Monday, June 30, 2014

Brass comps

I'm playing for the National Brass Band Competitions next week, in Invercargill. At the moment there are two contestants playing one of my favourite brass pieces. Variations on a Welsh Theme by Peter Kneale. I've written about this piece before on this blog, and possibly I've written about it at some other time as well!  The great satisfaction about this piece is that the piano part is as interesting as the soloist's. That's not entirely unusual in brass band solos, but this one in particular is a delight to play.

Another contestant is playing Mace by Philip Sparke, a conductor and prolific composer whose music is played everywhere brass players play. Mace has a lovely slow melody opening the piece, but then it goes crazy. As far as I can make out it was originally written for soloist and piano, rather than soloist and band. The soloist has a hectic part in the fast section, with hardly room to breathe, and a massive cadenza.The pianist doesn't really have anything like as much to do, except make sure he or she keeps up: there's a constant shifting between 2/4 and 3/4 and counting beats (for me, anyway) is a major task. There are only a couple of awkward spots, one with impossible to play thirds. The rest of the time it's a matter of making sure you and the soloist stay together. It'll be interesting.

Another player is doing a piece called Concerto No 1 for Tuba and orchestra (although the soloist here is a bass trombonist). It's by Alexej Lebedjew, another prolific composer, especially for the tuba. This accompaniment, interestingly enough, even though it was composed for orchestra, sits under the pianist's hands very well. There are some nasty moments but in general it's more pianistic in style than orchestral. Perhaps the composer rewrote it himself for piano, rather than someone just transcribing it from the orchestral score. It's a big play and I'll probably leave the soloist behind while I'm enjoying myself...

There are some other pieces which are more traditional in style: the old thing of the pianist just having to keep hammering away while the soloist does all the fiddly bits. They have their place, but it's good that modern composers have moved well away from this style.
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