Review: The Tredegar Band joins BBC National Orchestra of Wales Prom
In the wake of what was undoubtedly a world-class performance by this award-winning brass band, there will be a corner of London’s Royal Albert Hall that will be forever Tredegar.
The Tredegar Band stormed the summer citadel of classical music in London, joining forces with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for the world premiere of Gavin Higgins’ Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra. It was a performance that will be treasured by those who were blessed to be there to witness it.
A hot London afternoon had mellowed to a cool evening as we gathered at the hall to see the band placed in front of the orchestra, its members resplendent in their maroon jackets.
The piece was a Concerto Grosso in every sense. It was certainly a big, powerful work, and although it was not quite in the Baroque style, the musical material was passed between the band and the full orchestra in a gripping musical dialogue.
Higgins has a history of coal miners and brass band musicians in his family. His ballet, Dark Arteries for brass band and dance ensemble, was based on the miners strike of 1984-85.
Described by Higgins as a “loveletter to brass band music and working class communities,” his new piece explores similar themes, with two of the five movements called Coal and Class.
It began with a hushed evocation of the landscape, beautifully evoked by band and orchestra. One could imagine the sun rising and bursting through the morning mist.
There was an eerie quality to the music which was both enthralling and unsettling.
A sense of foreboding grew out of the dialogue between the band and the orchestra, which was relieved when the two almost imperceptibly merged to play in unison.
This split between band and orchestra which then transforms into a united musical community occurred several times during the piece and was superbly controlled by the orchestra’s principal conductor, Ryan Bancroft.
The conversation between the band and the percussion section had a menacing quality about it, bringing to mind Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. A section which featured a plaintive solo trumpet was as unsettling as the trumpet featured in Aaron Copland’s Quiet City.
But this is a brilliant piece which stands on its own as a fascinating exploration of a way of community life which is sadly fading.
There was tranquility and lyricism towards the close of the work, but the bravura ending had the audience applauding and shouting its appreciation
Ian Porthouse, the band’s musical director, took to the podium to conduct them in an enthralling, touching and beautifully realised performance of the Welsh folk song, Ar Lan Y Mor. It certainly made one proud to be Welsh.
The second half of the concert was taken up by a performance of the Symphonie Fantastique, by Berlioz.
It was good programming since the nightmarish quality and passion of the piece mirrored large parts of the Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra.
There was an admirable clarity to this interpretation, but that sense of horror and dread which makes the piece so griping was sometimes missing.
It is alleged that Berlioz called for forty harps to be included in the orchestra for this symphony. On this occasion, the BBC NOW drafted in four harpist.
Even this limited abundance of riches was not required. One, perhaps two, harps would have been sufficient.
The loud sound of a bell high the auditorium had a certain shock value, but felt more like a gimmick.
Leonard Bernstein said of this piece: “You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.” Perhaps thankfully, we didn’t quite get to take that trip in this performance, although there were times when we did indeed gaze into the abyss.
Nevertheless, the Proms audience loved it, cheering with wild excitement for several minutes. Then again, Proms audiences love every performance given during the season, and invariably cheer loud and long. I suppose that’s no bad thing.
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