Annual Pre-Contest Festival – Friday 15th October 2004

Garry AmbroseReports

Enfield Citadel Band at St John’s, Smith Square, London

Aaron VanderWeele – Euphonium
Brian Turner CBE – Compère

Aaron VanderWeele & James Williams There was a real sense of occasion at the pre-contest festival presented by Enfield Band. The compere for the evening – celebrity chef and restauranteur Brian Turner – pointed out that this concert had been a feature since 1946, so it was no surprise that there was a pretty heady atmosphere of expectation and anticipation. In the pre-concert mingling in ‘The Footstool’, the crypt restaurant at St. Johns, there was a strong sense of reunion as old friends and colleagues greeted each other. This event is always well attended by overseas visitors, former Enfield bandsmen and brass band dignitaries. So it was good to see the likes of Stan Abraham (former Tottenham Citadel and Canadian Staff Band), and ex-Enfield players Philip Wilson and Kevin Dallas (formerly principal horn and euphonium respectively and now both in Sydney, Australia) all in the UK for the weekend. It was also good to see in the audience, Dr Peter Graham, Ron Waiksnoris (Bandmaster of the New York Staff Band) and ISB bandmaster Stephen Cobb as well as other brass band luminaries. This event has also been frequented by some top soloists in recent years – Nick Hudson, Simone Rebello, Steve Sykes, Sheona White and Roger Webster to name just a few. This year was no exception for it was the turn of the outstanding Aaron VanderWeele – principal euphonium of The New York Staff Band – and whose reputation is fast growing worldwide.

At the start of the evening, we were told that this was James Williams’ 60th year as either player or conductor of The Enfield Band. His Band has a well earned and leading reputation that requires no justification here. But what is apparent is that James’ outstanding leadership and musical prowess are as evident as ever. His years may be advancing but his legendary ability to lead his band and bring an interpretation, which is as different as it is exciting, remains. Keep going James!

The programme kicked off with a slick and driving performance of the reworked march Able swiftly followed by the hauntingly beautiful Shepherds Farewell. From the start, it was evident that Enfield were on good form and this was confirmed in a very fast interpretation of The Last Amen by Dr. Peter Graham. Written specially for the ISB for their concert with The Black Dyke Band a couple of years back, the work is an exciting medley of contemporary gospel songs. Enfield’s reading was original and well played with some real driving kit work by Simon Jenkins and it set up the large audience for an exciting and worthwhile evening. At this juncture, Aaron VanderWeele was introduced for the first of his two solo spots. Put simply, Aaron was superb. His technique, sound quality and musicality are outstanding. But so too is his ability to engage with his audience. He has the knack to vary his playing style so that his performance is full of interest and contrast. His two works in the first half – Home on the Range (Leidzen) and Hora Staccato (Heifetz arr. Dorothy Gates) – showed off his stature as a player of real top-drawer quality.

The first half ended with, probably, the best overall playing of the night. Le Roi D’Ys was a challenging but inspired choice and the Band carried it off with style and aplomb. As ever, the interpretation was full of interest and the contributions of Tim Buckle (soprano) and Malcolm Hynd (flugel horn) warrant special mention. But the real quality shone through during Andy Hicks euphonium solo and in the work of the outstanding trombone section – where Andrew Justice (principal) and Stuart Horton (bass) really took the ear.

After a short interval, the second half got off to a lively start with the old Liberator march and Since Jesus by Len Ballantine. In the latter, Andrew Justice’s ‘slushy’ trombone solo was specially enjoyable. But we were then in for the real treat of the evening – the second solo spot of Aaron VanderWeele. He chose to play the specially written and humorously and aptly titled Air’N Variations. This was written for him by Stephen Bulla when the NYSB toured the UK in 2003. His playing was sensational but none more so than in the luscious slow movement. In this as well as his second solo Commitment, his lyrical style, for me, was the highlight of the evening. Commitment was introduced and explained by Aaron himself and his playing of this was received in total silence reflecting the powerful mood he brought to the occasion. Aaron is a man with heart and personality, both of which reflect in his performances. An excellent choice as soloist and one, whom I hope, the UK will hear again soon.

The concert ended with ‘Purcell Variations’ by Kenneth Downie. Written to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell and built around the hymn tune ‘Westminster Abbey’, it is a majestic and powerful work but one which is very satisfying for both player and listener. Certainly, it suited Enfield whose full sound and precise playing style was shown off well. The item was clearly popular with the audience who were treated to one encore ‘The Red Shield’ before being sent home and to the contest.

The night was an excellent introduction to the weekend. Well done Enfield and well done Aaron.

Martin Tiplady
From The British Bandsman