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NSWO Summer Finale Concert - 'Breathtaking performance.'

"Breathtaking performance." Review of 11 July concert by John Henshaw (July 15, 2009)

NSWO are grateful to audience member John Henshaw who has sent the following review of the concert on 11th July 2009.

Nottingham Symphonic Wind Orchestra, conductor Keiron Anderson

Summer Season Finale Concert

The concert opened with a performance of “Noisy Wheels of Joy” by the American composer Eric Whitacre. This does exactly what it says on the tin! It is pure, simple fun written in the spirit of the comic operatic overtures of Rossini and designed to start proceedings off with a bang. It certainly lived up to the description. The orchestra produced a very strong vibrant sound and played with obvious skill and enthusiasm.

The next piece was “O Magnum Mysterium” by the Scandinavian born, now American composer Morten Lauridsden. This composer’s work has been described as, “serene, with an elusive ingredient which leaves the impression that all questions have been answered”. This is a transcription of a choral piece and in this performance the NSWO members proved themselves to be no “one trick pony”. They created a wonderful sense of space and a cathedral of sound in complete contrast to the “Noisy Wheels” of the previous piece. The long crescendo was skilfully graduated and handled by the conductor and the pianissimo ending had you on the edge of your seat. All questions had indeed been answered!

Phillip Sparke has done much writing of competition pieces for Concert Band and the US Air Force Band, which was looking for the ultimate challenge, commissioned his “Dance Movements”, which were next on the agenda. On checking the catalogue on returning home I see that this piece has the highest grade of difficulty – Grade 6 –Very Difficult! This certainly was a challenge for all members of the group, with the part played by those on the back row of each section being equally as important and exposed as those sitting in the front. Everyone responded magnificently to the challenge. A high level of commitment and skill was shown by all players and a deep understanding of the music and attention to detail by the conductor. A lot of very hard work had gone into this performance. The percussion section was not spared the challenge. There was careful organisation behind the frantic activity. The timpanist in particular displayed the same level of commitment and skill of all players. It was exciting to watch them in action! The brass section was challenged by being given the slow reflective movement to perform. They created a quiet, peaceful, relaxed atmosphere casting a spell over the audience and the rest of the orchestra who seemed almost reluctant to rouse from their reverie to tackle the technical and rhythmic challenges of the final Molto Ritmico. There was so much going on here one didn’t know where best to look or listen. This was a breathtaking performance and from the audience reaction it was obvious that many realised they had witnessed something very special indeed. Well-done NSWO!

I’m sure many members of the audience were left thinking, ”How do you follow that”? I am equally sure many of them were remembering the sight of the excellent refreshments on display in the foyer. However the first half was not yet over and the group moved on from a performance showing great panache and bravado to a piece which would demonstrate their ability to play with style, attention to detail and polish.

The Suite in E flat by Gustav Holst was one of the first pieces written especially for concert band, almost exactly one hundred years ago. I was particularly moved by the performance of the "Chaconne," The melody starts in the baritone and makes its way throughout the entire band. In the middle of the piece the trombone plays an inverted version of the melody and the process begins again. The progression was skillfully handled and built ever so slowly, to the final strong fortissimo in all instruments. Spine tingling! Although this suite is not technically as demanding as the Sparke, a high level of performance was maintained by careful attention to detail in phrasing and dynamics. It was a stylish ending to the first half, leaving us much to ponder as we headed for those excellent refreshments.

The second half began with A Lincolnshire Posy by the Australian composer Percy Grainger. There is a freshness about this piece with a feeling of the open air and the countryside. There are jaunty melodies typical of English Folk Songs. The composer adds difficult irregular rhythms which were well handled by the orchestra and conductor. There is a contrasting War Song in which flutes, clarinets and trumpet play at the very top of their range, creating harsh, aggressive images of war. The only puzzle for me is the Poacher’s Song! These poachers don’t seem very pleased with themselves, leaving me with the feeling that thet have either been very unsuccessful poachers or they have been drinking a great deal to celebrate their successes!

The orchestra continued to display great skill in coping with contrasting styles and moods in the the last two pieces Eric Whitacre’s, Lux Arumque, (which the conductor helpfully explained to the audience is Latin for Lux Arumque) and Danceries by Kenneth Hesketh.

This was indeed a splendid evening out. There is a great rapport between this orchestra and their conductor which shone through in everything they did. The players obviously appreciate his skill and musicianship and it became clear through the evening that he, in turn admires their hard work, commitment and achievements.

I inadvertently paid for my ticket twice (it must be something to do with my age!) However I’m very happy not to request a refund as I still believe I had good value for money. I recommend anyone to try one of next season’s concerts. The music will no doubt be splendid and the refreshments will be pretty good too!

John Henshaw

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