My Top 10 list of favorite works for Brass Band with a short write-up of why! What are your brass band favorites?
Enter the Galaxies by Paul Lovatt-Cooper
This was the second ever test-piece I heard but the first I ever had the chance to perform. We sight-read it during my first ever brass band rehearsal and it's been a favorite ever since. The euphonium part is tricky but attainable with just a few practices and once you have it it's quite fun! This quickly got added to the band's go-to list and keeping it at the ready was key.
Symphony in Two Movements by Edward Gregson
This is my absolute favorite work for brass band. The ensemble textures combined with frantic mute changes adds to the excitement. Divided into two larger sections - a toccata and variations - it is a row-driven work that makes use of everything at its disposal. The complexity of writing is impressive - around the six minute mark in the recording to the right is when the variations begins. Every statement has a new layer added on top of the last one going in opposite directions. At times gorgeous and others menacing this work is one of the finest for Gregson and a sure staple for years to come.
In the pre-competition talk Gregson discussed how it can be seen as a work representing man's struggle in a chaotic, robotic world to find beauty through love. The third variation is what he said would decide the competition outcome and it features some fine solo writing - especially in the euphonium write before the climax is reached. The finale makes use of many themes stacked on top of each other in a mad (and sometimes quintuplet filled) surge to the finish.
I had the honor of meeting Gregson at the competition and he's quite the trickster!
Audivi Media Nocte by Olivier Waespi
This is one of the few pieces that every time I listen to it doesn't feel old. Based off of a motet by Thomas Tallis Olivier Waespi describes this piece as "part prayer and rave". I played second baritone on this piece and still couldn't escape the gnarly 16th note passages or the crucifying syncopation near the end. It gives every member in the ensemble a chance to shine without sacrificing musicality. Two soloist groups emerge - one for Eb tuba, trombone, and congas and the other for cornet, euphonium, and drum kit.
It is one of the finest pieces I know of any genre.
Year of the Dragon by Philip Sparke
Besides the Gregson Symphony this work also inspired much of my own writing. The simplicity of building the Tocatta and the beauty of the Interlude fascinated me. The Interlude is heart-renchingly beautiful - a rehearsal never went by where goosebumps weren't present. The Finale is a fiend - just hold on to your shorts! Wicked nasty and exposed euphonium passages abound in one of the most exciting conclusions.
It was a good reality check for me after BBCF competed at NABBA and then only about a month or so later we were performing Year of the Dragon. It's pretty damn hard for euphonium and I wasn't satisfied with the work I did with the quick turn-around. The dragon won that round but I'm excitedly awaiting a rematch.
An Epic Symphony by Percy Fletcher
If I had to pick one work in the repertoire that most sounds like a movie soundtrack it would be this one. It is full of jaunty themes and powerful impact chords. Written about ten years after Labour and Love it was a large musical step forward for Fletcher.
Electra by Martin Ellerby
Conductors, beware! I believe this may be the craziest piece to conduct on the list. If you follow along with the instrument part below you'll see what I mean. Just listen to the complexity of lines in the Foden's performance conducted by Allan Withington to the right! In a time when I was searching for an INSANE work for brass band this came out on top. The middle section is a delicate repose featuring some fine solo writing. A tuba feature propels the band into the final rush with Ellerby expertly toying with our expectations.
Spiriti by Thomas Doss
I first heard this piece without a video reference so I was guessing at what the instruments were for the longest time. Is it a flugel? Is it a tenor horn? No, it's a euphonium using a cup-mute. Colour is huge for this work and Doss's mastery of mutes and specific scorings aid along this Bach/Bruckner homage (fur deinen thron tret' ich hiermit). Quotations of the choral amidst the chaos and jazzy interjections make for an atypical aural landscape. This is another piece that never gets old every time I hear it. Superb.
Resurgam by Eric Ball
Latin for "I shall rise again" this work has never really left since it came about. Now recognized as a standard it is a powerful work by one of the genre's masters. The scoring is superb and the solos soar over a rich ensemble. It is one of Ball's best moments of writing and one that isn't leaving us anytime soon.
On the Shoulders of Giants by Peter Graham
The crafting and creativity that must have went on when Graham wrote this work is daunting. Bruckner, Davis, Berg, the Sousa Soloists, and many more have a turn in this juggernaut for brass band. At times frantic, at times soaring, it is a modern classic....and damn hard. As always Graham's youth spent at the radio is evident.
A fascinating analysis by Dr. Stephen Arthur Allen is available online that provides insight into most of the references and why they may be there.
A Moorside Suite by Gustav Holst
This work makes use of great moments of simple counterpoint that provides the master composer with one of the most revered brass band works. Divided into three movements (Scherzo, Nocturne, and March) the Moorside Suite was quite the different type of work for the medium. Most other works at the time weren't quite as delicate or well-crafted. It is characteristic Holst writing for instruments he knew intimately.
Little Suite for Brass by Malcolm Arnold
It is an understated work playable by any group that is written in a way that doesn't make it sound like a learner's exercise. Malcolm Arnold was quite the compositional craftsman and this work gets the same treatment. In three movements (Prelude, Siciliano, Rondo) it runs the gamut from zany to delicate.