Gregson writes important new work for brass band


The RNCM Festival of Brass in January 2013 will see the premiere of an important new work for brass band, which will take place on Friday 25 January 2013 at 7.45pm in the RNCM Concert Hall. It will be performed by the Black Dyke Band and conducted by Nicholas Childs.

The first original test-piece for brass band (Labour and Love by Percy Fletcher) was composed in 1913 for the National Brass Band Championships, held at London’s Crystal Palace. As the centenary of that event approaches, I decided to write a work which pays tribute not only to that particular work, but also to some of those other early test-pieces written in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and which still form the backbone of the brass band repertoire today. The list of the composers is a distinguished one of course, including well-known names such as Holst, Elgar, Ireland, Bliss, Howells and Vaughan Williams, alongside other less familiar ones.

Of Distant Memories pays homage to these composers and their music, and in the process summons up a kind of subconscious memory bank of the musical languages, styles and forms used by them. To this end my music is conceived in the form of a ‘traditional’ tone poem, reflecting certain aspects (e.g. melodic, harmonic, textural) of those early test pieces. Although I have kept to fairly traditional concepts in planning the architecture of the work, certain aspects of the instrumentation, or scoring, are more contemporary in colouristic terms, as befits a composer writing in the 21st century. However, the percussion requirements are fairly modest, similar to those used in the works of that period.

The brass band tradition owes much to the composers of that period, for through their music they established a truly homogenous ‘British’ brass band sound which has spread throughout many parts of the world. That tradition flourishes today and remains important for today’s composers, even if their musical language is far removed from that of their predecessors. Of Distant Memories is my own way of repaying that gratitude.

The work has been commissioned by The Worshipful Company of Musicians with generous funding from John Iles, grandson of John Henry Iles (the inspirational figure behind the development of brass bands in the first part of the twentieth century). Edward Gregson is the proud recipient of the Iles Medal, awarded annually to a person who has made a significant contribution to the development of brass bands.