2006 European Brass Band Championships - Composers talks


John James was on hand to listen to the two composer's talk about the works that were used at the contest. And he asked some interesting questions too...

Composers Talk
The Studio
Waterfront Hall

It with some interest that 4BR took the opportunity to listen to the pre-Championship sessions given over to the composers of the test pieces.

At this year's EBBC both the composer of the B-Section, Elaine Agnew and Championship piece, Ian Wilson were afforded the chance to talk about the music to be premiered  and both spoke in most relaxed style in their very interesting and enjoyable presentations.

Interestingly both chose to play samples of their previous orchestral works and both had submitted extracts that softened the dynamic and the biting angular nature of their exciting compositions in the samples chosen.

Having spoken in some detail of the legendary storm on the last day of Christmas (Night of the Big Wind) that formed the inspiration for her composition, Elaine Agnew spoke of her enjoyment of music not only as a listening opportunity but also as a theatrical experience.

Having written a section for percussion instructing the use of their own ideas and instrumentation to achieve an unsettled and eerie development she hoped that beside just sounds  the adjudicators would hear, that some actual movement on stage would support their improvisation for the enjoyment of the audience watching the performance.

Looking back at the actual performances that followed it was the Arklow Shipping Silver Band and the Oberoesterreich Brass Band that probably got closest to the embodiment of this theatrical opportunity using movement and unusual instrumental forces whilst developing and capturing the mood.

The use of a ‘swishing' noise effect had appeared a number of times in her compositional output and she had tried to incorporate this sound picture within the music ‘Little Christmas'.

This is a challenging and difficult technical effect to realise on brass instruments but she took the opportunity to feature an excerpt from her double violin concerto to demonstrate to the audience the style in sound she was aiming to elicit from the bands.

In conclusion Elaine spoke of enjoying composing for brass band and getting positive and constructive feedback during the compositional phase as she explored the particular needs of a brass band. Her final hope was that the opportunity to compose an even more substantive piece would be forthcoming. We hope so too.

Like Elaine Agnew the composer of the Championship work Ian Wilson is a young contemporary composer who again used music from his orchestral repertoire (‘Man O'War' and ‘Licht/ung') to illustrate his style of composition, particularly his use of brass. The examples utilised were both forceful and driven works with ‘beefy' low sounds.

His piece, ‘Seascape with High Cliffs' he explained, took a somewhat more cautious approach departing from strident and radical sounds rather treating the brass band as a brass orchestra – cornets reflecting high strings, basses low strings and so on.

Composed in a single movement he explained that the music was a sound picture inspired by the Cliffs of Moher on the West Coast of Ireland. Whilst the music could be interpreted as a tone poem it was less programmatic than the more classical forms of Liszt or Richard Strauss.

He highlighted that his musical episodes incorporated the sea (heavy and slow), birds, (intense and direct) and distant views from the cliffs (stasis) explaining that it was the use of a juxtaposed mosaic structure where three different kinds of music develop independently gradually drawing seamlessly together that he worked to complete the whole into the fully consolidated work.

To conclude he again he spoke of the invaluable and most interesting feedback he was afforded by the music panel as the composition developed and once more had seriously enjoyed writing for barss band.

This particular piece of music whilst not, one would dare to suggest, the most accessible at first reading was a truly unusual, complex and worthy composition that embodied all and more of the points described in this brief report.

Looking back at the contest it would be fair to say that having a very brief time in which to digest the study score before the contest performances this correspondent did take time to truly appreciate this polygonal work with a complexity of the writing that cleverly painted a tonal picture rather than a melodic journey.

John James


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