An experience of sound and sight
Royal Whanganui Opera House
Saturday, March 27, 7pm.
Reviewed by Paul Brooks
Is there anything Brass Whanganui can not do?
Brass Whanganui, a tight, talented unit of musical individuals, conducted with the supple energy and advanced sense of showmanship of Bruce Jellyman, astounded, thrilled and completely satisfied their audience with Sound Canvas on the weekend.
The arrangement of band and audience in Sound Canvas is an unusual one, in that while the band is on the Opera House stage, so too is the audience.
The stage was replete with comfortable chairs and even more comfortable couches, all facing stage front, and the band filled a tiered arrangement on the apron. To us, the audience, the auditorium was an empty space beyond the musicians.
But the musicians were not static: they moved around a bit, playing their instruments and providing an unpredictable and exciting performance. We loved it.
The evening began with Bruce Jellyman, ringmaster, conductor, giving us the usual safety messages in a unique and entertaining way.
He also urged us to get out of our seats and move around the stage to watch and listen from new perspectives, to get the most out of the performance. Not sure how many people did; we're a conservative lot, Kiwi audiences.
The music began in earnest, with the world premiere of Into the Veil, a brass band piece composed by Hamish Jellyman, son of the aforementioned Bruce.
As we listened to this big, bold piece of music, a screen displayed artworks executed by Whanganui artists, a collaboration with Artists Open Studios. The art changed frequently, always in keeping with the feel of the music.
That gave us a lot to look at – the musicians at work, a light show emanating from the band "area", and spotlights playing around the auditorium and the Opera House ceiling like aviation searchlights.
Interspersed among the many brass band pieces were poems read by members of the band, and, in one instance, by Fergus Reid, Opera House technician. All poems were by New Zealand poets and fitted the mood of the music.
This is not a review of highlights, because there was one big highlight, which began when the band assembled and ended when they finished their last piece.
The music was big, often majestic, and, dare I say, brassy. At the back of the band – although not always found there – was a strong percussion section of many ordinary and wonderful effect-producing instruments, the whole of which was augmented by the deft touch of Michael Franklin-Browne at the drum kit.
Airini Beautrais' poem Puanga, beautifully read by band member Adrienne Smith, was accompanied by Morag O'Malley, Bruce Jellyman and Hamish Jellyman, all playing the same xylophone to the left of, and almost amidst, the audience. Clever, and riveting viewing as well as an unusual piece of music.
Jonathon Greenwell showed his versatility when he sang an arrangement of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand, accompanied by a brass foursome of tuba and trombones and Michael Franklin-Browne on drums.
While that was finishing, Potaka and Ben Thompson, Tahu Pikimaui and Paora Heremaia set up in the middle of the audience with brass and guitar, ready to launch into Gershwin's Embraceable You, which segued into a Michel Franklin-Browne drum solo before the band picked up with a Snarky Puppy Medley with outstanding solos by Tahu Pikimaui (trumpet) and Chris Scudder (trombone).
The band was on fire!
Then the mood changed. After a Sam Hunt poem, the band performed Thomas Doss' Momentum, an atmospheric, smouldering mood piece that held the audience spellbound.
But there was still more to come, including the very big Who Wants to Live Forever by Brian May, with lyrics spoken by Jonathon Greenwell.
As an audience we were treated to a first class band, not just playing, but performing works from world-renowned composers as well as those of the extraordinarily talented Hamish Jellyman, plus an array of artworks, plus the concept of Sound Canvas, conceived and executed by Bruce Jellyman and Brass Whanganui.
Is there nothing that band can't do?