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"Around the World" was the theme of the Triangle Brass Band's fine program, given in Meymandi Concert Hall. The guest artist was euphonium virtuoso and conductor Demondrae Thurman, of the University of Alabama, and the TBB's Music Director, Tony Granados, was the evening's host and principal conductor.
There are many reasons to embrace bands, be they of the "British" variety, as this one is, with high brass instruments serving as the "strings," or of the "symphonic wind" variety, like the North Carolina Wind Orchestra, in which clarinets serve as the "strings." (The NCWO played in the same venue the following afternoon, for a review of which, click here.) For openers, most bands are local groups, staffed by enthusiastic amateurs (we use the term in its most exalted sense) who are part of the community and who play – literally – for the love of music (and, often, for not much more than that). The repertory is appealing, in part because it is largely contemporary (fancy that!) and in part because it's not the bread-and-butter "been-there-done-that" fare that our orchestras routinely offer. The concerts are generally much less expensive to attend than symphony orchestra programs - and sometimes they are free. And, last but hardly least; critics cannot complain very much about balance since there aren't any scrawny string sections for all those brass players – or all those wind and brass players – to overpower.
On top of all that, the sound – the sonority – can be fabulous, as was often the case during this TBB concert. The program began in Germany, with an arrangement by Denis Wright of the Prelude to Act III of Wagner's Lohengrin, one of the most stirring operatic curtain-raisers. The sound was radiant, rich, full, and expertly balanced, and the playing was incisive throughout.
Next came the first of three appearances by the guest soloist, in a substantial and attractive Concerto (1988, originally for trombone and orchestra) by Derek Bourgeois, whose surname sounds French but who represented England on this occasion (although he is currently living in the US...). The euphonium is an ungainly-looking thing that can sound that way, too, but Thurman made it positively dance through the piece as if it were but a fraction of its actual size; such virtuosity needed to be seen as well as heard! The work is loaded with long and impressive melodies, deftly accompanied, and the band met the soloist's skills with many demonstrations of its members' prowess. The slow movement is captivating, lovely, and often moving, and the snazzy finale served as an ideal cap.
Japan was next, with "Hinode," which Granados told us means "sunset." The work, by Peter Graham (b. 1958), is reasonably exotic, with steady tympani beats at intervals and some impressive crescendos and decrescendos that the band handled smartly.
The first half ended with Four Spanish Impressions, by Rodney Newton (b.1945), whose work is attractive but, unlike others on the program, not terribly original in terms of melodies, colors, or moods.
Joseph Fučik's "Florentine March" (1907) kicked off the second half, touching both Italy and the Czech Republic (and maybe Hungary, too, for his band was based in Budapest for a time); the more of his music one hears, the more one thinks he may have been the only viable competitor to Sousa in the March department.
Thurman returned to solo in a fascinating "Slavish Fantasy" by Carl Höhne (1871-1934) that in some respects suggested Enescu'' brilliant Roumanian Rhapsodies. The soloist offered musical commentary throughout its somewhat bipolar mood swings, which ranged from manic joy to profoundly sad reflections, presumably on the challenges of life or love or what-have-you. It was therefore something of an emotional relief to have Thurman take up the baton to lead the band in Percy Grainger's version of "Danny Boy," the formal title of which is "Irish Tune from County Derry" (c. 1916).
The concert ended with two grand patriotic pieces, intended for two entirely different purposes. First was Stephen Bulla's noble "Images for Brass" (c. 1995), composed for the Marine Corps Band and premiered at the Iwo Jima memorial, at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. Into it are woven generally discrete sound images of our great sea services – only the Navy hymn, "Eternal Father," is boldly stated – that evoke a sense of awe, reverence, admiration, and profound respect. The band did this glowing American work full justice, thus earning the heartfelt applause of the crowd. The enthusiasm elicited a fine American encore – Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896) – in which Thurman made a splendid farewell appearance, playing several breath-taking solo lines as the piece roared to its emphatic conclusion. Well done!
One always hopes for big crowds at band concerts, especially when the programs are given indoors – because bodies help absorb some of the sound, and because it means so much to the players, and because it promotes a heightened sense of community among all the attendees. The crowd for this concert was, alas, pretty sparse – a shame, for all the reasons previously addressed here. That said, the folks who were there made up for their thin ranks with amazingly robust enthusiasm, and at the appropriate places, they made almost as much noise as the band!
There were no notes on the composers or the music, and the bare-bones listing didn't even include dates of the compositions or their authors. Since take-home programs don't always end up in the recycle bin, groups like this (and the outfit heard at Duke on March 5) could up the educational ante by including at least basic information about the things they play.