‘The trumpet does no more stun you by its loudness, than a whisper teases you by its provoking inaudibility.’
So it proved this weekend at Arcomis’s extraordinary International Brass Event in Cardiff. This is, by no means, a complete review – I wasn’t able to attend the whole event – but I did manage to spend most of Saturday and the first half of Sunday at the festival, gobbling and binging on its many world-class concerts.
As a brass player I suppose I was inevitably going to be delighted at the prospect of hearing players of the likes of Tine Thing Helseth, Allen Vizzutti and David Childs all in one place. Nor did any of them disappoint. For me, however, it was Vizzutti who stood out. Not only does his playing exhibit astonishing mastery, he is also, it turns out, no mean composer either. Of the many pieces of his we heard, I was particularly struck by his Andante and Capriccio, a work that was refreshing in its lack of pretension: well-made music with beautiful melodies and luxurious textures and harmonies.
And amidst all the brass fireworks there was plenty of other new music to enjoy. A crack brass quintet from the London Sinfonietta tackled a technically exhausting programme of Berio, Birtwistle, Lutoslawski, Macmillan and Jackson. Byron Flucher stood out with a whimsical and well thought-out performance of Berio’s Sequenza V for solo trombone. I also enjoyed the three works for quintet: Lutoslawski’s Mini Overture, MacMillan’s Adam’s Rib and Jackson’s Two Haiku. Despite admiring the incredible control of the two trumpeters in Birtwistle’s The Silk House Tattoo, however, I remain puzzled by the work. Perhaps this is because it is Birtwistle at his most pared down, even the theatrical element reduced to a ritualistic marching of the trumpets round an imaginary circle. It all left me feeling a bit cold, wishing I could listen to one of his more luscious orchestral scores. The Sinfonietta concert was followed by a workshop given by players Alistair Mackie and Byron Flucher, entiled A Way into Berio. Aimed primarily at players it also provided penetrating analysis of Sequenzas V and X. Flucher’s demonstration was particularly revealing. Uninformed players come to this repertoire at their peril.
David Childs’ brilliant advocacy of the euphonium on Sunday morning was only let down by a programme that was, perhaps, a reminder to composers that this is an instrument that needs and deserves more repertoire. The world première of Mervyn Burtch’s Nocturne and Dance stood out, a tautly written work in his characteristically astringent style. Also on offer was Karl Jenkins’ Euphonium Concerto, written specifically for Childs. Often infectious and attractive it was, however, sometimes spoilt by taking itself too seriously, most notably in a badly misjudged section of multiphonics – an unnecessary nod to modernist extended techniques from a composer who prides himself in being above such things.
Throughout the concerts were interpolated a series of newly commissioned fanfares. I declare my interest here and say that one of these was written by me. Written in homage to anniversary composers Britten, Lutoslawski, Hindemith, Poulenc and Berio, they also provided musical clarion calls before and after concerts at St. David’s Hall (and, in one case, at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama). In addition to this there was a concert of new works for brass that resulted from an Arcomis call. For me this was the beating heart of the Brass Event. As we sat listening in a nightclub-like atmosphere, glass of wine in hand, to the varied and interesting newly written works, the whole purpose of the weekend became clear. In a sense all the high-profile concerts and workshops were a foil, a brilliantly subversive feint that enabled Arcomis to get across its core message: that new music matters and that, whatever your stylistic preference, there is a living composer who can provide you with music you can love. One can only hope that Arcomis is successful in its mission to connect people to the arts. And that we can have another festival soon. Please.
For more information about Arcomis see CT’s interview with its director Adrian Hull.