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The British Army Brass Band

Prof Philip Wilby 70th Birthday Concert
Conductor: Captain Brenden Wheeler
St Peter's Church
Thursday 11th April

Later this year one of the great composers for the brass band medium reaches his 70th birthday. 

A personal milestone to celebrate of course (and hopefully there will be many more to come), but also an appropriate opportunity for those he has written for to provide a celebration of their own of the outstanding works that have flowed from his compositional pen.

Here the acknowledgement was given by a confident British Army Brass Band directed with authority by Captain Brenden Wheeler. The ambition on show in featuring two epically proportioned test-pieces, a major concert work, solo item and other compositions was substantial - but it was well met.


Modest of his own achievements but always generous with his time and expertise, Prof. Wilby has also been an inspirational mentor; so little surprise that an engaging work by Andrew Wareham was featured, whilst his own formative years paid tribute to his great teacher Herbert Howells. 

Both ‘Revelation’ and ‘Masquerade’ remain monumental tests - here scaled with solid appreciation and good sense by the MD and performers alike, whilst the evening opened with the brilliant timbres of his ‘Scipio’ fanfare and fugue (helped by the composer filling the acoustic with rumbling organ tonality).

The contrast with the sombre tread of the Howell’s ‘Cortege’ from ‘Pageantry’ was marked - as it was to hear the closely weaved textures that seep through both composer’s works.

The ambition on show in featuring two epically proportioned test-pieces, a major concert work, solo item and other compositions was substantial - but it was well met.


Horn soloist Ailsa Russell delivered a fine rendition of ‘Fantasie Concertante', played with considered virtuosity, whilst Andrew Wareham’s ‘Tarot! Tortuous Tarot!’ had a dark wit and furtive drama - a permeating undercurrent with many of Wilby’s own compositions.    

The emotive ‘The Day Though Gavest’, directed by the composer was engaging and tender, as was his acknowledgement and gratitude of those who had steered him on his musical path in a Q&A interview with SSgt John Storey.

A wonderful evening closed with ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ - brought to life (aided by a wonderful narration from his wife) with an appropriate sense of allegorical adventure and with more than a hint of the composer’s own personal journey towards his 70th birthday at its core.   

David Hughes

Images by WO2 (BM) Peter Brydon, Crown Copyright

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BA (hons), PGDip (RCM), ARCM, ALCM
Conductor, piano accompanist and educator