Fodens in Italy

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 21 October 2009

Friday, 9th October, Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport bustles with a hive of activity and most bystanders’ attentions are attracted to one particular area where huge, strangely shaped cases are being wheeled towards check-in desks; Fodens band on the first step of a journey that will see them perform one of the most illustrious concerts in the musical calendar, Das Kurhaus in the stunning Northern Italian city of Merano.

 

The journey literally ‘flew’ by with everyone in high spirits for the forthcoming concert and before everyone knew it they were passing through the airport to the awaiting coach and a nearby Holiday Inn.

 

Once there, cue a few ‘Birra Moretti’ and poker in the foyer whilst other band members were pleased to see an indoor golf driving range next door to the hotel. Even a brief flurry of rain did not dampen the spirits.

 

Saturday came quickly and the band were somewhat taken-aback as the coach worked its way through the mountains and breathtaking scenery to Merano, which only helped to instil in everyone the grandeur of the occasion. With songs, games and jokes the entertainment was never in short supply on the coach despite no-one having any DVDs (unless the coach driver did, but nobody dared ask in case he made everyone sit through three-and-a-half hours of Italian cinema’s finest “La vita e bella”).

Merano rendered everyone speechless with its elegant buildings, statues and a multitude of areas of outstanding natural beauty. This provided the backdrop for what was to be a quite awe-inspiring concert. However, this was nothing compared to the exquisite arena that was the theatre. To simply describe it as a theatre would be doing it a huge disservice. It was as much a palace as a theatre and it added to the common-held belief that Italian grandeur knows no bounds. It was a grandeur that every Fodens player respected and positively buzzed at the chance to perform within it.

Savouring the opportunity to enjoy this taste of Italy the band chose to open their concert with the magnificent Verdi overture “La Forza Del Destino.” Fodens performed this work with a vigour and sound that made their seasoned audience quiver with delight. The superb virtuosity of the soloists and delicate precision of the band mixed with outstanding musicality overall was reciprocated by the appreciative audience many of whom were on their feet in the balconies by the time the band hit the last note.

Following this epic Italian overture Fodens’ maestro, Garry Cutt, opted to develop the theme of a beautiful musical marriage between Italy and Britain with a British favourite, circus march, The Waltonian. Here the band were able to execute phenomenal power, but under tremendous control.

As the concert went on it was clear the audience were enjoying every blissful moment that the band played, taking them through a whirlwind of emotions that only Fodens’ well chosen programme could deliver.

Fodens offered up a veritable smorgasbord of soloists on this wonderful evening and they were soloists who didn’t disappoint. Helen Williams’ performance of Share My Yoke gilded the hall with a delightful sound and the band accompanied at a sweet pianissimo that seemed to make the audience hold their breath so as not to spoil it.

 

Mark Wilkinson, the band’s principal cornet, rolled time back to the 1990 world cup with the operatic aria adopted as its theme, Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot. To say that Pavarotti, who was himself born in the northern Italian town of Modena, would have been proud of this rendition is an understatement. The final note was delivered in true bravura fashion to ensure that none shall indeed sleep.

 

A Stevie Wonder classic arranged by Fodens’ composer in residence, Andy Scott, brought Principal trombonist John Barber to the soloist’s podium. The jazzy influences of the solo warmed perfectly to occasion and the soloist graced effortlessly into the higher register for a thrilling climax.

 

Mark Landon, the band’s principal percussionist played the cheeky little number, “Robbin’ Harry” which involved him playing both the xylophone and the vibraphone in quick succession which he delivered with aplomb and had the audience on the feet once more.

 

Fodens’ final soloist, principal euphonium player, Glyn Williams was afforded an ovation during a band interlude mid-way through his solo, Grandfather’s Clock, the audience liked it so much. He responded in kind and presented them with a cadenza that attributed for his frequent best soloist awards at national competitions

The band’s concluding piece was, much like the opener, inspired by the surroundings, Howard Snell’s arrangement of Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of the Appian Way.” Here the band’s bass section came into it’s own with the relentless pounding of the Roman army drums to keep the soldiers marching in step along the military ways across northern Italy getting closer and closer. The horn section created an eerie overtone of the huge, dominating Pine trees that overlooked the road with three quiet interjections before Helen Williams entered to add to the movement with a sublime solo passage like a standard bearer marching at the forefront. The procession grew louder and stronger led by the euphonium and baritone section with the cornets flourishing over the top until finally the bass drums, and percussion began to pound creating an epic finale of strong chords that one audience member referred to as “a brass organ” with Garry Cutt in full control. The audience were standing by the last note and it was predictably so, epic is the only word to describe this performance, truly outstanding, Fodens on red-hot form.

Morning, and as the first rays of the sun graced the Italian mountainsides, ¾ the way up one particular mountain a majority of Fodens band could be seen enjoying coffee and lasagne on the balcony of a mountain café. However, before readers begin to shudder at the thought of certain band members donning their hiking gear and yodelling up the steep meandering paths in true ‘val-der-ee, val-der-ahh’ fashion, the method of ascent was that of a chair lift (in which the only means of holding members on was a handle bar across the belly). Suffice to say, all members made it up and down the mountain unscathed despite the alps being filled with the sound of such classics as “Flying without wings”, “I believe I can fly” and a certain Mark Wilkinson could even be heard to whistle 633 Squadron.

Following this fabulous excursion the band settled down to rehearse at a local bandroom in preparation for the upcoming National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Local people even came to listen to the band’s rehearsal (aching to hear more of the band they heard the night before) in the confines of what what band member referred to as “a crackin’ place” that contained full recording equipment, antique brass instruments and a fully-stocked bar in the next room; something that the band took full advantage of following the rehearsal when the locals offered free drinks in return for the musical feast that the band had just provided them with.

 

Sadly, the time came for Fodens to leave Merano and following several speeches of thanks between the hosts and the band, everyone boarded the coach for the journey back to Milan. Upon arrival at the airport, the time passed with newly invented games such as passport boule and the fifteen press-up challenge before the evening flight to Liverpool.

Finally, as the last few bags and cases were removed from the carousel there could be heard many utterances of a word which acts as a fitting tribute to this trip, the concert in Merano and Fodens Brass Band, “brilliant

Foden's band maintains a world class reputation for providing entertainment in the field of brass music with a tradition and unique style Mark Wilkinson