Friday, 3 December 2010

Brass Day review. By Trevor Barlow

Whilst a good part of Cambridge folk were tucking into their Sunday morning breakfast, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary heralded the start of the Cambridge Brass Day with Prime Brass. The ten-piece Cambridge based ensemble had started their welcome concert to the 104 participants in the Henry Morris Hall at Sawston Village College. Tuba player Chris Lawrence warmly welcomed everybody and eloquently introduced Mozart’s Twinkle Variations. The following two items took on a feline nature, perhaps adding to that cosy armchair Sunday morning feel, with Rossini’s Cats Duet seeing trumpeters Paul Garner and Michel Sedgwick standing up front purring away through their instruments, and then, completing the session, Chris Hazel’s classic Brass work Three Brass Cats.

Truly inspired and eager to break out of that relaxed morning mood, four ensembles of approximately 26 students were formed, each led by a member of Prime Brass and assisted by their fellow musicians. Composer, teacher, tuba player and general Brass educator David Minchin joined the players to lead one junior group, ably assisted by Shaun Fitzgerald, whilst a second junior ensemble rehearsed next door with Gavin Bowyer, Alex Hewins and Julian Jarvis. Not only were correct notes, fingerings, slide positions and rhythms worked on, considerable emphasis was placed on style, projection, tone and ensemble sense. Thunderbirds, Easy Winners and even a little Swedish ABBA could be heard floating down the music suite corridor.

In the beautiful Walnut Room, trumpeter Michel Sedgwick, assisted by Gary Davidson, demonstrated great enthusiasm and skill whilst working with a senior ensemble on the Farandole from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne and The Sunny Side of the Street. Meanwhile fellow trumpeter Paul Garner, joined by trombonist Neil George and French Horn player Guy Llewellyn, gave clear direction delivered with humour and panache when working on three classical pieces by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Prime Brass have a natural way of communicating with all ages and abilities, giving testimony to their years of performing and teaching experience.

More homely pleasures followed at break time with a customised café in the staff room serving hot tea, coffee and squash, plus homemade flapjacks and fresh fruit. A DVD of the Venezuelan Brass Ensemble was enjoyed as the food and liquid revitalised everyone and the Wood Wind & Reed brass trade stand was kept busy with interest and sales.

Further ensemble playing and lunch followed, and whilst stomachs rested, ears were treated to a second Prime Brass recital, opening with Trepak from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and followed by the velvet sound of the Flugel horn, masterfully played by Paul Garner in Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns.

The sheer Joie de Vivre of the ensemble cannot be better demonstrated than by their performance of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust featuring the French horn playing of Guy Llewellyn, who performed from his wheelchair having just returned from hospital from a very serious accident. His tone, control, musicality and humour shone through and moved us all.

Tea and ensemble work followed, then the final session brought everyone together in the hall to top and tail their pieces ready for the end of day concert and to rehearse a Celebration March, which further demonstrated Michel Sedgwick’s animated and musically intelligent rehearsal style.

Family and friends filled the hall to maximum capacity, Prime Brass performed Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, each ensemble played their hearts out and the day came to a close with all 104 participants plus Prime Brass playing the Celebration March.

Prime Brass wanted to say how impressed they were with the enthusiasm and dedication of all those who attended and that it is reassuring to see so many brass instrumentalists in the region. The smooth administration, festival atmosphere with trade stands and performance DVDs in the breakout areas, good music, tasty flapjacks, and wonderful musicians of all ages and abilities were a recipe for success. Thank you all who attended and made it this way.