A number of the top brass bands in Britain were featured at the Royal Northern College of Music’s Festival of Brass, held in Manchester in late January 2005. Most of these groups, including Grimethorpe Colliery Band, RNCM Brass, Buy As You View Cory Band, 2004 British Open champions Foden's Band, Brighouse and Rastrick Band, and the Black Dyke Band. New to the Festival stage this year was the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army, under the direction of Bandmaster Stephen Cobb.
This year’s RNCM Festival celebrated the centenary of Sir Michael Tippett and also milestone birthdays for three of the brass band world’s most celebrated names: Elgar Howarth (70), John McCabe (65), and Edward Gregson (60). Much of the music presented during the weekend was from the pens of these outstanding composers.
The ISB’s time to play was on the afternoon of Sunday, 23 January. The Staff Band opened their concert with Dean Jones’ recent composition Glorifico Aeternum. This was followed by one of the great masterpieces of Salvation Army band music, My Strength, My Tower, perhaps Sir Dean Goffin’s best work.
The Staff Band was fortunate to be able to play under the baton of guest conductor Elgar Howarth, who conducted mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley and the Staff Band in his arrangement Five Folk Songs. The opening half of the program concluded with the "world premiere" of a new work by Kevin Norbury, Rhapsody on a Theme of Purcell, based upon the same theme made famous in Benjamin Britten’s classic Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
Bandmaster Cobb chose to begin the second half with a number of pieces by Edward Gregson, beginning with the march Dalarö. The Staff Band’s deputy bandmaster and long-time principal euphonium Derick Kane contributed to the program with a fine performance of Gregson’s Symphonic Rhapsody for Euphonium and Band. The "Gregson Section" of the program concluded with one of his more familiar works, which has become a standard for Salvation Army and non-Army bands alike, Variations on "Laudate Dominum". It was noted that this piece is dedicated to the composer’s brother, Bramwell, who was present at the Festival.
A somewhat lighter and more reflective mood was struck with a performance of Kenneth Downie’s introspective meditation Shekinah. To conclude their performance, the Staff Band presented Ray Steadman-Allen’s richly descriptive tone poem Victorian Snapshots – On Ratcliff Highway, with its depiction of the London street scene in the early days of the Salvation Army. A fitting postlude to the performance was provided with the quintessential Salvation Army festival march, Wilfred Heaton’s Praise.
International Staff Band web site