London Symphony Orchestra’s Brass Ensemble

The LSO is enjoying a sustained peak of success, and is apparently well-known for the talented and distinctive timbre of their brass section, so it was with some interest that I found myself ushered along to this opportunity to hear them strut their stuff from centre stage, unencumbered by the rest of the orchestra. It was my first visit to the 2,000 seat Barbican Hall, which as venues go could not be in sharper contrast to the Royal Albert Hall which hosted Susan and my last orchestral outing. Along with most people, I wince at the heavy-handed post-war modernist lines of its exterior, but nevertheless can’t help but admire the boldness and consistency with which such ambitious architectural and social vision was applied to the entirely of the enourmous Barbican Estate within which it nestles.

And being modern isn’t all bad, because the manifold engineered improvements to the concert hall’s acoustics of the last couple of decades seem very much to have produced the desired effect – I would describe the clarity and range of sound to which my inexperienced ear was subjected as nothing short of startling.

The ten-strong array of trumpets, trombones and tuba played a selection to showcase their respective talents, with a zest and levity that I am informed is their usual stock in trade, including Paul Archibald’s brass arrangement of Prokofiev’s Ten Pieces for Piano, Op 12; Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals; Debussy’s Keyboard Pieces; James Maynard’s Zoology and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

Not being overly familiar with orchestral music, the thing that struck me was how much the exercise seemed to celebrate the precision and craftsmanship that the musicians could bring to bear on the reproduction of the music, rather than the sheer visceral joy of the music itself which so predominag tes at a pop gig or night club. I’m told in no uncertain terms by those with more experience of brass ensembles that the experience of rhapsody is equally present, but I’m having trouble reconciling that with my impressions of an audience which was captivated and delighted, but also entirely motionless for the entire performance. Somehow in my mind, the idea of overwhelming musical ecstasy is inseparably associated with a irresistible, participatory physical motion.

Clearly I have much to learn. Baby steps. :)

Leave a Reply