The Aberdeen Music Scene – rather unique we feel
The Aberdeen music community and particularly the trombonists are proud of what Paul Mealor has achieved although his superb chamber choir Con Anima (WELL worth hearing – buy the CD – mine's a pint Paul) may claim some ownership! He is following the great tradition that has sprung up here. Tim Tricker, another award winning composer in Aberdeen is also a trombonist – it must be something in the air here that is magnified when taking those deep breaths!
Someone emailed Radio 3 “breakfast” to say that they had a community orchestra in their city (I forget which one but it was early morning!). This got me thinking and counting – Aberdeen and the immediate environs have fourteen. We also have 5 brass bands, 2 wind bands, a swing era band, a modern music and two jazz orchestras and a host of smaller ensembles, from baroque to jazz and that is before the choirs are considered! The orchestras range from the professional standard Sinfonietta through pro am Chamber to 3 inclusive ensembles where people can initiate or re-initiated playing and progress on to higher things but be very respectful to one of the latter because with a very large proportion of hospital consultants in its ranks; you may fall under a bus and wake up with them peering down at you!
This owes much to dedicated teaching in the schools but perhaps more to those teachers also being committed, (and in brass bands competitive!) players too! A threat to music teaching a couple of years ago from an erroneous perception of it being peripheral was countered by demonstrated correlation between musical and academic excellence to which I can testify with a young lad who I once combined “babysitting” with baritone practice who years later is an excellent euphonium player with a 1st in Computing Science done in 3 out of the usual 4 years. Music matters.
The university has brought the cream on that cake since the music department's renaissance under Roger Williams, attracting musical students as well as music students and the energy and enthusiasm of staff and research students in particular has combined with that from the town to develop a tangible community which is manifesting itself in co-operation between ensembles. Former principals of national orchestras willingly sit in the back rows of inclusive local ensembles to add support.
Inspiration comes from regular visits from the 3 Scottish Orchestras as well as other programmes in the Music Hall and the highlight of the band of HM Royal Marines as a former Royal Navy Marine Engineer Officer with untainted steam experience I would say but vigorously dispute the contention among some string players that a trombonist with such a background has robust opinions!
In March Brett Baker came to Aberdeen and performed a recital and master-class. My friend Alan Cooper who is music critic for the Scottish quality papers takes no prisoners and wrote ..
“Brett Baker, President of the British Trombone Society and Principal Trombone of the Black Dyke Band proved to be the perfect guide to lead us on a wondrous adventure of exploration and discovery across the intriguing outer limits of the trombone repertoire. With music ranging from the early renaissance to the first decades of the twentieth century, he teased and titillated our musical palates with a selection of little known pieces that drove instrument and player sometimes to the edge of their virtuoso possibilities.
He began with an arrangement by the Swedish trombone virtuoso Christian Lindberg of a piece for solo trombone by an unknown composer c. 1475, Danse La Cleve. I was immediately impressed by the seamless smoothness and bold resonance of Brett Baker's trombone sound. It was utterly seductive in its appeal. La Hieronyma by Giovanni Martino Cesare added an easy flowing nimble agility to the warmth of tone. Here and for most of the rest of the recital Brett was sympathetically accompanied on piano by Ruth Webb who had travelled to Aberdeen from Manchester for the concert.
The St. Thomas Sonata by another early unknown composer was discovered in a Czech monastery but was only published 13 years ago. It featured marvellous rapid passages for trombone which were navigated with remarkable fluency and ease by Brett Baker. The next two pieces were in the classical gallant style, the Concerto for Alto Trombone by Wagenseil and the second and third movements of Albrechtsberger's Concerto for Alto trombone. Considering that Brett Baker was playing these pieces on tenor trombone which made them far more difficult to accomplish gave further proof (as if any were needed) of his amazing mastery of the trombone.
Here too, Ruth Webb gave a sparkling performance on piano. Moving on to Carl Heinrich Meyer's Concertino for bass trombone where much of the music exploits the upper trombone register, descents to the bass notes were accomplished splendidly and leaps between upper and lower registers were smoothly and easily achieved. Somehow for this piece Brett Baker was able to change the whole timbre and attack of his playing giving it extra punch and a rich masculinity.
On to the romantic era, Josef Novakovsky's Concertino was broad and expansive and the closing variations opened up a world of thrilling virtuoso playing. This was only the beginning however. The rest of the pieces in the programme reached ever more eye-popping levels of virtuosity. Phenomenal Polka by Frederick Innes who was a player in Sousa's famous band was a fantastic showpiece. Arthur Pryor's Parisian Melodies was great fun and Clay Smith's The Water Witch in which Brett Baker achieved a miraculous level of tonguing control proved that many of these little performed pieces deserve more of a hearing. Unfortunately, of course, there are not many instrumentalists who can play them.
The last piece in the official programme was a world premiere. La Valse Moderne by Gardell Simons who played in Sousa's band before moving on to some of America's prestigious classical orchestras. The piece has recently been restored and reconstructed and we were privileged to hear this first full modern performance.
A thunderous response from the audience that included some of our local brass stalwarts in addition to the large contingent of music students drew forth an encore for solo trombone – another rarely played composition by Arthur Pryor – his setting of Annie Laurie. Here Brett Baker pushed the limits of his virtuosity further than even before. One of our local trombonists expressed his surprise and delight at this performance by dubbing it “barely legal”. I think I know exactly what he meant!”