This weekend saw a stunning concert staged by the Eynsford Concert Band in the Mick Jagger Centre, Dartford in Kent. Perhaps I am biased as 1. I have recently accepted the position of Honorary Patron to the Band and 2. last night’s programme contained one of my compositions! Putting this aside I will explain why I thought yesterday’s concert was so significant.
What made their concert most unusual was Eynsford’s imaginative staging of this event. The Band was lit in different ways using spotlights and lasers to highlight the music being performed at that moment, and photographs and historical footage were projected onto a backdrop screen to complement the musical experience.
Conductor John Hutchins had recorded a narration that was not only entertaining but also full of scientific facts about space, to create a sort of ‘musical planetarium’ experience. After starting off with the theme from ‘2001 a Space Odyssey’ (Richard Strauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra) and two movements from Holst’s ‘The Planets’ suite , Eynsford performed my wind orchestra work `Gagarin’, a musical tribute to the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (see earlier post). John had recorded a mini history of Gagarin’s achievements as the first man in space 50 years ago, against the backcloth of the Cold War. The second half of the concert was lighter in style, with music ranging from films on a space subject such as E.T. and Star Trek through to a big band set performed together with the versatile and talented soloist Alex Carter.
`To The Stars’ was a concert that brought out the very best from Eynsford Concert Band and I believe has set another benchmark in their development.
As an aside, in my opinion, John Hutchins comes from a new generation of performer: His permanent ‘day job’ is playing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s `Phantom of the Opera’ which contrasts with his ‘other life’ as a natural trumpet player specialising in music written several centuries ago. John has a real feel of how audiences respond to music and almost always gives a theme to his events and concerts. He tends also to demand much from his performers in the range of musical styles they are expected to play. Besides this (and luckily for me and my contemporary composer colleagues) he often programs original music written in the last ten years including a number of premieres.
Over the years there have been a number of young brass, woodwind and percussion players in the Band, that have gone on to become professional musicians in some of our leading orchestras and music institutions. This shows the importance of amateur groups such as Eynsford in the development of our future national talent.
If an amateur wind orchestra like Eynsford Concert Band is capable of such creative programming why are so many amateur and professional concerts so limited in their aims? The `To The Stars’ event proved that audiences can expect so much more these days and may often be ‘short changed’ due to a lack of imagination and inspiration.
As a musician I am naturally drawn to organisations that are experimenting in the way they present their concerts and events. I had a wonderful evening’s entertainment recently watching Brass Band Buizingen under the direction of Luc Vertommen stage a Musical based on the `Frankenstein’ subject composed by Glenn Desmedt and arranged for brass band Luc. Again the audience were engaged by the concert. What Luc Vertommen had done, was not just put together a traditional concert of an Overture followed by a Concerto etc… Another concert I have been involved in recently was with Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble with conductor Dr Reed Thomas.
At the performance of my violin concerto (Black Fire), etchings by Gustav Doré based on John Milton’s `Paradise Lost’ were projected onto the backdrop of the stage, helping to enhance the dark atmosphere of the work (see post Black Fire). Peter Sheppard Skærved was the soloist in this case; himself a master of creative programming (to witness this I would urge you to go along to one of his many unusual events staged at Wilton’s Music Hall in East London – see PSS’s website). Peter attracts audiences of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. The common denominator in all of the above, is that they make music captivating, yet also demanding and above all relevant to our present day lives. I would love to see more ‘blue chip’ concert venues achieve this combination of adjectives in their programming schedules.