Since 1946, the opening event of the National Brass Band Championship weekend in Great Britain has been a pre-contest festival hosted by the [bclink id=”962″ target=”_blank”] (previously Tottenham Citadel). In the past few years, as the Salvation Army band world moves closer to the mainstream of British brass bands, this festival has grown into a major event, with guest soloists including Nick Hudson, Steve Sykes, Sheona White and Roger Webster. This year’s event, held on Friday, 15 October 2004, at St. John’s in Smith Square, London, showcased a rising star in the American brass band scene, Aaron VanderWeele, principal euphonium of the [bclink id=”943″ target=”_blank”]. Compère for the evening was noted chef and restaurant entrepreneur Brian Turner.
The festival began with Bandmaster James Williams (celebrating 60 years of association with the Enfield Citadel Band as either player or conductor) taking the band through the march Able and Shepherds Farewell. This was followed by a driving performance of Peter Graham’s The Last Amen. Aaron VanderWeele’s contribution to the first half of the performance included a classic variation solo, Home on the Range, Erik Leidzén’s work based on an American folk song associated in the Salvation Army with the words "Come, Beautiful Christ". In sharp contrast was the classically-flavored Hora Staccato (Heifetz, arr. Dorothy Gates). The band ended the first portion of the festival with Le Roi d’Ys, with several members of the band putting in stellar performances.
Following the interval, the band brought the crowd back in with another march, Liberator and then presented a jazz-style piece, Since Jesus (Leonard Ballantine). Aaron VanderWeele returned for a second solo set, selecting Air ’N Variations, a solo written for him by Stephen Bulla and featured during the New York Staff Band’s 2003 tour of the UK. His second selection of this portion of the program, Commitment, showed his command of the lyric techniques of the euphonium. Introduced by the soloist, the piece moved the audience to listen in complete silence. The final item of the festival was a major work by Kenneth Downie, Purcell Variations, composed to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell, one of the first great British composers. The band played the old classic march, The Red Shield, as an encore.
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