserved plaudits

Under NOW Principal Conductor Ryan Bancroft, the world premiere of Gavin Higgins’ ‘Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra’  drew deserved plaudits.

‘The Times’, who also used the closed door analogy, called it, “an invigorating, and rare brass band Prom” that was able “to blast away any stale preconceptions.”

‘The Times’, who also used the closed door analogy, called it, “an invigorating, and rare brass band Prom” that was able “to blast away any stale preconceptions.”


Massed bands: The National Orchestra of Wales and Tredegar Band on the RAH stage (Image: Copyright Mark Allan) 

Plaudits

They were not alone: ‘The Guardian’ described the 39 minute long composition as, “...superbly worked out, not only showcasing the brilliance of the Tredegar players, but also satisfyingly working through the large scale scheme with vivid musical ideas.”

Elsewhere the accolades came at a tempo every bit as fast and colourfully positive as its virtuosic ‘Contest Music’  finale - from websites such as Nation Cymru and Planet Hugill to the left wing newspaper ‘The Morning Star’, who referred to its “gigantic vision”.

‘The Guardian’ described the 39 minute long composition as, “...superbly worked out, not only showcasing the brilliance of the Tredegar players, but also satisfyingly working through the large scale scheme with vivid musical ideas.”

Banishing stereotypes

The next day interviews followed on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, Times Radio and both BBC Wales Radio and television. 

These in turn were follow-ups to preview articles in the ‘Guardian’ and ‘Times’ that looked forward to the Proms return of brass bands (and the banishing of stereotypes) for the first time in well over a decade (although not the 33 years as was mistakenly, and then lazily taken up by just about every media outlet).  


Waiting to blow the hinges off...

5-star review

24 hours or so later came yet more acclamation; with the influential Music OMH website giving the late night show a 5-star review and the presenter of the quirky ‘Encore’ unofficial BBC Proms podcast, calling Tredegar’s Tuesday appearance, “The Prom of the Season.”

“To watch Porthouse beat a neat, nimble four,” she wrote, “as if in a regular march, for a wild version of ‘The Devil in I’ by heavy metal group Slipknot, was a lesson in sangfroid. 

However, it was left to Fiona Maddocks, regarded as a fearsome classical music critic to give the ultimate endorsement. In her 5-star review in ‘The Observer’ she described the band as giving “thrilling performances” with its dual Proms appearances.

Sangfroid

“To watch Porthouse beat a neat, nimble four,” she wrote, “as if in a regular march, for a wild version of ‘The Devil in I’ by heavy metal group Slipknot, was a lesson in sangfroid. 

He could conduct any mainstream rival off the podium. The encores went on, ever more exuberant, as the clock moved towards midnight. Bring them back soon.”


A lesson in sangfroid: Ian Porthouse leads Tredegar Band (Image copyright: Chris Christodoulou)

Just how soon

Just how soon that will be we will have to wait and see, but given that senior Proms management made their way to Tredegar’s dressing-rooms well past midnight on the Tuesday to offer their personal congratulations (The nearby Gloucester Arms pub on the Monday night was also a bit of a brass band fan club too), you can only hope it won’t be another decade or more.

Gavin Higgins and Tredegar have done almost as much as they can for the movement in their commitment to widening the scope of brass band artistic appeal.

Gavin Higgins and Tredegar have done almost as much as they can for the movement in their commitment to widening the scope of brass band artistic appeal.

Cleverly targeted

The cleverly targeted launch of their latest CD of the brass music of Vaughan Williams on the Albion Recording label was a case in point – seeing them gain widespread media coverage and play time in the run up to their Albert Hall appearance. 

‘Vaughan Williams on Brass’  entered the official Classical Music Charts at number 2 and has already gone for a reprint run, whilst ‘Concerto Grosso’  has secured at least six commissions to be performed across Europe over the coming year or so – further enhancing the band’s reputation for being at the forefront of innovative musical exploration in the process.


Heavy metal in the tubas (Image copyright: Chris Christodoulou)

Decade long commitment

However, this was not just the culmination of almost three years work linked to Gavin Higgins’ appointment as Composer in Association with the National Orchestra of Wales, but a decade long commitment to his musical output – from a trio of major contest works to the ‘Dark Arteries’ Rambert Ballet and more.

Tredegar will continue to beat at artistic doors until someone answers and welcomes them in (as was shown at the Newbury Festival earlier in the year) – yet they cannot, and must not, be alone.

Encouraging signs

Encouragingly, there are signs that they may well be joined in breaking down access barriers.  

Brass Bands England representatives were at both Proms to enjoy as well as fact find.

They will have left knowing that a proactive ambition to get an English brass band performing at the Proms in the near future can be achieved – although the actual time frame is perhaps unlikely to be in the next three years.

They will have left knowing that a proactive ambition to get an English brass band performing at the Proms in the near future can be achieved – although the actual time frame is perhaps unlikely to be in the next three years.

However, having personally worked with the hugely impressive team at the National Orchestra of Wales (led by CEO Lisa Tregale, Gavin Higgins and and conductor Ryan Bancroft), and more latterly the Proms themselves with Tredegar – even three years can go by with the blink of an eye.


Collaborative working: The National Orchestra of Wales team of Gavin Higgins, Lisa Tregale and Ryan Bancroft visited Tredegar 

Not an option

Waiting to be asked is not an option, although some things need to fully understood.

First and foremost is that brass bands do not deserve to be given a Prom (let alone two). Bring up the tired old entitlement argument and it is deservedly given short shrift.

Merit inclusion

We must show that we fully merit our inclusion – artistically as well as organisationally.  

The people who you are dealing with know a great deal more than you could at first imagine about the performance excellence that permeates the top echelons of the brass band world – how it works and how it projects itself.

Forget contest results and rankings and concentrate on artistic vision and ambition.  The people who you are dealing with know a great deal more than you could at first imagine about the performance excellence that permeates the top echelons of the brass band world – how it works and how it projects itself.


Devilish colourings added to the Proms performance (Image copyright: Chris Christodoulou)

Waiting list

There are also well over 30 world class orchestras, numerous ensembles and a plethora of virtuoso performers all queuing up to get an invite to perform at the Proms – and it is a list that comes with a great deal of commercial heft to back them too.

These are the people we need to compete against – not each other by holding on to a luddite determination to rail against musical and organisational change.  

These are the people we need to compete against – not each other by holding on to a luddite determination to rail against musical and organisational change.  

Understanding

In addition, if we are to gain a regular foothold at the Proms, we must fully understand its musical aims and objectives, and ally our own (individually as well as collectively) to it.  

It will be futile to expect the Proms to simply accommodate a narrowed minded musical outlook based on our own understanding of our ‘tradition’ – although that is nothing new in itself.


Black Dyke Mills and Grimethorpe Colliery Bands performed at the 1974 Proms

Counterbalance

The Proms appearance of the combined forces of Black Dyke and Grimethorpe in 1974 saw them perform Elgar’s ‘Severn Suite’  and Holt’s ‘Moorside Suite’  as well as Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Grimethorpe Aria’.  

Our musical past should not be forgotten, but as Gavin Higgins’ work so amply displayed, a composer of such insight and appreciation of the medium can accommodate our heritage in new and exciting ways. 

A year later the counterbalance to ‘Kenilworth’  and ‘A Downland Suite’  came with the world premiere of Henze’s ‘Ragtimes and Habaneras’. 

What could we come up with today to display our versatility and diversity of genre appreciation to present to a knowledgeable Proms audience?  

Insight

Our musical past should not be forgotten, but as Gavin Higgins’ work so amply displayed, a composer of such insight and appreciation of the medium can accommodate our heritage in new and exciting ways. 

The question is, are there others that can do the same, and on the same scale? 


Who will be next?

Who will be next?

And that in its way was why the second Late Night Prom also proved to be such a success. 

Tredegar initially presented over 30 ‘concert’ works for consideration before the final selection was agreed upon with a balance between the themes that the Proms wished to celebrate – heritage and diversity chief amongst them.

The end result was a brass band Prom double header success: One that took planning, consideration, accommodation, flexibility, professionalism and a huge deal of long term commitment.  

The trajectory took in Strauss and Berlioz, Vaughan Williams and the other birthday celebrants of Judy Garland and Elmer Bernstein, 50’s Billy May flash and Greek plate smashing dance, the OTT thrash metal of Slipknot to the double helping encore of happy clappy evangelical bubble.

The end result was a brass band Prom double header success: One that took planning, consideration, accommodation, flexibility, professionalism and a huge deal of long term commitment.  

Tredegar has blown the Proms door off its hinges – now comes the hard part of getting others to follow them through it.

Iwan Fox 


The 4BR Editor is also Vice-President of Tredegar Band 

All images are produced with express and sole permission of the photographers

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