135th Annual Festival with David Childs – Virtuoso artistry abounds in return to a fully in-person festival

APRIL 23, 2022 – The New York Staff Band’s annual festival, now in its 135th year, is a highlight of the spring calendar for brass band aficionados. NYSB is certainly no stranger to working with high profile artists; festivals in recent years have seen them collaborate with The Cory Band and Black Dyke Band. For their 2022 festival, the New York Staff Band welcomed star euphonium soloist David Childs to the beautiful West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

Represented throughout the program was NYSB’s primary mission of ministry through music, and they drew from a large repertoire of composers associated with the band and past Composers in Residence. Each half of the program was anchored by ‘set test piece’ works from the traditional brass band contest repertoire – Peter Graham’s Essence of Time and James Curnow’s Trittico. The clarion fanfares of the latter’s take on a classic brass band march: Faith is the Victory (based on the hymn of the same name) started the program after a welcome from USA Eastern Territorial Commander, Commissioner William Bamford.

NYSB alumnus Stephen Bulla’s Chorale and Toccata was an excellent contrast following the energetic opening. It began with a more subtle touch that allowed Bandmaster Derek Lance to demonstrate a carefully shaped approach, highlighting the warm colors and superb intonation of NYSB. Dynamic shaping was built steadily by Lance, and a beautiful balance was maintained even in stronger moments. In the Toccata, we heard why this has become a test piece for brass bands, with technical passages beginning in the cornets and euphoniums moving across the remaining stands. The solo sections were well taken care of by Brindley Venables, Daniel Wajda, and Stewart Dalrymple as the piece moved to its exciting conclusion.

To paraphrase Lance, “In an age of hyperbole it is maybe easy to get carried away, but it is probably not an exaggeration to state that David Childs is one of the greatest brass players alive on planet Earth.” Childs’ choice of opening work, Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, was quick to demonstrate his well-deserved reputation. Written as a showpiece for violin, you could forgive a listener for believing it an original composition for Euphonium based on this performance. Playing from memory (as he would all evening) each phrase, from the opening arpeggios to the swirling main melody, was crafted and executed at the highest level – quite a feat given the questions this work asks of its soloist. After the conclusion, Mr. Childs stepped to the microphone to announce his next work, Evelyn Glennie’s A Little Prayer. This version was arranged and presented to David as a birthday gift by his father, a world-class euphonium soloist himself. Before starting we were reminded of the recent loss of one of the brass band world’s great figures, Mr. Richard Evans, to whom Childs dedicates this performance. The music was lyrical and introspective, and the quality of his sound was on display throughout. An extra moment’s silence at the end added poignancy. For the third of his appearances in the first half, Mr. Childs again wowed the audience with his technical prowess throughout his own arrangement of Simone Mantia’s Endearing Young Charms.

To close their own portion of the first half, NYSB performed Philip Rayment’s arrangement of Be Still and Know, a lush setting of Psalm 46. In the acoustics of this sanctuary, the NYSB showcased the impact a hymn tune can have when played at this level. The first half ended with Peter Graham’s iconic The Essence of Time. We were reminded of the work’s preface (another thoughtful programming decision), from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…”. Throughout the nearly 15-minute work NYSB seemed to have this well in hand, from the tricky runs and mixed-meter passages of the opening to the massive climax of the finale chorale theme. This was a musically satisfying performance, and the audience was truly appreciative in their applause to close the half.

The second half opened with Andrew Wainwright’s The Risen King. Written for the Eastern Michigan Divisional Band, this is a newer work (premiered in 2019) based on the modern hymn Come People of the Risen King. After this, our soloist returned for his remaining contributions, ‘Neath Dublin Skies by Paul Lovatt-Cooper and a world premiere duet by Andrew Wainwright, My One Foundation. The latter, based on the hymns Aurelia and I’m in His Hands, was commissioned by Amsterdam Staff Band’s Principal Euphonium Michel Rosenquist in tribute to their principal cornet, Steef Klepke. As with many projects during the pandemic, it was to be premiered via virtual duet with NYSB principal Euphonium, Aaron VanderWeele. This evening the audience heard it in person, with Mr. VanderWeele joined by Mr. Childs. Both soloists aptly demonstrated why they are ambassadors of their instrument, their style and sound blending seamlessly throughout the beautiful obligato writing by Mr. Wainwright.

For his sixth and last selection of the evening, Childs’ stamina and technique is once again showcased in Graham’s Brilliante.  We never lost sense of the tune (a fantasy on Rule Britannia) despite the sheer number of notes. Lance and NYSB remained sensitive accompanists to Childs, as they had all night, staying flexible and in control despite the excitement of the music. Childs navigated the ending in the expert fashion we have come to expect, and rightly earned a lengthy standing ovation from the audience to end his portion of the program.

Lastly, we were treated to two works by James Curnow, How Sweet the Name and Trittico. How Sweet featured the excellent singing qualities of the band, only this time, “singing” is meant literally. As their beautifully blended voices filled the space, the listener was left with little doubt as to why this group performs so well together. The last work, Trittico, presented one final test for NYSB. The first variation, a scherzo, presented syncopated figures in the low band against the hymn theme Consolation in the upper band. The second variation featured several solo sections, and we could forgive any small slips that occurred within the band, being two hours into a truly memorable performance. The third variation returned to the style of the opening until a written-out cacophony brought us into a John Williams-like coda that united all three ideas. Barely had the last note finished ringing before the audience were on their feet, acknowledging the incredible playing and musicianship put forth by all during a fantastic evening.

Report by Nate Rensink

Photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzMbwK