Composition for brass band: Gaia Symphony and Eden
John Pickard, internationally-recognised composer in the Department of Music, has composed pieces for brass band to wide critical acclaim.
In particular, two of John's pieces - Gaia Symphony and Eden - have generated considerable attention from the mainstream and specialist press, attracting audiences across the globe.
“Gaia Symphony was completed during a three-year residency with Welsh brass band The Cory Band who premiered the piece at the 2005 Cheltenham International Festival of Music,” said John. “Since January 2008, the piece has been taken up internationally including being broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and recorded commercially.”
Gaia Symphony was composed over a period of more than 10 years, although the bulk of the work took place between 2001 and 2004. Comprising four movements, each of of which may be performed separately, the individual sections were premiered by the National Youth Band of Wales, promoting the piece with young musicians (aged 13 to 18). There have been many different performances of the piece, including more recently at the 2011 Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) Festival of Brass. The symphony’s fourth movement, Men of Stone, was used as a test piece at the Australian Band Championships in 2002, and the whole symphony was performed in its entirety by Eikanger-Bjørsvik Band of Bergen, Norway, in 2011, making it the first non-British band to perform the complete work. They now plan further performances as well as a recording.
As a result of the success of Gaia Symphony, the Brass Band Heritage Trust commissioned John to compose another piece — Eden — for the final of the 2005 British National Brass Band Championship at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Recognised as a contemporary classic, Eden has since been used as a test piece in the finals of the Belgian, English, Norwegian and European Championships (2009). It has been commercially recorded five times — an almost unparalleled achievement for a six year old ‘classical’ composition — and has been the subject of a study day and various journal articles. It has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and covered by Radio 2, along with interviews with the composer.
Breaking new technical ground
Both Gaia Symphony and Eden have been praised for setting new standards of artistic endeavour for brass bands, explaining the strong interest from the specialist brass and more mainstream media. Eden is particularly noted for breaking new technical ground for brass bands through its use of complex rhythmic devices known as ‘irrational time signatures’, more frequently encountered in avant-garde music. The Guardian described the first complete performance of Gaia Symphony at the Cheltenham Music Festival in 2005 as ‘a virtuoso performance that broke various barriers of perception’ whereas Eden was described by the Cory Band’s conductor, Dr Robert Childs, as ‘a turning point in brass band composition’ (British Bandsman, October 2008); impressive praise indeed. In 2006, Eden was shortlisted in the British Composer Awards.
Future ideas to develop and build upon the impact of this work include a project to develop the skills of brass bands in the use of the unusual technical challenges posed by Eden; and production of a commercial CD release on an international mainstream label of both Gaia and Eden on one disc. This would potentially target new audiences outside the brass band community. An additional benefit is the connection between the reputation of the two pieces and the composer with students choosing to do postgraduate or undergraduate study at the Department of Music at the University of Bristol.