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Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag

Brasswind Festival
Conductor: Reid Gilje
Universitets Aula, Bergen
28th September 2019

Eikanger-Bjørsvik’s return to the Brasswind Festival for the first time since 2005 proved to be a huge success.

Now in its 16th year under the artistic direction of Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen, the festival’s objective is to provide a platform for original works, both new and existing, for the medium.

Vortex

There was a warm welcome for the Norwegian champion hosted by their traditional rivals, Manger Musikklag, who manage the running of the event and also performed their own acclaimed concert during the weekend. 

Eikanger’s inclusion therefore completed a trio of premiere ensembles, with the Norwegian Navy Band having performed on Friday evening and other leading professional chamber groups also active throughout the event.

They opened with Robert Simpson’s ‘Vortex’, his last work for brass band, written in 1989.

A description of twisting motion, it emerged with a bubbling tuba motif developing into a rampant tornado of swirling sound. The hall’s acoustic was an enhancement, especially in the closing chiming sequence, ringing out like an alarm-bell warning of an incoming devastating force, delivered with Eikanger’s trademark symphonic sound, precisely balanced and tuned.

The hall’s acoustic was an enhancement, especially in the closing chiming sequence, ringing out like an alarm-bell warning of an incoming devastating force, delivered with Eikanger’s trademark symphonic sound, precisely balanced and tuned.

Ground

The festival featured several works by Stig Nordhagen, including his 2013 European test work ‘Myth Forest’ selected as the set-test for the Elite Division bands for the 2020 National Championships.

Here we heard a welcome reprise of ‘Ground’, commissioned by Eikanger in 2014. In four movements, it is based on dream sequences, terrifying nightmares and surreal subconscious thought; full of rich harmonies and melodious lines rendered sublimely around Eikanger’s extensive tonal palette.

The third movement, ‘mending time’ was particularly uplifting; a series of chord sequences and modulations evoking a sense of an evolving dream fantasy. The nightmarish fourth, full of terror and dread brought the audience back to consciousness.

The nightmarish fourth, full of terror and dread brought the audience back to consciousness.

John Mackey’s ‘Hymn to a Blue Hour’ was the perfect reflective sedative, beautifully delivered by trombone soloist Vidar Nordli. 

The French expression ‘l’heure bleue’ refers to the early morning or late evening time where the light has a special quality - something evoked by the music and soloist to perfection. 

‘Aurora Borealis’ by Geir Øystein Lysne followed. Originally composed for jazz orchestra in 2002, it brought a lightness of touch to a heavy programme, with imaginative colours in the scoring, skilfully arranged by Reid Gilje. It did not feel in any way out of place.

Surround sound

To complete the ‘lighter’ moments, the band led into Knut Nystedt’s ‘Immortal Bach’, transcribed from the choir version for five brass quintets positioned around the audience. 

Based on the choral ‘Komm, süsser Tod’, it re-imagines the hymn by sustaining all tones in the melody; literally making them immortal or undying - a form of Eikanger in eternal ‘surround sound’.

A transcription of John Mackey’s ‘Asphalt Cocktail’ closed the concert. Casting the audience onto the streets of New York, it was four minutes of energy and brutal aggression, like the most terrifying of yellow cab rides at rush hour. The ensemble was enlarged with 7 percussionists and a harp, including a metal trash can repeatedly hurled to the floor. 

It was an electrifying finale.

Although missing a world premiere or new commission, the only minor disappointment of the evening was that half of the music performed was from borrowed sources.

However, there were certainly no disappointments over the quality of playing or concert programming as Eikanger once again provided ample evidence of their world class standing as leaders in the performance of contemporary repertoire.

Nick Walkley

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