Michael Votta's 17 seasons of leadership of the Triangle Brass Band came to an end in Fletcher Opera Theater during a splendid — and splendidly played — program that in effect summed up the best of the maestro's many contributions over the years. The occasion was sweetened by the appearance of Tony Granados, who takes the reins at the start of the forthcoming season.
Votta, a clarinetist, related that he didn't know much about brass bands when outgoing Music Director Paul Bryan invited him to attend a performance way back when. As he tells it, he explained to the interviewers several days later that he'd heard a band... and was indeed interested in leading one! Lead one he did, concurrently continuing to hone the skills of what was, even then, a superior musical organization. As he takes his departure now for new opportunities in Maryland, he turns over to Granados one of the finest performing organizations in the Triangle, one that offers attractive and unusual programming that does much to enrich our collective musical lives, generally performed to the highest technical and artistic standards. For that, and for seventeen years of richly varied music making and entertainment, too, many owe Votta and the TBB members a tremendous debt of gratitude.
The farewell concert reflected the strong traditions of brass bands here and in the UK, too. Gordon Jacobs' "Earl of Oxford's March" got things underway; it's not your typical marching band piece but rather a symphonic score with many fine and subtle nuances that, among other things, reminded the audience instantly that this is a superior and responsive ensemble capable of chamber-music-like restraint and delicacy. The work was given in an arrangement by Votta, himself, the first of several during the course of the evening.
James Curnow's "Psalm 100" offered a piece that evoked the Salvation Army's immense contributions to brass bands and brass band literature. Its brilliance never masked the sincerity of the undertaking, and the work's feeling and emotion was manifest in the performance.
Curnow transcribed the next piece, a Toccata with a curious history by Alfredo Casella, one of the great if un-sung Italian composers of the 20th century. This began life like one of Fritz Kreisler's many attributed pieces, in this case, as a work by Frescobaldi, "found" by Casella, whose interest in early music predated our contemporary fascination with "historically informed performances" by decades. Like "Psalm 100," this score exuded superior craftsmanship at every turn and was warmly received by the audience.
The first half came to a close with the world premiere of a Votta transcription of one of the Liturgical Fanfares from Henri Tomasi's Miguel Manara. The multi-part selection, formally titled "Procession du Vendredi-Saint" ("Good Friday Procession"), begins with a series of solo voices that ultimately unite in a massed processional, capped by a stirring chorale. It served as a wonderful cap for the opening part of this program.
Along the way and in the second half, too, there were numerous solo contributions that again and again gave proof positive, if proof were needed, of the great strengths of the members of this organization.
The second half began with stirring tributes to Votta by Shirley Drechsel, Wayne Vaughn, and President Connie Varner. The music then resumed with one of the most sublime choral works of recent time, Morten Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium," given in another Votta version; for sure, his legacy to the TBB will be a lasting one, thanks to his transcriptions.
Drew Fennell's: Hometown Miniatures attracted Votta's attention fairly recently, exciting him enough to inspire the inclusion of the four short pieces in this valedictory concert.
A formal baton-passing ceremony, done with humor and grace, introduced Granados, who led William Himes' expansive setting of "Amazing Grace." His appointment as MD reflects his own great skill and high artistic standards, and it's a pleasure to report that he was already here, having made a name for himself as a great tuba player and during his years of service as MD of the Triangle Youth Brass Band, which he will continue to lead.
Votta returned to wrap up the evening, leading what is clearly one of his own great favorites, Marcia La Reau's radiant version of "Be Thou My Vision," played with the utmost reverence and sensitivity. The encore was "Seventy-six Trombones," a delightfully upbeat number that capped this somewhat bittersweet evening in an altogether remarkable way.
Over the years, we've reviewed many concerts by this fine group, and we've consistently noted that it's a first-rate ensemble in many, many ways, not least of which is that here's a band of brass musicians who can project great intensity into some of the softest and most refined sounds we've ever heard, anywhere. This quality will linger as one of the many attributes Votta has sustained and enhanced during his distinguished tenure.
The other really wonderful thing about the Triangle Brass Band — an attribute that will surely continue under Maestro Granados — is the overall programming. There was hardly a war horse in the lot of selections, and there rarely is; folks sick of same-old, same-old lineups from orchestras, choirs, and such owe it to themselves to investigate the literature performed by this musical gem of the Triangle!