Published on October 26th, 2021 by gavin

A Premiere Performance for Bristol

City of Bristol Brass Band returned to live performance on top form at St George’s Bristol on Sunday 17 October, in an eclectic programme of music featuring the world premiere of composer Laura Shipsey’s Of Far Flung Skies.

Opening with Alan Fernie’s Prismatic Light, this rich and resonant fanfare filled the ambient acoustics of the magnificent and recently refurbished venue, followed by Ben Hollings’ beautiful First Light, highlighted by the mellow tones of principal cornet and band chairman Steve Ellis. Upping the pace, CoBBB moved into brass band jazz formation with a semi-circle array of cornets framing the lower brass for an arrangement by Klaas van der Woude of Duke Ellington’s I’m Beginning to See the Light. This ‘light’ theme – so apt for our time – closed with Peter Graham’s Shine as the Light, the hymn tune at the end reverberating wonderfully through the wooden seats of the hall. 

Bristol composer David Bedford’s Requiem was a poignant rendition of a tragic story, with angry repetitive lines against resonant chords and evocative percussion. The band’s incoming MD Craig Roberts, finished this first half with the brilliantly acted out Berne Patrol by Elgar Howarth (reminiscent of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony!), with members of the band taking their leave from the stage and leaving only the soprano cornet then percussion, ensuring the band were safely first at the bar. 

The second half of the concert was conducted by CoBBB outgoing MD Bristol born Ian Holmes, who is looking forward to continuing his 20 year association with the band. 

The world premiere of Of Far Flung Skies by Laura Shipsey has been a special partnership in the making since 2019, and delayed by the pandemic. Adopt a Composer is an initiative run by Making Music in partnership with Sound and Music, funded by PRS Foundation and the Philip and Dorothy Green Music Trust; it enables composers to be partnered with an ensemble for a year through an extensive application process, culminating in a premiere performance, a recording and a possible BBC radio broadcast. This is Laura’s first piece for brass band and she shared her thoughts on the process saying: ‘Working with the City of Bristol Brass Band through Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme has been a real privilege, and an adventure into a totally new sound world for me. Huge thanks to everyone involved for their commitment to new music and taking on the challenge with great enthusiasm and skill!’

Laura introduced her composition with a poignant speech, touching on the joys of live music and the concepts behind the music. Currently studying for a PhD at Cardiff University, she is a violin player and intricate influences of her orchestral background shone through, giving a fresh and evocative approach. Featuring the City of Bristol Learners Band playing from the gallery, the soundscape was awash with effects such as blowing air down the instrument and use of mutes. The haunting ending with its repeated motifs was all the more moving in the context of knowing that the title was inspired by a lone gold star in the roof of St Georges, where a bomb fell during WW2. More of Laura’s music for brass band in the future would certainly be very welcome. 

A change of mood presented I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free arranged by Alan Fernie, the joy in the room was palpable during the clapping section, with a most spectacular note at the end from the band’s sop player. In contrast, Roy Newsome’s arrangement of Handel Parker’s Deep Harmony provided a more sonorous soundscape followed by the rousing sounds of Michael Korb and Ulrich Roever’s Highland Cathedral arranged by David Lancaster featuring flugel horn soloist Zoe Brittlebank. This long time partnership between band and conductor was apparent in a light hearted atmosphere culminating with Derek Broadbent’s arrangement of the Floral Dance.

The accomplished performance of Of Far Flung Skies by City of Bristol Band within a brilliantly thought out and presented diverse programme, demonstrated just how much potential there is for brass bands to successfully reach out to new opportunities and listeners. It was an ambitious but hugely successful and top quality venture, with a palpable pleasure at being live on stage again radiating to a very appreciative audience. 

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