I would never have believed that when I moved back to New Zealand I would be sitting in a concert of The Armed Man by the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins in my home town of Whanganui.
Just like the remarkable fact of seeing Bill Bailey here just a few weeks back, this place continues to punch well above its size. Unlike the latter, this concert was a case of local talent and ambition wonderfully on display and how appropriate that this was arranged to be part of the Anzac Day commemorations.
The stage looked spectacular with the massed choir made up of three local choirs, Schola Sacra, Wanganui Male Choir and the Lyric Singers filling the staging at the back and Brass Whanganui sitting in front. The lighting was terrific and our expectations as an audience were high even before the first notes sounded.
The concert started with the band conducted by Bruce Jellyman playing Death or Glory by Robert Browne Hall, a Sousa like March which featured in the film Brassed Off. This was well played with tight co-ordination in the group, especially in the percussion section.
Next we were treated to a work called Peace and War, based on a poem by Bernard O'Brien with music by Vernon Griffiths that was commissioned in Christchurch for Anzac Day in 1952.
After several performances it was neglected for many years, partly because of the state of the score and parts, which were painstakingly restored to readable parts for this performance by Whanganui resident Michael Mayson, who sadly died last year. The performance of this with both band and choirs was conducted by Iain Tetley and was an apt choice for linking this day back to those years after World War II.
The first half finished with Bruce Jellyman again conducting Brass Whanganui in Hymn to the Fallen, composed by John Williams for the film Saving Private Ryan. Here the band demonstrated its quality of sound and control of technique – a moving rendition beautifully crafted with wonderful controlled sustained phrasings and lines, keeping the audience still and silent from the first to last notes.
The main work of the concert was The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins.
I have had the pleasure of playing the orchestral version (the original score) of this work many times and also playing in the reduced chamber version, but this has been the first time I have heard it with brass band and it was a powerful and moving experience.
The choirs and band were joined for the performance by a quartet of solo singers, Jennifer Little, Cecily Shaw, Nigel Tongs, Lindsay Yeo, plus a treble Harrison Richmond and organist Leonard Cave.
Well done to all involved in this performance, especially to Iain Tetley who calmly steered the large group through this work.
There were many highlights here. Harrison Richmond sang his solo with a sweet tone and accuracy and dealt in a very calm manner with the misbehaving microphone! The solo quartet had little to do in comparison with other oratorios, but delivered performances of clarity and quality and beauty of sound.
There was superb solo playing from many players in the band and kudos to Nigel Bateman for the taut and relentless rhythmic playing which drove the faster parts of the work.
The choirs absolutely rose to the occasion and were obviously well prepared and, in particular, a mention to the men of the choir for their unaccompanied section which was sung well.
The performance of this work also includes a film especially created for it, which was behind the performers on a large screen. Although the film and the music end with optimism, there were some confronting images of the horror and devastation of armed conflicts that were perhaps a timely reminder of the link to Anzac Day if one was needed.
Huge congratulations to all who took part in this. It has been an enormous amount of work by many people to stage this performance, from the stage crew and volunteers of the Opera House through to all the choir members and Brass Whanganui and the soloists.
Iain Tetley has worked tirelessly to prepare the choirs, Bruce Jellyman likewise with the band, and their efforts were well rewarded with a splendid performance which did indeed meet the expectations of the audience.
We are extremely fortunate to have these choirs and a quality brass band here in Whanganui that made this concert possible.
* Annie Hunt, (Dip Mus Hons NZ, CTABRSM, QTS UK), is a string teacher and free-lance cellist who relocated back to Whanganui from North Wales four years ago.