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Brass Band Review

International Fare on the Eve of the D-Day Anniversary

June 5, 2004 - Raleigh, NC:

North Carolina is blessed with wonderful choirs, fine orchestras, noteworthy chamber ensembles, and many excellent solo artists of all persuasions. The Tar Heel State is also blessed with some groups that seem not to fall easily into cookie-cutter patterns, like wind and brass bands. In the Triangle, we have several of each, and two of the best - the NC Wind Orchestra (NCWO) and the Triangle Brass Band (TBB) - are led by the same person, UNC-based Michael Votta, Jr. The TBB gave a concert of mostly patriotic music at the Long View Center on the evening of June 5, a day that, earlier, brought observations - at the capitol and elsewhere - of the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, on June 6, 1944. As it happened, President Reagan's death was announced late in the day, too, so the TBB's program proved prescient in many respects.

The main part of the program consisted of marches or works in march tempo, starting with Votta's transcription of Gordon Jacobs' arrangement of William Byrd's "Earle of Oxford's Marche," originally (the director explained) for virginals. (Votta is a scholar as well as a superior conductor; there was no quiz after the program....) Frank Wright's arrangement of "The Boys of the Old Brigade" (1901?), Herbert Møller's version of Johnannes Hanssen's "Valdres March," Gordon Langford's medley of "Famous British Marches" (including "The British Grenadiers," "Lilliburlero," "Hielan' Laddie," "The Men of Harlech," and "Rule Britannia"), and Jan Van der Roost's "Mercury" made the rounds of some of the nations that now form NATO. From the film 633 Squadron came an arrangement by Frank Brice of Roy Goodwin's title tune - the film deals with the Battle of Britain - and from Shostakovich's cantata Native Leningrad (1942), which deals with that great battle, came, via Torgny Hanson, a version of "Youth Dance," listed in the program as "Folk Dances." These items will surely figure in the TBB's pending CD of great marches, and mainline classical people owe it to themselves to seek it out, when it appears, for this band's playing of these pieces is the best yet heard here and ranks with the best yet heard, anywhere.

The concert began with more reflective pieces. Elgar Howarth's arrangement of "Berne Patrol" got things off to a stunning start - this is a march-in, play, march-out piece that requires incredible dynamic shading, and it was brilliantly realized. Malcolm Arnold's three-section Little Suite for Brass is graced with a slow movement of remarkable beauty. These opening pieces were led by the TBB's newly-appointed Resident Conductor, Matthew McClure, whose day job is Assistant Director of Bands at UNC. The opening work featured stellar cornet playing by Lisa Norris, whose work was heard throughout the program; she was recognized just after the intermission with the TBB's award for superior musicianship. The second piece featured cornet section leader Stephen Lytle, and he's no slouch, either.

Votta then took over to lead his own arrangement of Morten Lauridsen's sublime "O Magnum Mysterium," one of the great "new" choral works of the late 20th century. It's been heard here often, thanks to several of our outstanding choirs. The new arrangement does the piece full justice - and there are scholarly roots for this sort of adaptation in some of the oldest music in the repertoire.

During the awards ceremony, Wesley Tilley of Hurdle Mills was recognized (in absentia) for his years of service to the TBB, and retiring Business Manager Carolyn Kohring received roses and a small gift in appreciation of her long-term devotion to the organization.

Following the aforementioned marches, the concert ended festively with two more - Julius Fucik's "Entry of the Gladiators" (a.k.a. "Thunder and Blazes") and Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." The Fucik was augmented with a juggling display, courtesy of (multi-talented) trombonist Ken Davis. The small crowd ate it all up, and its enthusiastic response was rewarded with "76 Trombones" (although the band has only six...) from Meredith Willson's The Music Man .

The TBB's next concert will be on July 4; see our calendar for details.