Folks seeking some assurance that the future is secure - or as secure as one can count on, given prevailing global events - need go no further than the next concert of bright-eyed, sometimes sassy youngsters making music in our midst. On the evening of May 14, in Meymandi Concert Hall, where the big boys and girls often hold forth, the nearly 50 members of the Triangle Youth Brass Band presented a full concert, under the astute leadership of Tony Granados. The Maestro is a tuba player by trade, and long-time readers of these columns will surely have sensed this scribe's aversion to the idea of brass players leading anything , but in this case, Granados was and remains a superb choice. For openers, he knows the medium, and he knows the literature, and he is a good leader, and he is clearly a great teacher, if one may gauge by the results he obtains. For certain, he has forged a first-class ensemble - an ensemble good enough to elicit comments like the one heard on the way in, from a guy who takes in lots and lots of music hereabouts, and who seems to know the score. This fellow commented, "These kids out-play the big band" - by which he meant the Triangle Brass Band, the "parent" and sponsor of the TYBB. Know what? He was, in large measure, correct. Yes, there were some ticklish ensemble passages in a few - a very few - spots. And yes, there was a patch or two of dubious intonation, when the "chops" let down the musical intent. It's not really fair to compare these young people and their collective work with the adults in the TBB, but if they played side by side in a blindfold test, a judge would be hard pressed to pick the more polished bunch, musically and artistically. They're that good.
The program was called "British Invasion," so the music was mostly from the UK, although the concert began and ended with red-white-and-blue American stuff. This sort of program is, of course, completely logical, since the TYBB hews to the British brass band model. The program was a knockout in many ways, not least of which was its somewhat nostalgic look back at the concept of "empire" - built and then lost. On the one hand, the concert provided welcome respite from the all the agonizing news that's been bombarding us incessantly. On the other hand, it was easy enough to read into the music and the sentiment much of it embodied what might well happen to other empires, including our own. But enough philosophizing....
If there was a downside, it was limited to the printed program insert, tucked into the season booklet for the TYBB and its parent group, the TBB. Particularly in the case of "educational" concerts, well-documented programs are crucial, if there is to be much post-event benefit: the inclusion of composer dates, arrangers, identification of the movements played, etc., should be obligatory, particularly if there are no other notes.
Things got underway with John Williams' "Liberty Fanfare," given in an arrangement by Steve Sykes. This is a bright, buoyant piece, surprisingly varied and appealing, and it didn't wear out its welcome, like symphonic adaptations of Williams' movie scores often seem to do.
Our English-speaking allies were represented by three great masters: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, and William Walton. Along the way, music by Peter Graham featured Peter Pirotte and Michael Gillespie, two stellar trumpeters from the band, whose playing of "Quicksilver" might have impressed principals of leading orchestras; the support they received from the ensemble was as close to professional as one is likely to get without coughing up the big bucks. Even more impressive was James Anderson's rendition of Gordon Langford's marvelous multi-part Rhapsody for Trombone, which is tantamount to a concerto (or, if you prefer, a concertino) for the soloist and the band. There was no mention of a concerto competition, so we're guessing these young artists were not selected as a result of any contest. If that is so, their work may be seen as the norm for this crack ensemble, and that makes the overall event still more praiseworthy.
Vaughan Williams complex "Henry the Fifth," composed for military band and based on "The Agincourt Song" (and on three other not-quite-so-old tunes), received a stirring reading that was especially meaningful to Anglophiles and fans of early music, the main tune having been inspired by the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
Holst's First Suite is familiar fare and one of that master's finest works. It probably didn't enhance appreciation of Michael Ball's "contest piece," the "Cambrian Suite," to have had it follow the Holst immediately, but both showed the band at its best, and the latter was one of the numbers played at the recent national championship meet of the North American Brass Band Association, where this band - our band! - took first place in NABBA's Youth Division for the third year in a row.
A brief pause before the rest of the concert allowed Granados to salute the seniors who are moving on. There are 13 of 'em, which means that next year may be a season of rebuilding - or maybe not, given the talent in the pipeline. The seniors, like the rest of the band, are from all over, by the way - they represent six high schools from throughout the region (and other members come from as far away as Southern Vance and Northern Nash). All 13 seem to be destined for college, and a large portion of them will continue with music in one way or another. See? There's hope for the future, for sure.
Philip Sparke's "Time Remembered" is notable because it gives every section and many principals opportunities to strut their stuff, and it was beautifully played. So too was the last scheduled work, Walton's "Crown Imperial" March, which more than any of the pieces performed exudes the notion of "The Last Vestige of Empire" that we mentioned at the outset.... It is what it is, and the players approached it in that spirit, raising the roof in the process and promoting an immediate ovation from the small but enthusiastic crowd.
Flag-waving - sort of - continued with the encore, Karl L. King's familiar "Melody Shop" - which nonetheless had some of us wondering which Sousa march it was. The Ohio-born composer was claimed by Iowa as its "March King," and the similarities don't end there. The concert did, however, and it was a grand finale indeed for Granados and his charges, since they all participate in a real, live melody shop, all the time. Well done!