Picture the scene: it’s a Friday night, and the stage of St. John’s Auditorium is full to the brim with perhaps the shiniest ensemble that Oxford has to offer. With tightly packed rows of cornets, elbow-to-elbow euphoniums and stands adorned with banners of royal blue, a shimmer of excitement spread across the audience as the reigning UniBrass Shield Section Champions took to the stage with their beaming conductor, Alice Knight. Add into the mix an eclectic programme of dynamic brass band deep-cuts, foot-stomping favourites—oh, and a healthy splash of confetti—and the result was a soul-nourishing evening of pure fun.
The first half saw Oxford University Brass Band showcase some core brass band repertoire—William Rimmer’s brazen Punchinello was garnished with some fantastically confident trombone melodies, followed by Denis Wright’s thoughtful chorale Deep Harmony conducted sensitively by OUBB’s associate conductor David Pugh. Imogen Holst’s The Unfortunate Travellerwas an absolute revelation. Written at the age of just 22, the gem of a piece is suffused with the soul of Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite, whilst lashings of speedy runs, gorgeous solos from principal cornet Carys Owen, and some insanely gnarly lines from the tubas advertised the considerable technical expertise of OUBB.
In the second half, the slick black-and-white uniforms of the first were exchanged for a prismatic assortment of multicolour shirts, snazzy bucket hats, and the odd sequin for good measure, as OUBB embarked on their award-winning ‘Brasstonbury’ programme. And what a programme it was. From the opulent opening fanfare of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, to a roof-raising rendition of Stevie Wonder’s timeless jazz tribute, ‘Sir Duke’, the setlist was meticulously thought out, complete with fabulously camp choreography. Special kudos should go to Hannah Kelley on solo Flugelhorn, who was accompanied by the band in a stunning rendition of ‘Feeling Good.’ Indeed, how else to round off the evening than with a bit of classic Bowie?
Is there life on Mars? Sounds like a question for a scientist, but what I can say for certain is that OUBB’s Trinity Term concert gave me plenty of life on Earth.