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ISB 120

Staff Bands in Concert
Royal Albert Hall
Saturday 4th June

RAHAs part of the 120th Anniversary celebrations of The Salvation Army’s International Staff Band, the decision was taken to invite the seven other recognised Territorial Staff Bands from around the world to visit London to share in the occasion.

Whilst all the bands were to take part in the evening festival, there was clearly going to be little time for each individual group.

The organisers therefore decided to give each band a slot during the afternoon, so that they could each be showcased, encouraging the use of multimedia presentations to highlight their particular style and characteristics.

The bands played in alphabetic order, commencing with Amsterdam and with New York bringing up the rear.

Each band was introduced by a Powerpoint presentation, Trevor Caffull filling in the remaining time between the bands with announcements, commercials and interviews with some of the Bandmasters.

Amsterdam Staff Band (Olaf J Ritman)

The Dutch programme opened quietly with a setting for flugel of  'We are not Alone' (Choplin arr Olaf Ritman), the soloist being accompanied by horns, baritones, euphoniums and a bass.

Then a group of 4 trombones and 3 tubas presented another arrangement by their bandmaster, 'Ride the Chariot', a lively number with solo lines divided out between all the players.

The cornets then had their chance to shine in 'Intrada on Ein Feste Burg' (arr Ray Farr): split into three groups on the risers behind the band, their diverse fanfares echoed across the hall, the ensuing chorale being enhanced by a euphonium cadenza.

The whole band came together for 'The Quiet Heart' (June Collins arr Ritman).

Originally written for choir, and employing some close harmonies and note clusters, it drew some gently sustained playing from the band, with sparing but telling use of percussion.

As a finale, they presented Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s 'Where Eagles Sing', accompanied by suitable images and scripture quotes.

The playing was nicely controlled, with sweeping melodic lines and the busy runs never over-dominating the texture, whilst the soprano cornet rang out over the band in the closing bars.

Canadian Staff Band (John Lam)

The Canadian Staff Band produced a lighter but brighter sound as they opened with 'The Gathering' (Marcus Venables), coincidentally being based on a Dutch hymn of thanksgiving.

The percussion were kept particularly busy, with prominent parts for both glockenspiel and xylophone.

Their second item provided a complete contrast: Morten Lauridsen’s 'O Magnum Mysterium' has caught the imagination of several band arrangers, this version being by Len Ballantine.

Unfortunately on this occasion its impact was diminished somewhat by lapses in intonation, so noticeable in exposed writing such as this.

To close, they brought a new work by one of their former Bandmasters: Robert Redhead’s 'Rejoice!' included four songs, the melody of  'When the Music Fades' emerging from the dramatic opening bars.

The lively, 'Rejoice, Rejoice, Christ is in You' was notable for a brisk xylophone obliggato, before the composer’s own vocal setting, 'God we will give you Glory' provided the central core of the work, presented initially by the middle of the band, before building over a bolero rhythm.

The melody of 'Gopsal' was heard in the final section, with one of the composer’s favourite traits of setting a slow melody against busy writing for the rest of the band.

As the music built up to the final climax, the soprano player switched to piccolo trumpet for the last few notes.

Chicago Staff Band (William Himes)

Chicago’s opening 'Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare' (Richard Strauss arr Himes) seemed to lose some of its impact with the cornets and trombones being masked by the rest of the band, whereas move to one of the higher risers may have been more effective.

Nevertheless, the contrast between the fanfare group and the rest of the band was apparent, with a fine contribution in particular from Mike Hanton on bass trombone.

Wilfred Heaton’s 'Victory for Me!' opened with some crisp side drum playing, and despite a couple of minor lapses in ensemble the playing grew in confidence and authority.

The phrase 'Soli Deo Gloria' ('Glory to God alone') is associated with J S Bach, who used to place the initials 'SDG' on all his sacred works.

William Himes has taken this as the theme, and woven together elements of Bach’s 'Jesu, joy of man’s Desiring' with the chorus 'Jesus, Name above all Names'.

Their final item was a transcription of the finale of  'Symphony No 3' (Giannini, arr Himes).

This bright and colourful slice of Americana, originally written for wind band, made for an exciting and varied finale, putting each section of the band through their paces to good effect.

German Staff Band (Heinrich Schmidt)

Following their introductory video, which showed the whole band emerging from a small car, the band opened with the march 'Celebration' (Leslie Condon), keen eyes in the audience spotting Stephen Kane, son of the ISB’s Derick, occupying the end euphonium chair.

It was a solid reading, dynamics well observed and with a nice horn sound in the trio, and the cornets’ countermelody rang out in the final section, there was a spontaneous outburst of clapping as the audience joined in.

Ruben A Schmidt’s setting of 'This is my Father’s World' showed a string Celtic influence, with drones in the lower band and cornet grace notes.

The same writer had contributed their final item, 'A Variation for Jubilee – Lobe den Herren' for the band’s 20th anniversary celebrations in 2009.

Moving through various styles, including Rock/Funk and an effective Humoresque Waltz, a bass-led Fugato heralded the finale, complete with high soprano and chromatic harmonies, rolls on cymbal and timpani leading up to a powerful final chord.

International Staff Band (Bandmaster Dr Stephen Cobb)

One of the expressed intentions of the weekend was to encourage the younger generation of writers. The first two of the ISB’s items came from Paul Sharman of the ISB and Regent Hall.

'Psalm of Thanks' is a setting of 'Now thank we all our God', phrases of the melody initially appearing as interjections from the trombone section before a full statement in a slower tempo.

The section as a whole was on top form all day, with Brad Turnbull’s incisive bass trombone being heard to good effect.

'Flow Gently sweet Afton'
was not in a style one has come to expect from Paul, but this contemplative take on 'My Jesus I love Thee' worked beautifully, with a smooth melody from flugel and horns, and a section featuring the cornets and trombones.

Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s, 'Fire in the Blood' was written for the occasion, drawing on three songs that have meant much to the composer in his own spiritual journey.

The opening section, based on Richard Phillips’ setting of Psalm 95: 'Sing for Joy', offered some characteristic high-energy writing, whilst 'Lord, you know that we love You' (Howard Davies) showcased the warm-toned flugel of Richard Woodrow.

The melody 'I Love you Lord' featured some effective writing for euphonium and glockenspiel, whilst the big climax included the juxtaposition of these two melodies, before a final reprise of 'Sing for Joy'.

Japan Staff Band (Hajime Suzuki)

It was an emotional experience as the whole audience stood to greet the entry of the Japan Staff Band, whose members had won many friends during their week’s visit.

There were still tears in the eyes as they played Erik Silfverberg’s setting of  'Stella', showing attention to detail and playing nicely within themselves.

A brief drum tattoo led straight into the bandmaster’s own march 'Hope in my Heart', the trombones and percussion coming over particularly well, even if the glockenspiel player had to cope with a faulty damper.

They then presented the Japanese melody 'Songs of Sunset' in a rather westernised arrangement by Naohiro Iwai, complete with drum set backing.

'My Soul’s Desire' (Hajime Suzuki) drew together three choruses, commencing with 'All my Days and all my Hours', sensitively presented on horn.

'Come Holy Spirit and Abide with Me' featured the band singing in Japanese, and the confident euphonium led into 'Come, Beautiful Christ'.

With original material linking the tunes together, and quite dramatic at times, it was perhaps their most striking contribution.

To close, they presented, 'I have Decided to follow Jesus', set as a Bolero by William Himes.

With side drum and timpani to the fore the playing was well controlled, although the characterful writing placed the five cornet players under a bit of pressure.

As the whole band stood with instruments in the air at the close, the hall erupted as the band was given another standing ovation.

Melbourne Staff Band (Ken Waterworth)

Melbourne opened their account with Stephen Bulla’s 'Tunesmith Overture', written for the tour and featuring the music of Australian Howard Davies, a member of the ISB during the 1970s.

Written in Broadway style it featured soloists Garry Todd (cornet), Paul Smith (trombone) and Nigel Mapes (tuba), the last-named with a tasteful rendition of  'The Wonder of His Grace'.

The up-tempo finale was based on 'On the way to Heaven', complete with a snippet of 'Tie me kangaroo down, sport'  from the basses.

The band’s vocalist Rebecca Raymond then stepped forward and they combined in William Broughton’s setting of 'Now I belong to Jesus', both band and singer proving most adept with the swing style, the excellent amplification maintaining a good balance between them.

Their finale was provided by Roger Trigg, born in Australia and a former member of both the Melbourne and New York Staff Bands, but currently based in Northern Ireland.

'Atonement' is a predominantly joyous reflection on God’s atoning work, given a bit of local colour by the inclusion of didgeridoo and rain stick, as well as references to 'Waltzing Matilda'.

The colourful score included, 'To God be the Glory' in syncopated mode, a dark, doleful setting of  'When I survey the Wondrous Cross' and a triumphal closing section featuring the more recent hymn 'The Wonderful Cross'.

New York Staff Band (Ronald Waiksnoris)

Last to play was New York, commencing with 'Overture for Brass' by American composer Joseph Turrin, one of a pair of brief concert openers.

An idiomatic writer for brass instruments, the composer makes the most of the colours available, with cornet and euphonium solos and an effective whole-tone scale descending in the trombones.

In contrast to the straight sound of the classical repertoire, the NYSB then turned to flugel player Andrew Garcia and 'The Children of Sanchez' (Chuck Mangione arr R Gilje).

The screen showed the poem which had inspired the work, and both soloist and band got straight into the mood, with a nicely inflected solo line delivered with a rich, full tone.

The horn players stood to join the soloist in the central section.

The band’s four percussionists were fully employed, and both trombones and cornets stood to add to the impact of their contributions.

The band then brought the afternoon to a close with 'Exultate' (Kenneth Downie), built round the old song 'Would you know why I love Jesus'.

Following a lively opening section, with crisp playing around the band, the music, led by the lower half of the band, appeared to pass through doubts and uncertainties.

A menacing passage, with driving percussion and the melody in the minor mode, led to a flugel melody supported by runs across the band.

Fierce trills heralded a majestic final section, asserting the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness and despair.

Whilst the audience had been free to come and go throughout the afternoon, audience numbers remained high at all times, and the programme kept nicely to schedule.

Peter Bale

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