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Windblowers in the Community

An Evening of Light Entertainment with NSWO

The audience were treated to a heart-warming programme of light music on the evening of Sunday 15th June at Saint Margaret’s Church, Aspley. This was delivered by Nottingham Symphonic Wind Orchestra (NSWO) led by Gill Henshaw under the baton of Keiron Anderson. John Holmes of BBC Radio Nottingham compered the evening.

We opened the evening with Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich. This rousing opener made the audience sit up as the brass were released on them in a packed church. Once the brass had subsided the woodwind took over with a bouncy melody that reassured us that light music does not have to mean poor quality music. This was emphasised with the next offering of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in a high quality arrangement by the late Richard Rodney Bennett. The subtlety of the arrangement enhanced the well-known melodies and made the less well known accessible to the audience who responded with pleasure by acknowledging their favourites by singing along (yes on my pew anyway) and nodding to those they did not recognise.

Some of us take it for granted that the players of NSWO are of the highest calibre. We were given two examples of their individual prowess – Dave Joyce on trombone came over all ‘Misty’ and Balasz Hegedus found his French horn for the rondo of the ‘4th Mozart Horn Concerto’. Both soloists showed us why the orchestra are at the top of their game. Balasz was accompanied by members of the clarinet section who played this well-known favourite with feeling and passion . Dave was accompanied by the ensemble which balanced nicely with his lyrical passages contrasting the instruments more raucous nature in other hands and styles.

As I hinted above, light music can be synonymous with the contempt of familiarity and safety and not challenging at all. For example many of us will be familiar with the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’ a simple hymn tune written in the 18th century by the English clergyman John Newton. It was saved by the skills of the arranger Frank Ticheli who has made it a tour de force for wind bands. The broad sweeping bass line supports the melody moving from clarinet, to saxophone to flute. He introduces a subtle muted trumpet fanfare sounding as if on a distant hilltop. Getting the correct balance is not easy for a conductor and orchestra to achieve, but it was on this performance. As the last cadence faded away to nothing, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up and the audience waited until the echo had died before rewarding the orchestra with their applause.

Martin Ellerby’s Paris sketches, a series of sound paintings, brought the first half to a close. A misty morning in Saint Germaine des Pres starts us off with the glock, oboes and muted trumpets setting the scene. Next we find ourselves in the less than salubrious “Tourist” area of Pigalle for a vibrant street scene, full of vigour, traffic and activity. The third movement takes us to the famous cemetery of Pére Lachaise with a haunting flute melody that gives way to oboe. Many of its musical spirits would approve of the rendition. The final movement took us very much back to the land of the living with a visit to Les Halles, the old market area of the city now a bustling commercial area. The final fanfare, a fitting introduction to the interval and the traditional British pastime of a raffle!
The raffle and the evening itself were directed at raising funds and awareness for the work of the Nottingham Cardiac Support Group. Our hosts did a wonderful job of goading, cajoling and generally badgering us into raffle tickets and programme donations. They were rewarded at the start of the second half by a beautiful verse and chorus of ‘The Girl Next Door’ given by tenor, Simon Theobold a former NSWO member accompanied on piano by one of today’s players, Alison Bailey. The ‘happy couple gave a little waltz up and down the aisle.

Back to the music with Malcolm Arnold’s ‘Four Scottish Dances’ which he composed for the BBC Light Programmes Festival of Light Music in 1957. One of the great light music composers given a well-deserved outing. Having been warmed up by the reels and the stirring in the heather, the audience then started singing along (again) with the medley from ‘The King and I’. Judging by the volume (the audience not the band) the favourite was ‘Getting To Know You’. That aside the dynamic contrasts that such a large orchestra was able to produce in this piece left me envious. Keiron Anderson has been known to write a good tune and the premier of ‘Cat Walk’ counts as one of them. This is one of his clowder of cat tunes. I heard ‘Alleycat’ last month and this is from what is a growing litter (sorry!).

From Keiron to Cousin Leroy Anderson, the king of light music. This portrait gave us a sample of the tunes those of us who can remember that far back recalled from the wireless. This made me feel even older when a small person asked in a stage whisper after the slapstick in ‘The Syncopated Clock’ – “what was that noise daddy?”

Talk about saving the best to last, the evening went out on a bang as the percussion section let rip with the Louis Prima ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’. NSWO became the Benny Goodman Band with kit player John Oldershaw morphing into Gene Krupa and Gill Henshaw into Benny himself. All night, the band had been supported by a more than competent percussion section, but this showcased them all. The solo from leader Gill Henshaw soared above the drum solo taking us back to the heyday of the big bands. It was no wonder that we were on our feet at the end.

What could top that, nothing as it happened as the evening had drawn to a conclusion. Yet another first rate performance of high quality light music played with energy, passion, subtlety and such obvious contagious enthusiasm.

The evening raised over £1900.00 for the charity and church - a fantastic success!

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