Review – Beyond the Tamar

Mayfair Theatre, Dunedin
16 June 2009
Conductor: Steve Miles

A good sized audience turned out for the first in St Kilda Brass’s 2009 concert series on a bitterly cold Dunedin Saturday night.

The late start to the concert series this year is due to the change of date for the New Zealand National Championships which was held over the Easter period, a change that seems to have caused a number of event programming issues in the Dunedin community but nonetheless the series was finally underway and it was Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Walking with Heroes which got the nights entertainment started with Cornets and Trombones in traditional concert opening fanfare formation.

Subtitled a “journey through musical genres and styles,” the concert continued with music from Franz Liszt in the form of the Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 which was delivered with fine ensemble, balance of lines and a certain “musical cheekiness” in the interpretation.

A complete change of mood (and lighting effect) brought the beautiful melody Amazing Grace before the major contribution of the first half Philip Harper’s Beyond the Tamar. Written originally for the Anniversary celebrations of the Cornwall Youth Brass Band, Harper’s work takes the audience on a journey from Cornwall around the world and back again visiting and touching upon musical styles of various countries and offering both audience and band a thoroughly entertaining time.

Beyond the Tamar was a real treat from the beautiful serenity of the Alps to the clearly visible flashes of Lighting through the Storm in Leningrad, the Improvisational techniques and tone colours of India, the vocal talents of the entire band in the traditional melody from Zimbabwe led by Rene Spoors to the wonderfully choreographed and all out fun in the Latin American Salsa.

I have never heard a brass concert quite like this and I applaud the MD’s attempt at delivering something unique to the Dunedin audience. Many audience members that I spoke to during the interval and after the show regarded this work as a highlight not only of the concert but of the entire last 3 concert series!

First off in the second half came James Curnow’s Psalm of Praise which was not always executed with the precision that one expects from this fine band but nonetheless there was certainly some excitement generated from the crisp ensemble and control of tempi.

A soloist showcase followed featuring the talents of Ralph Miller in Live and Let Die on soprano cornet, John Lewis in Napoli on cornet, Marty Kibble in Children of Sanchez on flugel horn and Errol Moore in Hamabe No Uta on euphonium. What a joy it is having such fine soloists in Dunedin and how lucky this band is to have leaders of such quality. All soloists really showed there class despite the occasional unsteadiness of the accompanying ensemble. Bravo!

Breathtaking speed through the Armenian Fire Dance which saw technical wizardry from both a young cornet team and a talented tuned percussion section led to a final set of music from the Big Band era with cornets exchanging their instruments for trumpets.

I must say this set of music was particularly enjoyable and the band seemed to be completely at ease with this genre of music delivering a very tight and dynamically controlled performance topped off with some nifty jazz solo work from Ralph Miller and John Lewis.

Contrast, variety and innovation were the ingredients to this concert which saw the band take their choreography to a new level…thoroughly enjoyable!

The bands next concert once again features the astonishing talent of David Bremner as guest soloist appearing this time with his father Trevor also. Not that I should be wishing away time at my age but roll on 31st July!

Sean McDonald
Dunedin

Review – Stage and Screen

Mayfair Theatre, Dunedin
29 November 2008
Conductor: Steve Miles
Guest Artists: Gladys Hope (Soprano), John Kiernan-Sear (Baritone), Gina Miles, Nicola Dyer, Melinda Joe, Jenifer Hancox (Dancers)

A capacity audience packed into Dunedin’s Mayfair Theatre on Saturday night to enjoy the last in the 2008 subscription series of concerts given by St Kilda Brass entitled ‘Stage and Screen’.

As the title suggests the evening was dedicated to the music of both Musical Theatre and Film.

Atmospheric and Brutal

Dressed smartly in dinner suits the band got the evening’s entertainment under way with a brand new arrangement of the Fanfare from Rocky before some wonderfully atmospheric and brutal playing in the Barbarian Horde from Gladiator.

A selection of music from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s masterpiece the Phantom of the Opera followed featuring the extremely versatile Gladys Hope in Think of Me, the silky smooth talents of John Kiernan Sear in the Music of the Night and the two popular Dunedin stars joining together in All I Ask of You. These numbers were accompanied with extreme sensitively and the clever use of mutes softened the brass sounds and added some very nice tone colours, allowing the singers to shine through the texture superbly.

More film music followed with Jurrasic Park showing the talents of newly appointed Solo Horn, Rowena Howard and Soul Bossa Nova featuring some nifty jazz Flugel work from Marty Kibble.

Visually Stunning

The first half finale was Ray Farr’s arrangement of Riverdance featuring a dance troupe lead and choreographed by Musical Director Steve Miles wife Gina. This was a real highlight of the concert visually stunning and plenty of points of interest including players performing solos from various positions both on and off the stage and even some vocal talent on display from within the band through the opening sections. This was particularly popular with the audience and one had to wonder how on earth the band could follow that in the second half!

Unique!

Well the second half got under way without the conductor and Principal Cornet John Lewis and Flugel Horn Marty Kibble playing the parts of Clint Eastwood and the Mexican Bandit in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Full of good humour, choreographic precision and gunfire this certainly was a very unique number and the soloists should be congratulated on their first foray into acting!

From one Ennio Morricone number to another Gabriel’s Oboe followed before the vocal soloists entered for some more music from the shows. Gladys Hope took the lead in I Don’t Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar and I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables whilst John Kiernan-Sear featured with Anthem from Chess and Stars from Les Miserables. Once again the accompaniments were fully aware of the soloists which allowed good balance to be maintained throughout.

Uncomfortable

Much of the music on this concert was arranged especially by the Musical Director however some arrangements obviously were not and this version of I Dreamed a Dream never seemed comfortable to me, being pitched much lower than the original and clearly too low for a female voice. However, Gladys Hope showed why she is regarded as the consummate performer that she is by cleverly adding some harmonies and octave leaps.

New arrangements of music from Lord of the Dance followed with Jennifer Hancox showing off her dancing talents through Gypsy before some beautifully shaped Euphonium Duo playing from Ian O’Malley and Errol Moore in Lament. The finale to the concert was a new arrangement of Victory from Lord of the Dance which again was a visual spectacle featuring the four dancers. The energy and excitement of this number was exceptional and the thoroughly deserved ovation from the audience signalled an encore of the number through which the steps and choreography remained immaculate.

With audience members whistling, cheering and screaming for more Gladys Hope and John Kiernan-Sear took to the stage for one more encore in Howard Snell’s beautiful treatment of You’ll Never Walk Alone. The pitch centre of this number was not always correct from soloists however this came right and the sheer power from the evenings guests made one wonder why they had ever been amplified electronically at all!

Series Finale gets the thumbs up

This was a great concert; full of visual and audio spectacles, new arrangements and superb lighting which enhanced the whole show. What a wonderful way to end the series; one can only wonder what will be in store for the Dunedin public in the next series.

Sean McDonald
Dunedin

Review – Brass & Voices

Mayfair Theatre 17th May
St Kilda Brass Steve Miles
Southern Youth Choir Ruth Kirkwood

A near capacity crowd packed into the Mayfair Theatre in Dunedin on Saturday night to hear the second in St Kilda Brass’s subscription series of concerts Brass & Voices.

The programme got under way with Paul Lovatt-Coopers popular Where Eagles Sing which set the exciting tine for the evening. St Kilda’s substantial offering of the evening was Herbert Howell’s masterful score Pageantry which was full of appropriate style and character. The beautiful second movement was a real feature with soloists displaying real sensitivity and poise, particularly Soprano Cornet Ralph Miller in the closing sections. John Lewis (Cornet) set the style and tempo to the last movement with a real sense of class before an incredibly tight ensemble thrilled the audience through the extended climactic finish.

John Lewis featured next as a soloist in Phillip Sparke’s Song and Dance and once again showed all in attendance why he is regarded as one of the finest Cornet players in the Southern Hemisphere. The Accompaniment to John’s wonderful playing was a little heavy at times, particularly in the awkward sections of the Dance but nevertheless this was well received.

Music from the Swing Era and Harry Jame’s Trumpet Blues and Cantabile featured the remaining Solo Cornet players and Soprano in an arrangement that was a particular favourite with the audience on the night.

The band reformed whilst conductor and compere Steve Miles gave an extended and informative introduction to Howard Snell’s wonderfully atmospheric The Old Chalet. This was an intriguing arrangement that feature 3 separate groups of Cornets spread around the hall creating echo effects, a Euphonium at the back of the hall providing Alphorn sounds and a meandering Cow Bell in the distance.

Next, Peter Graham’s Call of the Cossacks was full of excitement with the tight ensemble, huge dynamic contrasts, breathtaking speeds, top class soloists and sharp Percussion section which really was deserved of the extended ovation given by the audience. As an encore to the first half the band performed an arrangement by Leigh Baker of the Angus Dei from Faure’s Requiem which could have done some serious damage to the fragile old theatre building in the huge climatic ending! More Peter Graham music got the second half under way with Shine As the Light before the evenings guests, the Southern Youth Choir and their Musical Director Ruth Kirkwood took to the stage. This is a young and vibrant ensemble that displayed some very beautiful sounds and well controlled harmonies through a programme of music that ranged from African and Serbian folk song to the more traditional sounds of Thomas Tallis, Johannes Brahms and William Byrd.

The combined forces of the Choir and Band came together and were very finely balanced in excerpts from David Hamilton’s The Dragons are Singing Tonight and the traditional Welsh Folk Song Sosban Fach, arranged by Goff Richards and adapted for the concert by Steve Miles.

The programme for this concert was incredibly varied; the execution of performance was top notch, the guest artists impressive and topped off with some very appropriate and atmospheric lighting effects. What more could one ask for – Bravo!!!

Sean McDonald
(Dunedin)

Review – By Popular Demand

Saturday 15 March, 2008
Kings Performing Arts Centre, Dunedin
Conductor Steve Miles
Soloist David Bremner

A near capacity audience poured into the Kings Performing Arts Centre on Saturday night to hear the first in the Southern Victorian Charitable Trusts 2008 concert series performed by St Kilda Brass.

The evening opened with a rousing arrangement of John Williams Olympic Spirit played with Cornets and Trombones stood around the band. Following a quick reshuffle onstage the concert continued with Verdi’s Force of Destiny Overture which was full of excitement and tight ensemble playing. The bands soloists shone throughout this number, in particular John Lewis (Cornet), Marty Kibble (Flugel) and Ian O’Malley (Euphonium). The impact of these first couple of numbers was enhanced significantly by the superb use of stage lighting. This I believe is the first time the band has added a professional lighting show to one of its concerts and it certainly added to the whole atmosphere of the concert.

Principal Trombonist of the New Zealand Symphony orchestra and one of the Southern Hemisphere’s premiere Brass talents, David Bremner took to the stage to perform Guillmant’s Morceu Symphonique which was delivered with precision and panache. David’s excellent tone quality throughout the entire range of the instrument was a feature throughout together with impressive lyrical phrasing. David followed with a real ‘golden oldie’ The Acrobat. Despite the very light and humorous nature of this piece, David’s Trombone playing class was ever present. To encore David’s first solo set he was joined by the bands Trombone section and Flugel to perform Goff Richards arrangement of I Will Follow Him. A lively number that was great fun to hear, though I’m not convinced about the band’s swaying!

Through Bolts & Bars got the audience’s feet tapping again before Beethoven’s 2nd movement of the Moonlight Sonata. Unusual to hear a band perform this piece however it was delivered with real sensitivity and poise. A concert of requests would not be complete without some music from the film Brassed Off and next on the programme was Rodrigo’s Concerto d’aranjeuz performed by Marty Kibble. Marty thrilled the audience with some beautiful Flugel sounds and lovely delicate phrasing – a real highlight of the evening before the big bombastic blasts of Tchaikowsky’s 1812 Overture.

The second half got under way with the Introduction to Act III of Wagner’s Opera Lohengrin which featured the broad and powerful sounds of the bands bottom end. Next came the only slight disappointment of the evening in Debussy’s Claire de Lune. This is a very lovely piece of music that requires so much delicacy and sensitivity and that was not always present. However, In the Hall of the Mountain King certainly took the band back into their comfort zone.

David Bremner was then introduced back to the stage to perform Stephen Foster’s Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair before an absolutely dazzling display of the Bluebells of Scotland which brought the house down. Breakneck speeds and phenomenal technique on display from the soloist throughout. Steve Miles then downed his Baton for a Euphonium and joined David in the popular favourite Softly As I Leave You – another highlight of the evening and clearly an enjoyable experience for both soloists.

The music of James Bond was next on the programme with soloists Ted Pheloung (Trombone) and Ralph Miller (Soprano) in sensational form before the mood was changed dramatically with Pope’s Nightfall in Camp featuring John Lewis. This piece was dedicated to the memory of Alan Knight the bands late Secretary. What better way to finish off a concert than with the Finale to Rossini’s William Tell Overture, full of dynamic contrast, fine technique and wonderful solo playing from John Lewis. Of course the band’s signature tune (When the Saints) followed to satisfy the cheers and whistles of a very excited audience. A great start to the concert season and so pleasing to see new faces in the band and many new faces in the audience.

Sean McDonald
Dunedin

Review – Eclectic Brass

Saturday 17th November 2007
Mayfair Theatre Dunedin
Conductor – Steve Miles
Guest Artists – Cambio

Saturday 17th November brought a close to the St Kilda Brass 2007 Southern Victorian Charitable Trust Concert series with an evening of entertainment entitled ‘Eclectic Brass’ at Dunedin’s Mayfair Theatre. This was another unusual collaboration for the band, the last concert in the series featured Brass Band and Violin and tonight’s guest artists came in the form of a Jazz Fusion group called ‘Cambio’.

Looking at the programme it became obvious that the 1st half of the concert was a journey through music of the 20th Century with samples of music from different genres, hence the name Eclectic Brass I suppose. The concert got under way with William Rimmer’s March the Black Knight, very precise and stately playing with some fine dynamic contrasts. Moving forward a couple of years to 1914, next was Euday L Bowman’s classic 12th Street Rag featuring some very tight ensemble playing from a Cornet Trio of Chris Gillum, Rowena Howard and Stacey Ward.

John Lewis is St Kilda Brass’s usual Principal Cornet player but on this occasion John was unavailable which made way for the bands usual Repiano Cornet player Hamish Miller to show off his skills, and show off he did with a cracking rendition of Harry James Trumpet Concerto from the late 1930’s.

Another soloist followed with Tim Walsh taking us into the 1950’s with a Frank Sinatra hit All The Way. Tim displayed some very fine controlled Trombone playing throughout with superb intonation particularly in the high register.

Next on the programme was music from the Beatles and an arrangement of Ticket to Ride that I haven’t heard for years. The band really created the atmosphere of a Train starting up and getting moving through the opening sections with equally impressive atmosphere in the final few bars. From the 60’s to the 70’s and one of the most recognizable of Jazz Standards, Zawinal’s Birdland. The band did well to capture the relaxed Jazz style in this number, which is something that is often overlooked by Brass Bands when playing Jazz, and managed to keep the ensemble tight throughout. Gary Valentine on Soprano was on particularly fine form. Another soloist followed with music from the 1979 film Children of Sanchez. This featured Marty Kibble on Flugel who gave us a wonderfully expressive rendition of Chuck Mangione’s score. The ensemble between band and soloist in this number was not always at its best and there were occasionally some uneasy moments but nevertheless exciting stuff. Into the 1980’s next with some Acid House music arranged by Rodney Newton for the Williams Fairey Bands Acid Brass project, Lets Get Brutal. This featured the Saints fine Percussion section, Samdrub Dawa, Justine Pierre and Neil Pickering.

The finale of the first half was another Rodney Newton piece, this time not an arrangement but an original composition based on Romanian and Bulgarian Gypsy Aires, Echoes of the East. So many different colors, dynamic contrasts and even some slick choreography enhanced the incredibly exciting performance which brought both the band and audience to their feet at the finish. Though very exciting and entertaining there were a couple of moments of poor intonation in the louder dynamics particularly when instrument were facing out towards the audience, but that’s just being ‘picky’ I loved it!

The second half started with the band in an unorthodox set up with the whole band stood behind a seated Bass section. Again some exciting playing here of Peter Graham’s Windows of the World which suffered a little from being unbalanced in the slow music. Partly to do with Trombones facing out I think, but some very warm sounds on offer together with rampant and powerful vocal lines in Drums of Thunder. The word Cambio literally translates ‘to change’ and that is what the evening’s guest artists are all about. A group of Jazz musicians comprising of Trevor Coleman – Keyboard/Trumpet, Nick Cornish – Sax, Dan Bendrups – Trombone, Dave Harrison – Guitar, Rob Burns – Bass and Rob Craigie – Drums, this sextet carries with them a phenomenal amount of talent and experience. Cambio’s contribution to the concert came in the form of 5 almost original compositions. I say almost because even the items that were based on well known Jazz Standards were altered dramatically and very cleverly.

The popular Jazz Standards Take Five and A Night in Tunisia were performed in different Time Signatures to the originals, Take Five with an added beat and A Night in Tunisia with a beat taken away. Other items were Sugar and 2 original compositions from a series of pieces written by the band in a Jam session back in 2002, subject to Change 2 and Subject to Change 5. The incredible array of solo talent and technical mastery of instruments, not to mention mastery of the Jazz idiom, was simply breathtaking and watching Trevor Coleman play Trumpet and Keyboard at the same time was worth the ticket price alone. Despite the absolutely superb entertainment on offer with this group there were a couple of moments of unbalance where the soloists didn’t quite come over the amplified sounds of the Guitar, Bass & Keyboard.

To finish off the concert the Saints took to the stage once more, stood around the back of Cambio for combined items of Malaguena, El Cumbanchero and Sing Sing Sing. The cohesion of sound from the massed forces was quite exceptional and the ensemble remained extremely tight throughout. Once again unbelievable solo playing was on offer from the evenings guests and in particular Rob Craigie who’s Drumming was the glue between the two ensembles. The second half finished in the same manner as the first with audience members on their feet this time shouting for more which unfortunately they did not get – maybe next time!

Another truly unique concert that was fully entertaining. I look forward to seeing what the band can come up with next!

Sean McDonald
Dunedin