Review: Waratah Brass Presents ‘World of Brass’

World of Brass: Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre, Warners Bay
Waratah Brass in Concert with Guest Conductor Mr Ron Prussing
Memorial Performance for the late Ron Grice, Musical Director and Cornetist

There is a very old adage that says ‘The show must go on’ and on this occasion this concert certainly lived up to that saying. If one was to predict that a concert was as close to being cancelled as could be, then that may very well have applied here. Full marks certainly go to the band for a performance that was still of a high standard, adhered to its original printed ‘Programme’ and was received by the audience in the same manner as any concert performance by this ensemble.  

Ron PrussingPersonnel are very important to any performance group and none the less a Brass Band but on the morning of this concert Waratah found they were in a bit of a pickle to say the least. They had several late player absentees due to work commitments, another absent due to a prior arranged professional engagement, and a recent player relocation resulting in having to step down from the band. Put this all together and you have a group expecting to perform finding they were in some concern as to how!

Steven English a Champion Soprano Cornet player stepped in to assist the Solo Cornet bench, but then being the conductor this left an even bigger hole of who was to wave the magic stick that gets these musicians to perform. So at the last minute on the morning of the performance Ron Prussing was invited to conduct the band. Ron is well versed in the brass arena and a previous Musical Director of this group with credentials such as being Principal Trombone of Sydney Symphony Orchestra was a fine choice to lead the band.

A late start to the concert did not seem to bother the audience and starting with a great work of Dr Peter Graham “Gaelforce” we saw something that was not usual for any band being, juggling instruments. Flugel Horn player Clarence Leung having been promoted to Principal Cornet was at the same time attempting to put the flugel solo portions in as well, using both instruments. Clarence can only be described as a master musician and is simply yet another reason this concert was able to proceed. He never missed a note during this item and was a delight to hear during this afternoon.  

Several of the bands other fine soloist performed during the afternoon and Hannah Gibbons with her rendition of the very taxing trombone work “The Blue Bells of Scotland” (Pryor/ Derek Broadbent) was a delight. Considering Arthur Pryor originally wrote this work for himself to play back in 1899 this arrangement keeping with the original text is complexity multiplied. Any performer attempting such needs to be of superior talent as is Hannah.

Another air and variation solo superbly played by both soloist and band was “Mountain o’ Mourne”.
Ossie Jellyman principal euphonium well known for good quality playing and excellent solo work was delightful. Melodic feeling to the theme and clean valve work to the variations gave a lovely rendition. Arranged by Dr Roy Newsome, well known for this type of solo composition, the audience gave prolonged applause to this performance which was well deserved.         

Elvis Presley appeared at this concert, well if not he himself a work that was closely associated with Elvis. “An American Trilogy” was written by Mickey Newbury and June 2012 marks the 40th anniversary it was presented by Elvis to a packed concert in Madison Square Garden New York from where it became a permanent addition to his repertoire. The work includes the 3 songs of Dixie, Hush Little Baby and Battle Hymn of the Republic in a moving arrangement by Goff Richards which the band handled well, with just the right amount of bass and percussion to give it that Elvis sound, or was it hip swing….

Euphos & BaritonesThe name Sibelius may not be well known to many but a Symphonic Poem he composed in 1900 at the height of Finland’s struggle with the Russian Empire was the work chosen to end the first half of this concert and was one of the highlights. “Symphonic Prelude: Finlandia” (Jean Sibelius) with its stately opening heavy on dynamics, contrasting with the serene melodic lines of the hymn ‘Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side’, coupled with the conducting of Ron Prussing keeping all players on their toes and up to the mark was a recipe of one fine performance.

Waratah love a good march and following interval to commence the 2nd half of this afternoon an excellent choice in “The Cossack” (William Rimmer) was presented. The band kept good tempo with precise playing and a trio section that was superb. This was a foot tapers delight well played.

Clarence Leung mentioned previously for his contributions to the afternoon added yet further by presenting the well known but technically demanding cornet solo “Napoli”. This work written by Herman Bellstedt and arranged by Geoffrey Brand features a theme and variation format, or is it musical gymnastics. This is a solo that would test any of the world’s best players with both band and soloist giving a credible presentation that was well received by the audience.

Back in 1982 a number of well known actors including Kirk Douglas produced a movie that has gone on to become an Australian classic. Loosely based on the 1890 Banjo Paterson poem of the same title the movie was “The Man from Snowy River”.  With music by Bruce Rowland and an arrangement of the theme by Joe Cook this was a pleasant addition to the concert. This is a great piece well composed with the band giving a good tight rendition.  
This concert was a low key way to remember the recent passing of one of the bands previous Musical Directors Ron Grice. The last page of the programme usually given to advertising future events and information on the day’s concert had a splendid tribute which had been originally written by Band Secretary Therese Curry and read at Ron’s Memorial Service 5th March 2012.

Following applause for the last item it was indeed a moving period as compere Allan Humbley spoke on Ron’s life after which the band played as a tribute to his passing “The Irish Blessing” (Bacak/ S. Bradnum) with its words ‘May the road rise up to meet you…..and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand’

It is very obvious the esteem with which this band hold Ron and the gratitude they have for what he achieved during his time with the band. Ron Grice came to Waratah in the mid 1980’s when the band were a “C” Grade combination and in only a short period took them to “A” Grade status winning just about every competition available as they rose through the ranks. He introduced them to much of the world’s best brass compositions, and many of the world’s leading brass players. He set concerts in place that were the envy of bands all over the world. Indeed Ron Grice’s influence is still evident in Waratah today.

Ron moved to the band having had a successful career in The Salvation Army having come from leadership of one of the best ‘Army’ bands in the region at that time. Myself as a part of his SA band, enjoyed serving with Ron in different capacities, such as Band Librarian and Band Board member.

Thank you band and guest Conductor Ron Prussing for combining to give us all an afternoon to remember both for the musical ability of it members and the memory of one past Waratah great.

Thank you

Review: World of Brass  6 May 2012