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Reviews & Articles
Wednesday, 22 January 2003

The festival was fantastic! It lasted a full week, commencing on Sunday 17th August and finishing with a farewell concert on Sunday 24th. My involvement in the festival did not span the full week - I arrived in Melbourne on the Tuesday having spent the previous week tutoring on the Bromsgrove Brass Band Summer School and left Australia in the early hours of Sunday to get home in time for a rehearsal in the UK on Monday night! Throughout the week the Melbourne International Festival of Brass featured some extraordinary talents with three to four masterclasses and recitals each day plus an evening ensemble concert. There were far too many fantastic performances to list them all, but here are a couple which will last in my memory for some time to come.

On Wednesday 20th the Stockholm Chamber Brass gave a recital following masterclasses from Markus Maskunitty and trombonist Michael Mulcahy of the Chicago Symphony. Scandinavia's leading brass quintet did not fail to impress with their phenomenal dynamic range and instinctive musicality. Every work they performed from Mozart to Arnold was delivered with absolute precision - they were a real pleasure to listen to and through their performance provided their own masterclass in ensemble playing.

After a short break following the Stockholm Chamber Brass' contribution the audience filled the hall once again in anticipation of Oystein Baadsvik's tuba recital. Normally I don't get too excited about the prospect of listening to a tuba recital and I'm sure there are many others that feel the same way about euphonium recitals! However, I was extremely pleased I stuck around for this one; the soloist was superb from beginning to end. Baadsvik is one of the finest tuba soloists I have ever heard. There appeared to be nothing he couldn't do on his instrument. He demonstrated superb multi-phonics producing sounds normally associated with the didgeridoo in his opening number, 'Fnugg' I think. He later showed great lyricism in his own arrangement of Ave Maria and raw technique with his finale, Carnival of Venice. With talent like his it is not surprising that Oystein Baadsvik is BIS Records' latest acquisition joining the likes of Christian Limberg and co.

By the time Thursday came everyone who was going to be at the inaugural Melbourne International Festival of Brass was there, and they were there for one reason, to hear the legendary father of Australian brass talent, Mr. James Morrison. Morrison gave a two-hour masterclass and for me, it was nothing short of inspirational from beginning to end. This is a guy who is known throughout the world of jazz as the finest doubler there has ever been and known to fellow brass players as the 'Wizard of Oz'! During his masterclass he played tuba, euphonium, flugel horn, french horn, trombone, trumpet, and piccolo too! When you learn someone can play all of those instruments you tend to assume they're going to be a 'jack of all, master of none'. Not Morrison though, he is in a league of his own. To bring his masterclass to a close he held a trombone in his left hand and a trumpet in his right as he imitated identical lines on both within the space of seconds. This went on for a good three to four minutes before finishing on some ridiculously high note with more ledger lines than I care to think about! The audience of course went wild and he kindly responded to our request for an encore by taking a flugel and quietly sitting down at the piano. Using the flugel he gave one of the most beautiful renditions of 'Misty' I have ever heard but in true James Morrison style he also provided his own jazz piano accompaniment using only his left hand! You really did have to be there to believe it! As part of the festival James Morrison also gave a concerto performance with the Melbourne Symphony and provided an evening of unforgettable jazz with the Mark Issacs trio in Melbourne's BMW Edge.

What followed James Morrison's masterclass was a little scary but also a privilege for me, it was my turn to give a recital. Morrison is a household name in Australia and as I walked out on stage I felt as though I was following Russell Watson or Nigel Kennedy on! In brass band terms it wasn't a great draw! However, my contribution was in complete contrast to that of Morrison's and the audience made me feel more than welcome. Having played for over an hour to a conesiur audience I had certainly enjoyed the experience and I hope others had too!

The highlight of the following day was Barry Tuckwell's masterclass. Tuckwell was the Honorary Patron of the festival but he also knew a thing or two about brass playing having held the position of principal horn with the Melbourne Symphony, Sydney Symphony, Halle, Scottish National, Bournemouth and latterly the London Symphony Orchestra. His class was an inspiration to all present and not only showed he is a master of his art, but also that he is a great character still passionate about music making.

Having given a masterclass on Friday, my final contribution to the festival came on Saturday afternoon when I had the pleasure of appearing as a guest soloist with the Melbourne Staff band together with Oystein Baadsvik and Geoff Payne, principal trumpet of the Melbourne Symphony. The band played superb from beginning to end accompanying some extremely tricky solos between the three of us, and showing their own class with a moving rendition of Eric Balls Resurgam. Saturday evening's Finale Concert featured all the artists who had performed throughout the week and was brought to a close with music from Wagner's Ring Cycle which featured Siegfried's horn call, phenomenally executed by Roger Montgomery of Covent Garden.

The Melbourne International Festival of Brass was the brainchild of Geoff Collinson and Michael Bertoncello, both outstanding musicians themselves. They deserve a great deal of credit for organising, bringing to fruition and directing one the finest international music festivals I have ever had the pleasure of attending.

© The Brass Herald 2003

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