Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2010, the annual Hendon Highlights event has become one of the premier events in Salvation Army music. 2010 also marks the 125th anniversary of the Hendon Band, and in recognition of the dual anniversaries a strong group of performers were booked, including the New York Staff Band (Bandmaster Ronald Waiksnoris), Colonel Robert Redhead, who was the compère for the evening, and the “classical crossover” all-girl vocal group All Angels.
The Hendon Highlights event was held on Saturday evening, 16 January 2010. After four years of “exile” at Cadogan Hall, the event moved back to its traditional venue, Queen Elizabeth Hall, which was sold out, with approximately 900 in attendance. Before the performance, the NYSB was privileged to have a tour of the Houses of Parliament, including both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, at the invitation of Lord Derek Foster, who is a Salvationist.
The festival began with the Staff Band “marching in” to the strains of the Hendon Band playing The Stars and Stripes Forever. With a well-rehearsed handover, the NYSB took up the march after they reached the stage, coming to a rousing finale including the famous piccolo obbligato tastefully performed by Christopher Ward on soprano cornet. Following introductions, the NYSB presented two contrasting items, Intrada on “Monkland” (Stephen Bulla) and William Himes’ meditative Be Thou My Vision, which was a beautiful introduction to prayer by Colonel Redhead. Hendon Band (Bandmaster David Rudd) added to the celebration with Paean, a shout of thanksgiving and praise composed by Dudley Bright, featuring several contemporary Christian songs.
Next, those present were introduced to All Angels, whose first set was an eclectic mix, starting with Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair sung a capella, moving into Blowin’ in the Wind and finishing with Gershwin’s classic Summertime.
The Staff Band’s kit drummer, Bob Jones, was taken ill a few days before the trip and was not able to travel to England with the band. However, this did not deter them from presenting the drum feature “Ol’ Man River” (arr. Mark Freeh), with Hendon percussionist Steve Moulton ably filling in as the soloist.
Next was the Hendon Band’s major contribution for the evening, Steven Ponsford’s Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). Taking its name from the famous statue of Christ overlooking the city of Rio de Janiero, this piece features the melodies Lord, I Lift Your Name on High, Ochills and There Is a Redeemer. It portrays the majesty not only of the iconic statue, but also of the love displayed for all by the Redeemer’s outstretched arms.
Another set from All Angels followed, this one made up of classical content, featuring the Flower Duet (Delibes), Sull’aria from The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart) and, in an unusual vocal form, Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations.
Following an introduction in which Colonel Redhead interviewed composer and principal trombone Dorothy Gates, the NYSB brought the first half to an end with a work of substance – a three-movement suite entitled Hope. Inspired by a series of traumatic world events in 2006, it must have been difficult for anyone in the audience to listen without reflecting on the previous week’s disaster in Haiti. The three movements, “Conflict”, “Despair” and “Hope”, seek to address the Christian’s response to massive injustice. The themes are largely original, providing amply for soloistic expression, particularly from Gordon Ward (cornet), Adam Fyn (baritone), Arthur Henry (horn) and Simon Morton (tuba), brief references are heard to three songs, “A Little Star Peeps o'er the Hill”, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and “In Christ There Is No East or West”, the latter being the ultimate expression of Christian hope and a fitting finale for the work. This is substantial music, requiring much of both the listener and the performer. Hendon Highlights over the years has brought together a sophisticated and discerning audience, who on this occasion indicated their appreciation to both band and composer in emphatic fashion.
Following a jaunty performance of Swingtime Religion (Barrie Gott), the second half got under way with one of the items which mark this event as a Salvation Army festival rather than a mere concert – a congregational song. In this case the song was a robust performance of Richard Phillips’ arrangement of All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. The NYSB then gave a slick performance of New York, New York.
The next item was one of the most talked-about parts of the evening, Stephen Bulla’s treatment of Blessed Assurance as a flügelhorn/trumpet solo. It began with the Staff Band and their accomplished fl&uumolgelhorn soloist, Andrew Garcia. Then, with a surprising and clever switch of lighting, the focus shifted to the Hendon Band, who accompanied the trumpet solo performed by Philip Cobb. This is not a new piece, and many in the audience would have heard the “screamy” trumpet part in the past. However, never would they have heard it performed with such swagger and brilliance as on this occasion, after which the co-principal trumpet of the London Symphony Orchestra rather modestly made his way back to his seat as second man down on the Hendon Band solo cornet bench.
Following thar performance was not easy, but the NYSB forged on with another composition by Stephen Bulla, the quick march Charlotte Celebration.
All Angels then returned for their final set, presenting Make Me a Channel of Your Peace, Sandman and I’ll Fly Away (the title track from their latest recording). After rapturous applause, they returned to the stage for an encore – an a capella arrangement of Paul Simon’s The Sound of Silence. In this performance All Angels were at their best, with rich harmonies creating a truly beautiful effect.
Colonel Redhead presented his thoughts on Psalm 103 – The Lord is Gracious – as a prelude to the Hendon Band’s offering of an arrangement of the Darren Bartlett tune set to those words. A real attitude of worship was created by the sensitive treatment from Bandmaster Rudd and his players. The silent appreciation which followed (another hallmark of a Salvation Army festival) demonstrated that the music had effectively communicated the message, “The Lord is gracious, his mighty works proclaim.”
The finale of the concert was excerpts from the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 performed by the massed bands and conducted by Dr. Stephen Cobb, who was the bandmaster of Hendon Band for the first 24 Hendon Highlights festivals. Stirring, invigorating and almost antiphonal at times (due to the acoustics created by two bands sitting separately but playing en masse), this was a fitting conclusion to an outstanding and inspiring evening.