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A4 Brass Quartet

RNCM Brass Band Festival
RNCM, Manchester
Sunday 29th January



2023 marks the tenth anniversary of A4 Brass Quartet. 

It was appropriate therefore that it was celebrated at the RNCM, where students Jamie Smith, Jonathan Bates, Michael Cavanagh and Chris Robertson first met and decided to form the unusual chamber ensemble.

As individuals they now occupy principal seats at Grimethorpe, Foden’s, Black Dyke and Brighouse & Rastrick respectively. As a collective they have also gained acclaim and high profile accolades – notable achievements given the relative paucity of repertoire, original or arranged that they could at first perform.

With Jonathan Bates absent, the talented Grace Jeffers stepped in to fill the horn role – although his skills as a composer and arranger were heard with the clever setting of Kentaro Sato’s lovely ‘Tsuna’ngari’  and his own ‘Mists of the Mountain’,  the work that propelled them from student to professional concert stage level.

Play on words

Callum Au’s ‘Crown and Spectre’  was as clever an opening fanfare as it was a play on words. 

A compact world premiere it may have been, but it could well prove a hugely significant one if one of the most sought-after composers and orchestrators can be persuaded to employ his inventive thought processes to a longer format.

It also focused the challenge the next decade may hold for the ensemble. Getting high-profile, high-quality commissions will be based on their collective desire to explore further musical avenues not just attract new composers to write for them.  

It also focused the challenge the next decade may hold for the ensemble. Getting high-profile, high-quality commissions will be based on their collective desire to explore further musical avenues not just attract new composers to write for them.  

Affectionate recall

In the past that saw the generosity of Bramwell Tovey’s create his memory snapshots ‘Street Songs’  for the ensemble’s appearance at the Wigmore Hall in London.

Much like his ‘The Night to Sing’  it is an affectionate recall of childhood stories – four contrasting war time tales of community, love, loss and musical ‘make do and mend’.   

Much like his ‘The Night to Sing’  it is an affectionate recall of childhood stories – four contrasting war time tales of community, love, loss and musical ‘make do and mend’.   

Elsewhere the deceptively simple structures of Bela Bartok’s ‘Six Romanian Folk Dances’  have been cleverly arranged by Chris Robertson to form a central core of their concert repertoire.  Tom Harold’s ‘Craze’  was a manic delight; amply showcasing the composer’s febrile inventiveness in colour and balance matching the player’s classy technical artistry. 

Iwan Fox 

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