A smallish audience gathered in Dana Auditorium on the campus of Guilford College for an excellent holiday concert by the North Carolina Brass Band, the state's only professional brass band. Styled after the British model, the band is composed of 25 players of brass instruments and three percussion players, all under the direction of Brian Meixner.
Ten cornets, including a tiny soprano in E-flat and a "repiano cornet" (a time-honored respelling of the Baroque "ripieno") as well as eight standard B-flat cornets powered the upper voices of the group, while the lower voices were well represented by three trombones, two pairs of tubas, a pair each of baritones and euphoniums, with three horns ("French") and a flugelhorn adding their distinctive tones. The result was powerful and satisfying, especially in the loud passages. The pianissimo passages symphony orchestras pride themselves on were absent – but, hey, this is a brass band, not a symphony orchestra!
Most of the repertory at this particular concert consisted of adaptations of works originally written for other ensembles – there is a large body of original music for brass band, but not for the holiday season! The closing "Christmas Finale" by Paul Lovatt-Cooper was one such an original piece; well-orchestrated and composed of many recognizable fragments of carols, it was a formidable closer.
The jazzy "Three Kings Swing" by William Himes was also a show-stopper with its Big-Band sound and repiano cornet solo, admirably played by Mark Hibshman. Other soloists who shined were the pair of euphoniums (or should it be euphonia?) played by JR Stock and Glenn Wilkenson, in an arrangement of "The First Noël" by staff arranger Ed Kiefer. Principal solo cornetist, Ashley Hall, was featured in several elegant solos as was principal horn, Bob Campbell.
We were treated to a premiere performance of band-member Sean Devlin's transcription of Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria" – lovely, although the couple of recitatives could have been taken faster (or even omitted.) However, I was not taken with the "Christmas Bolero" ("Little Drummer Boy" à la Ravel) nor with the cutesy arrangement of Tchaikovsky tunes called "Nutcracker Sweet," although the arranging was masterfully done by the late Mark Freeh!
This was an enjoyable evening. It repeats in High Point on Friday and in Winston Salem on Saturday. See our sidebar for details.
*** Edited 12/5/17