On Friday, June 9, 2006 the British Invasion of America continued with an astonishing performance by the recently formed Alliance Brass Ensemble (named after the ‘Alliance’ of Buffet, Besson and Courtois). The concert was a feature presentation at the 2006 International Trumpet Guild Conference which took place at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. For the performance, six of the world’s great brass players performed an eclectic mix of arrangements, original compositions, and premiers in what was a very memorable experience for all.
While chatting with the group prior to the concert this reviewer was struck by how relaxed and good natured the ensemble was. In hindsight if I was ever able to perform to that level I suppose I would be that relaxed and confident too.
Since this was a trumpet conference it is only fitting to mention two of the most talented trumpet/cornet players in the whole UK, Roger Webster and Jamie Prophet. Their individual performances were nothing short of awe-inspiring.
The concert began with March for Brasses by Goldman arr. by American composer and arranger Mark Freeh who is from New Jersey. Mark had planned on attending the conference but was in hospital and unable to hear the concert. The March, quickly established for the audience the terrific level of artistry we were to hear for the remainder of the concert.
Compering the entire program in an informative, relaxed and thoroughly professional manner was the ensemble’s stunning tubist, David Nesbitt.
The next work on the program showed off the beautiful blend of the Alliance Brass in Freeh’s arrangement of Ave Verum by Mozart. The balance and tone color of the ensemble was a pleasure to experience.
Next up was the famous Violin Concerto by Mendelssohn, performed by world renowned tenor horn virtuoso Lesley Howie. Ms. Howie was already known to Southern New Jersey audiences through her previous performances with the Black Dyke Band. Though the concerto is a difficult work for violinists around the globe, Howie’s dynamic and exciting Finale was truly special, marked by effortless execution of even the most demanding technical passages. Also impressive was the subtle accompaniment provided by the rest of the sextet.
The group moved on to two outstandingly performed works, In My Native Country by Grieg again arranged by Freeh, and then Dance of the Tumblers by Rimsky-Korsakov. Dance of the Tumblers was especially amazing due to the dizzily technical virtuosity of the whole ensemble.
One of the more interesting performances of the week was a tandem of compositions for sextet and computer generated electronics. These two works were commissioned by the Alliance Brass from two outstanding composers from Leeds University. Dr. Ewan Stefani’s We See Into The Life of Things was the first of the two new works. Dr. Stefani hails from Scotland and specializes in computer manipulation of sound. This particular work involved some rather interesting sextet writing with some truly interesting computer manipulation of the sounds. The combination of live performance and simultaneous computer manipulation of sound was quite striking and showed this reviewer that traditional sextet composition need not begin and end with just the brass instruments.
The tandem work was Message from Ainoss V by Dr. Mick Spencer. Dr. Spencer’s work was also well received by the audience and had the added interest of being interrupted by a power outage. A sharp thunderstorm was passing through the area and cut power to the entire Rowan campus in the middle of the work. Thinking that this would mean a complete reboot of the computer and a several minute delay after the power was restored I thought the concert would be brought to a halt. However after only about a minute, the power came back on and the ensemble, with Dr. Stefani once again manning the computer, started almost immediately at exactly the same point they left off.
After the two “new” works, the ensemble put forward their euphonium player, Michael Dodd for a performance of Herman Bellstedt's Napoli. This is a staple of the cornet repertory so the entire audience knew the piece and was astonished by the performance. With absolute clarity and precision, Dodd raced through the work with style and flash eliciting rousing cheers from the crowd.
I could not complete this review without mentioning the brilliance of the ensemble’s sixth member, Nick Hudson, whose trombone playing throughout the concert was truly awesome.
After a sublime rendition of Bach’s Siciliano also arranged by Freeh, the concert concluded with a resounding performance of Russian Sailors Dance by Gliere (arr. by Frank Siekman). With this dynamic and technically demanding work the Alliance Brass showed why they are one of the premier brass ensembles in the world today. I hope to hear them again in the very near future.
Notes of the Ensemble:-
Alliance Brass Ensemble was formed following the successful takeover of the Besson and Courtois brands by the internationally acclaimed woodwind manufacturers Buffet Crampon.
The ensemble utilizes many of the endorsing artists within the Buffet family and appears in guises from Brass Quartet to large scale Brass Ensemble…depending on the repertoire and specific needs.
For I.T.G. Alliance Brass was performing as a ‘traditional’ brass sextet (see list below) featuring core members of the ensemble.
Alliance Brass Ensemble ITG 2006
Roger Webster - Trumpet / cornet
Jamie Prophet - Trumpet / cornet
Lesley Howie - Tenor / French horn
Nick Hudson - Trombone
Michael Dodd - Euphonium
David Nesbitt - Tuba
Dr Ewan Stefani - Computer