Best of Brass – in Beckenham!

I meant to post this a week or so ago, but time has slipped away!

This was a cracking concert, which I had looked forward to with great anticipation! As I’ve posted previously, I have been fortunate to see The Symphonic Brass of London on a couple of previous occasions and when I saw what was on the programme, I was actually quite excited!

As a kid, my dad used to drag me along to classical concerts; I say drag, but as I look back 40 odd years, perhaps I wasn’t that unwilling. I went to several concerts with him, but the ones that most stand out in my mind, were those by the stunning Philip Jones Brass Ensemble!

So PJBE was a very highly regarded outfit in our house, and a group I was very privileged to hear live several times. My parents took my sister and I to Christmas concerts at the Royal Albert Hall on a couple of occasions to hear The Bach Choir and PJBE. Even now, I get goose bumps when I hear the Sir David Wilcox arrangement’s of Christmas Carols; ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’, or ‘O Come all ye faithful’. Terrific brass arrangements and bolstered by the enormous organ in the RAH. Fabulous to hear, and it made an impression on me as a kid – on one occasion, I got all the autographs of the group whilst they were still on the stage.

I got to hear the first (and last) performances of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ that PJBE performed, as well ‘West Side Story Suite’, ‘Spitfire – Prelude & Fugue’, ‘Mr Jums’ and so many others as they wowed the ludicrously small audiences they generally played to in the UK (unlike Japan, where they could fill huge concert halls).

Why write all this? Well, that’s my bench mark. To me the playing of PJBE was without peer.

Like PJBE, The Symphonic Brass of London is a group made up some of the best brass players in the world, hence my anticipation of this concert, along with the fact that I knew 3 of my favourite works were to be included – and it was being held more or less at the end of my road (slight exaggeration, but the car doesn’t have time to warm up!).

This concert was held at the excellent Langley Park Centre for the Performing Arts (an adjunct to the Langley Park School for Boys). The Symphonic Brass of London were fielding 17 players, plus 4 percussionists on the night, and although they were the ‘headline’ act for this concert, it also featured groups from the local community in Beckenham, where they are based, namely Langley Park School for Boys Brass Band and Brass Quintet, Clare House Primary School Brass, BYMT Big Phat Brass andYoung Phat Brass plus BYMT Percussion Ensemble.

The Symphonic Brass of London kicked off with their director of music, Eric Crees at the helm for his superb (a word I’ll try not to overuse) arrangement of J.S. Bach’s fabulous ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor’. This is epic music anyway, but oh, what a way to start! From the first notes, the hairs on the back of neck stood on end – it was pure listening pleasure. The quality of the playing, the sound, the note production – all as you would expect – stunning.

Following this, there followed items from the various youth groups represented. I was amazed at the standard of these groups; Bromley is blessed with a terrific music education programme, and the results of that were plain for all to see (or hear), as all the groups featured performed to an incredibly high standard.

Between them, they played an exciting range of works, from Superman to Tchaikovsky. It’s not fair to single any one group out, but I will anyway – two actually, which I thought were of particularly hight standard were LPSB Brass Quintet and BYMT Big Phat Brass. The former played really beautifully and included a very well played rendition of ‘A Nightingale Sang on Berkley Square’ with some lovely trombone work, and the latter, BYTM Big Phat Brass played Juan Tizol’s jazz classic, ‘Caravan’ to an incredibly hight standard – if you weren’t watching, you wouldn’t know it was a student group.


Combined forces of all participating groups with The Symphonic Brass of London

The two other major works of the evening were from The Symphonic Brass of London, when they closed the first half with a fabulous performance of William Walton’s ‘Spitfire – Prelude and Fugue’, again arranged and directed by Eric Crees. This is another of my favourite pieces from those long ago PJBE days. I still regularly listen to their recording of this, so it was an absolute joy to hear it live again.


The Symphonic Brass of London

The evening closed with the combined forces of the The Symphonic Brass of London, and the senior members of both BYMT and Langley Park School for Boys, to play a suite from Bernstein’s classic, ‘West Side Story’ (arr. Eric Crees). A fantastic arrangement, that I first heard PJBE play towards the end of their time, and one I listen to frequently on a recording by LSO Brass; another favourite. I was initially concerned that the students might find this piece a step too far, but it was quickly very evident that that was not the case. It was a large ensemble, but completely assured throughout, providing a really exhilarating performance of this complex work.

There was so much I could highlight from this concert, as the playing was fantastic, but I think if I had to single any one player out (and this is hard for me, as I’m a trombone player), I would probably pick Jason Evans for his superb muted trumpet playing on ‘Somewhere’, but that’s not fair on the others: Chris Deacon for the stunning clarity of his sky-high piccolo trumpet playing, James Buckle for underpinning the trombones, for the tubas of Adrian Miotti & Nick Hutchins…Now I’m in trouble as I’ve not mentioned the horns who were sensational, soaring above the rest of the group – awwww, heck! This was a phenomenal group of players!


The Symphonic Brass of London, with BYMT and Langley Park School for Boys senior students playing ‘Westside Story Suite’

Kudos to Nick Lloyd and Eric Crees for their leadership of and commitment to this group and all that it does to support young musicians in their development.

One last thing: If this group are ever playing near you, make a special point of going to hear them. You WILL NOT be disappointed!

You can follow The Symphonic Brass of London and BYMT on Twitter  

© Richard Debonnaire

P.S. If you were wondering what I was going on about with PJBE, there is a great video of a concert they gave for TV. Paul Archibald and Frank Lloyd (both current members of the SBoL team) were playing on this recording.