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2011 National Championships of Great Britain — Test Piece review

4BR Editor Iwan Fox checks out 'Breath of Souls' — a work of the here and now....

PLCThis is music of the here and now:

It neither harks back to a bygone age nor looks forward to the future. It is all about the immediate, the current, the instantaneous present – and no more.

Lived in a bubble

The composer calls it a celebration of life governed by the catastrophic power of nature.

What he has in fact given us with ‘Breath of Souls’ is a musical analogy of catastrophic lives lived in a bubble of 21st century ephemera.

Whether or not this is what he set out to do is neither here or there. It is certainly what he has achieved.

This is music that reflects almost perfectly our desire for instant gratification.

Soundtrack

From iphone apps and lads mags to red bull chasers and teenage television vampires: It’s the brass band version of a soundtrack that accompanies everything from video games and 'X Men' films to Football Focus and Lady Gaga.

And you have got to hand it to him: He does write that brass band soundtrack quite brilliantly.

On the pulse

PLC has got his finger placed right on the pulse of a new brass band generation - and knows exactly what makes their heart beat just that little bit quicker from second to second better than anyone else.

He knows he writes music that resonates with players who watch 'Batman' and 'Fast and Furious' films, read Stephen King and True Blood books, that drink Archers and 20/20 and who live their lives through twitter and Facebook.

Understands the zeitgeist

He understands the zeitgeist of their lives; and he gives those people – people who also happen to enjoy playing in brass bands, just what they like and want to play.  

It is perhaps why he attracts such pointed criticism: It appears to come so easy to him.
 
It also rather misses the point: ‘Breath of Souls’ may well give us everything and more required of a modern test piece in preheated oven ready packages of tasty bite sized chunks, but at no point does he bullshit us into telling us that it is anything more than that.

Even the grandiose titles are really nothing more than very well pitched advertising catch phrases.

Market place

He is a clever, hard working composer who knows his market place – and it is a market place that he is determined to expand.

Whether ‘Breath of Souls’ is the piece to do that just now is debatable:

It will certainly be popular with the paying public – no doubt about that, but in the process will it be seen in years to come than nothing more than an example of a quickly exhaustible vein of musical faddishness - the brass band version of 3D cinema?

Critics

The critics believe they can already see through the Emperor’s new clothes: Little structural development, cut and paste techniques, computer generated tricks, the odd old rehashed tune and unfeasible tempos.

Perhaps they have a point. Perhaps not.  

Look closer

Look a bit closer at ‘Breath of Souls’ and a test piece – a real hard as nails, sweaty bum, lip sapping, seat of your pants, stamina waning test piece is revealed.

The type of old fashioned Nationals test piece in fact that sorts the best from the rest - quickly and clearly.

It bustles with energy and vibrancy: The opening is geared at a high paced Giocoso tempo of crotchet =150 – 158 - a pace that never relents and is upped to 168 in places.

Cut and paste conductors

The streetwise conductors will have got to work on their own cut and paste techniques (a great deal of the scoring is interchangeable) but this will come at a price as the lactic acid drains the stamina from overworked embouchures.   

Main soloists will also earn their stage fees in full: From the short but demanding choices of cadenzas to the near non-stop ensemble work.  

The filigree semi quaver work is detailed and difficult, the contrasting lyricism broad, warm and transparent. It is easy on the ear and hard on the lips.  

Thumping climax

The climax is a full-blown tour de force – stretched to its limits, thumping in its finality.

If it comes at the end of a performance of the highest quality it will blow the roof off the old cake tin, with a packed audience going bonkers.

And for the here and now, no band can wish for more.

Iwan Fox



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