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At St Mary's Church, Ponteland.

PRINCE BISHOPS BRASS ENSEMBLE at PONTELAND

24 May 2008


The traditional surroundings of St Mary's church in Ponteland provided an ideal setting for the first public concert by the Prince Bishops Brass Ensemble - a conventional quintet of two trumpets, french horn, trombone and tuba. The group used the warm, but not over-resonant, acoustic to excellent effect in a programme which showed off their comprehensive technical and musical skills.

Gabrieli to Gershwin

This was a delightful concert – brass playing of high quality that embraced styles to meet many tastes.  From Gabrieli to Gershwin, polyphony to rhythmic harmony, Bach to Count Basie, romantic to raucous, the audience was wooed by perceptive playing from the opening Fanfare to the final jazz encore.

The players of the Prince Bishop Brass Ensemble, based in County Durham, have vast experience in both classical and modern idiom and they have the knack of engaging with the audience. Players took turns to introduce works with witty but instructive comment: a good ploy.

The first half devoted to early repertoire allowed the players to demonstrate their mastery of their instruments.  In the Suite in D by Jeremiah Clarke (organist at the Chapel Royal in the 16th century) there was lovely pianissimo playing from the piccolo trumpets in the Minuet and subtle dynamics throughout the dance movements with percussion provided by each player in turn as tambourine and tambour were passed around.  The Suite finished with a polished rendering of the well known Trumpet Voluntary which was well received.

 The Queens Hall has a dry acoustic – unlike that of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice where Gabrieli’s church music would have resonated from every balcony into the dome.  The players overcame this handicap admirably with some precise dovetailing of line and the complex polyphonic texture was performed with disciplined ensemble despite the occasional shaky high note.  This was followed by a much more lyrical work.  Development of valves for brass instruments in the late 19th century allowed Victor Ewald to indulge in rich chromatic writing and the Ensemble responded with sustained playing of high quality.

Change of mood (and dress) greeted the second half (though surely the tricky Bach fugue would have sat more readily in the first half and this was the piece with which the group seemed least comfortable). Some busy flugelhorn antics in the Santa Barbara Sonata and a magical horn display moved on to an earthy stomp in which all parts shone.  Throughout the evening the tonality of the Ensemble was anchored by admirable playing from horn, trombone and tuba, the rock from which the flights of fancy of the trumpets were able to soar.

The Horowitz Folk Song (based on the Lass of Richmond Hill) is a nicely rounded composition and allowed all players moments of brilliance.  The pace accelerated for polished playing of Gershwin, a romp through some Northumbrian folk songs arranged by NE jazz player Ray Chester and a masterful display of syncopation for the Fats Waller finale.  Hexham Music Society once again gave  members new boundaries to discover.


Colin Dickinson

(Hexham Courante, January 2010)




A Choral Concert With a Difference


Bishopwearmouth Choral Society is to be congratulated on the imaginative and innovative programme which was performed at the Minster on Saturday night. The combination of Choir and Brass always promises much and this was to be a thrilling evening enjoyed by all.


A Fanfare for Brass Quintet from the Ballet “La Peri “(Dukas) and “Die Bankelsangerlieder” (anon.) gave the programme an exhilarating start.  Anton Bruckner, the Austrian composer best known for his symphonies did nevertheless compose some of the most beautiful choral works for his beloved Church. The choir performed four of his ten motets.  They present many challenges, not least that of singing “a capella” and high passages for the sopranos, challenges which were successfully realised.  Two of the motets were accompanied by three trombones that being the only support throughout the works.    The Minster resonated to some glorious and thrilling choral sounds.  The full brass section of 9 players and two percussionists ended the first half with sparkling and tasteful performances of “The Prince of Denmark’s March” and the equally well known Suite of Six Dances by Susato.


The second half could not have begun with a more original and delightful opening. Two percussionists, Andy Booth and Mark Bolderson  performed  “Marche de Timbales” by Philidor. Pleasure was written over the faces of audience and choir alike as they experienced the aural and visual delights of Baroque military drumming.  Equally pleasurable was Andy’s performance of his own arrangement of “Little Polly’s Polka” by Keith Bartlett for Timpani to which Andy brought in the Brass to contribute a delicious “oom pah pah accompaniment at the end.


It was fitting that all forces came together for the final piece, “Te Deum” one of John Rutter’s most popular works.  In three movements the two outer sections fully exploit the technical virtuosity of players and singers alike and it was a credit to all that the balance was so well judged and that every syllable was clearly audible above the rich textures of the accompaniment.  The more contemplative and reflective central movement featured five soloists drawn from the choir and a highly decorative organ part performed with sensitivity by Eileen Bown.  The Minster was filled with glorious sounds and final tribute must go to the inspiring leadership and conducting of the Music Director, David Murray.  A receptive audience left the performers in no doubt that it had been an evening to remember.


Vincent Smith

(Sunderland Echo, June 2010)






And What Was Polly Perkins Doing in Northumberland?

A review of the SASRA Concert by Prince Bishops Brass


You have to be fairly determined to get to SASRA concerts at the Academy, round the back way, through three formidable steel security fences, but it’s worth it. The Prince Bishops Brass, trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba, took us on a wide ranging tour, from Victor Ewald, a major figure in music of the valve trumpet, through jazz, to Bramwell Tovey’s 2007 Santa Barbara Suite. A fanfare is always a good start; this one by Paul Dukas was unusual in using some minor key phrases. On then, by way of the familiar Jeremiah Clark’s suite including the trumpet voluntary (or more properly the Prince of Denmark’s March) that we used to think was by Henry Purcell; a mathematical Bach Fugue; to the meat course of the evening, Victor Ewald’s Quintet number 1.


After the interval it was ties off and jackets off with Starters (strangely coming after the meat course). As a jazz lover, this got my pulse racing. Bramwell Tovey’s Suite, with it’s cakewalk, Preacher on the Pier (on Trumpet with dog collar), Tango and State Street Stomp, including an arrangement of the familiar tune “Nun Danket” played on the trombone, but with the Thelonius Monk twist of, at the end, leaving us waiting for the final resolving note that never came.


How did Polly Perkins get from Paddington Green   to Northumberland? Well it’s the same tune as Cushy Butterfield which was one of many tunes featured in Ray Chester’s Songs of Northumbria. On then to Gershwin, the breaker of musical demarcations, a jazz man whose work has become accepted even by opera buffs. His summertime from Porgy and Bess, was cited by a recent radio programme as the most frequently recorded piece of music, over 2000 versions available by artists ranging from jazz to classical, and still rising. Just to reinforce my view that there are no boundaries that matter in music.


And on finally to the Roaring Twenties. By now Prince Bishops Brass had thoroughly warmed up and looked as if, given a pint or two, they would happily jam it up all night. Perhaps they did across the road in the Central or the Wheatsheaf; I should have gone to check! Don’t miss the next SASRA concert, Sam Heywood on Piano, Arisa Fujita, Violin and Richard Bayliss, Horn on Friday 7th of January at 8pm. It’s not really that hard to find your way through the security fences.


Mike Fulker

(Whitehaven News and SASRA Newsletter, Nov 2010)






SASRA, Egremont


Prince Bishops Brass returned to Egremont to delight a large and appreciative audience at the SASRA Music & Arts concert on Friday 10 January 2014. With a well-judged balance of original compositions and arrangements, their programme explored all the subtleties and nuances of chamber music for brass.


The evening opened with a movement from Malcolm Arnold’s Quintet, appropriately fanfare-like; the suite of renaissance pieces by Giles Farnaby, Fancies, toyes and dreams where the crisp rhythms of the Old Spagnoletta were impeccably ship-shape and the Music Hall Suite, written in the 1960s by Joseph Horovitz. The ensemble made all they needed of the obvious humour here while also taking care of the more subtle moments. Michael Kamen’s name is less known than his prolific output of music, much of it for films, including Band of Brothers and the Die Hard series. His Quintet for brass is elegiac and contemplative and was well presented by Prince Bishops Brass.


The high point of my evening was Barber’s Adagio for Strings, arranged for brass quintet of course, where the most delicately quiet and sustained melancholy of the opening was the start of a journey through the full range of emotion and dynamics to a climax of sonorous brilliance any string group would envy. These musicians are fine players individually as well as collectively and Stuart Gray’s trombone playing in Saints Hallelujah was another high point, together with Derek Ruffel’s piccolo trumpet parts in the Hallelujah bit. Paul Nagle’s Jive for Five was a well deserved opportunity for tuba player, Stephen Boyd to demonstrate his very able skills.


Add in the Popular Song from Façade by William Walton, some popular tunes by Gershwin and Count Basie, a suite of ballet music by Copland and top it off with four episodes from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, all beautifully executed, and the recipe for an evening of high quality music and entertainment is complete.

Prince Bishops Brass


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