NABBA 2017: Test piece preview

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This year at NABBA we are privileged to feature the music of Peter Graham as the test pieces across all sections. Any fan of brass band music has certainly heard and performed his music, and it is exciting to have him with us for the contest weekend. The pieces selected for the contest represent a diverse collection of Graham’s compositions, and will certainly showcase the diversity and range of this wonderful composer.

Peter Graham was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, where his introduction to music came through brass and piano lessons from his parents. He read music at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1980. During this period he came into contact with Ray Steadman-Allen and Edward Gregson, both of whom encouraged his early efforts at composition. He later undertook postgraduate compositional studies with Edward Gregson at Goldsmiths` College, University of London and holds a PhD in Composition.

From 1983 until 1986 he was resident in New York City, USA, where he worked as a freelance composer /arranger and as a publications editor with the S.A. Music Bureau. Since his return to the U.K. he has worked regularly as an arranger for BBC Television and Radio and has specialised in composition for the British style brass band. Since the publication of Dimensions (1983), he has carved out a niche as an outstanding arranger for brass bands, and a leading figure amongst contemporary band composers. His original compositions, which include The Essence of Time, Montage and On Alderley Edge, are performed worldwide and have been selected as test-pieces for National Championships in Australia, New Zealand, North America and across Europe.

His music for wind and concert band has been recorded and performed by many of the world’s leading ensembles, including the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra and the Royal Norwegian Navy Band. Harrison’s Dream, commissioned by the United States Air Force Band, Washington D.C., won the 2002 ABA/Ostwald Award for composition. Commissioned by BMG/RCA Red Label to arrange and compose an album of xylophone music for virtuoso Evelyn Glennie, the resulting recording was nominated as Best Classical Crossover Album at the 1999 Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles.

He is published principally by Rosehill Music and Boosey & Hawkes, and since 1994 by his Gramercy Music, a company he formed together with his wife, Janey, which specialises in the publication of brass, wind and vocal music. Peter Graham is Professor of Composition at the University of Salford, Greater Manchester, and has held various posts with some of the UK’s finest bands including Music Associate/Conductor with the famous Black Dyke Band (1997-2004) and the first civilian composer-in-residence with Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards Band (2003-2005).

 

Championship Section

Harrison’s Dream

Harrison’s Dream has been used as a test piece in 10 contests (Including NABBA 2005) dating back to the 2000 National Championship of Great Britain. It has also been a successful own choice selection across several contests, including Tredegar’s winning performance at the 2002 SEWBBA contest.

Program Note

At 8.00pm on the 22nd of October 1707, the Association, flagship of the Royal Navy, struck rocks off the Scilly Isles with the loss of the entire crew. Throughout the rest of the evening the remaining three ships in the fleet suffered the same fate. Only 26 of the original 1,647 crew members survived. This disaster was a direct result of an inability to calculate longitude, the most pressing scientific problem of the time. It pushed the longitude question to the forefront of the national consciousness and precipitated the Longitude Act. Parliament funded a prize of £20,000 to anyone whose method or device would solve the dilemma.

For carpenter and self-taught clockmaker John Harrison, this was the beginning of a 40 year obsession. To calculate longitude it is necessary to know the time aboard ship and at the home port or place of known longitude, at precisely the same moment. Harrison’s dream was to build a clock so accurate that this calculation could be made, an audacious feat of engineering.

This work reflects on aspects of this epic tale, brilliantly brought to life in Dava Sobel’s book Longitude. Much of the music is mechanistic in tone and is constructed along precise mathematical and metrical lines. The heart of the work however is human – the attraction of the £20,000 prize is often cited as Harrison’s motivation. However, the realisation that countless lives depended on a solution was one which haunted Harrison. The emotional core of the music reflects on this, and in particular the evening of 22nd October 1707.

  • Peter Graham

 

First Section

Voyage to Worlds Unknown

This is only the second time Voyage to Worlds Unknown has been used as a test piece, with the first occasion just last year at the Danish National Championship. It will be exciting to see how it tests the bands in this year’s contest.

Program Note

On March 17 1923 my grandfather, John Graham, set sail from Glasgow Scotland on the TSS Cameronia, ultimately bound for the coal fields of West Virginia.

As Europe struggled to recover from the aftermath of the war to end all wars a generation of young immigrants looked to the USA for the opportunity of improved prospects and a better life.

Voyage to Worlds Unknown seeks to capture the mixture of emotions of this epic sea journey and as such is unashamedly programmatic in character. The work follows a clearly defined timeline in five continuous sections:

  1. TSS Cameronia – the grandeur and majesty of the vessel
  2. Full Ahead – a Scottish jig and reel of increasing tempo
  3. Ae Fond Kiss – the haunting Burns song – separation from a loved one
  4. The Crossing – in the teeth of an Atlantic gale – memories
  5. The New Colossus – journey’s end as New York harbour and the Statue of Liberty emerge from the mists:

 Give me your tired, your poor,                                                                    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,                                          The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.                                                  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,                                                I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

From the New Colossus by Emma Lazarus (1883)

  • Peter Graham

 

Second Section 

To Boldly Go

This is the first time To Boldly Go has ever appeared in a contest setting as either a test piece or an own choice selection. I am sure it will be a welcome addition from the concert program to the contest stage.

Program Note

To Boldly Go was commissioned by the Melbourne Staff Band of the Salvation Army, Bandmaster Ken Waterworth, in celebration of the band’s 125 Anniversary in 2015.

Ken Waterworth requested that the new work echo the flavour and style of the composers’ earlier Shine as the Light; accordingly this new work gives special prominence to well-established Salvationist songs, in this case I’ll go in the strength of the Lord (Turney and Bosanko) and I’ll not turn back (Gowans and Larsson).

As the band celebrated and reflected upon the past 125 years of service, the message of the songs serves as a reminder of the continuing journey and mission of the Melbourne Staff Band in the 21st century.

  • Peter Graham

 

Third Section

Dimensions

Dimensions has the greatest contest history of any test pieces featured at NABBA this year. Since 1983, it has appeared 48 times as a test piece, and an astounding 273 times as an own choice selection, including 52 first place finishes. It has proven itself time and time again as an excellent test for bands, and this year’s contest will be no exception.

Program Note

Dimensions, commissioned for the second section areas of the 1984 National Championships of Great Britain, is the first test piece Peter Graham ever composed. It is written in three continuous sections – Allegro moderato, Andante mesto, Allegro. Subtitled Symphonic Study for Brass Band, it is a series of contrasting musical elements built on the theme of two rising fourths, first presented in the trombones at the very outset of the work. This theme of the fourth can be heard throughout the work, sometimes in inversion, such as the lyrical melody in the Andante, or in short fragments, particularly in the final Allegro section.

Dimensions captures many compositional devices for which Graham has since become known. Driving rhythmic ostinatos, sweeping lyrical melodies, and adventurous harmonic progressions permeate the work, and make for an exciting experience for both the band and the audience. While not as difficult as some of Graham’s later compositions, Dimensions has proved itself time and time again as a critically important part of brass band repertoire.

  • Dr. Joel Collier

 

Youth Section 

The Journal of Phileas Fogg

This year is only the second year The Journal of Phileas Fogg has appeared in contests, but it has already appeared 12 times as a test piece, and 34 times as an own choice selection. It is clearly an exciting and popular piece, and it is sure to entertain audiences through the contest weekend.

Program Note

The novels by Jules Verne have been a rich source of inspiration for composers over the years. I have taken elements of his epic work Around the World in Eighty Days as the outline for a series of adventures recorded in an imaginary diary by the hero of the story, Phileas Fogg.

Commencing with London bells in the background, the ensuing journey takes our hero by boat train to Paris (passing the Moulin Rouge en route), Russia (where he is chased by Cossacks), Vienna at night, Spain (where he is a spectator at a bull fight) before a final circumnavigation by sea (where we hear hints of foreign lands) brings him back to London with rich memories of his trip.

  • Peter Graham

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