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Edward Gregson: Euphonium Concerto (2018)

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Edward Gregson’s Euphonium Concerto was primarily commissioned for inclusion on the CD project Symphonic Euphonium II. David Childs stated: “When considering a new commission for this project, Edward Gregson was at the forefront of my mind as he’d written concerti for all the established orchestral brass instruments and had shown an interest in composing a euphonium concerto for me previously. I was also keen to mirror the ambition of Alun Hoddinott’s twenty-two-minute Concerto for Euphonium and Orchestra: A Sunne Rising – the King will Ride, which brought a contemporary cutting-edge seriousness to the repertoire, creating so many different textures and colours through the full symphony orchestra, something Gregson achieved to great effect with his Trombone Concerto. Gregson was also well aware of the euphonium’s technical, musical and emotional scope, having played the euphonium as a young man, so I was delighted when he accepted the commission.”

Although the main purpose of the commission was to generate a large-scale euphonium concerto with symphony orchestra, part of the commission was that Gregson would simultaneously create a brass band version too. David Childs gave the première of the concerto, in its brass band form, as an educational performance in Japan with Senzoku Gakuan College of Music Brass Band on 16th June 2018, conducted by his father, Dr Robert Childs, and gave further performances in Belgium with Brass Band Willebroek under Frans Violet (27th October 2018) and in Austria with Tredegar Town Band under Ian Porthouse (18th November 2018), before going into the studio to record it with the BBC Philharmonic in January 2019.

Although labour-intensive for the composer, producing both the piano reduction and brass band version of the concerto in advance of completing the orchestral version provided Gregson with the opportunity to collaborate with Childs, who recalled: “The composer and I first spoke about the possibility of this concerto back in 2003, and the process from commissioning to recording it for this project was almost three years, which provides some perspective around the time and energy expelled by both composer and soloist.”

Edward Gregson describes the concerto as, “a large-scale symphonic work in both its structure and scale” and provided this programme note: 

“The first movement, Dialogues, is concerned with contrast and development, using as a reference point a five note musical cypher (BACH – B flat, A, C, B natural – followed by a tritone F). This cypher is used in various guises throughout the movement and beyond and acts as a ‘pillar’ in an ever-changing musical canvass. The movement’s sonata form structure contrasts highly charged rhythmic ideas with a lyrical second section, where perhaps the euphonium takes on the cloak of a cello with its soaring melodicism. This leads to a central section, with scurrying semiquavers culminating in a frenetic fugal climax before returning to the opening ideas, now further explored and developed.

An extended cadenza, with brief but dramatic interruptions from the timpanist, leads directly into the slow movement – Song Without Words. Here, the peaceful mood of the opening tutti section leads to a wistful ballad for the soloist, which pays nostalgic homage to another era long since gone. The opening music returns, this time developing into an intense climax, before quietly sinking into a reprise of the opening music, with the soloist’s ballad now transferred from minor to major. The movement ends quietly and leads without a break into the final movement.

A Celtic Bacchanal is, as the title suggests, a wild dance that takes on some of the character of Celtic folk music (the dedicatee is a Celt, and the composer half-Celt!). Whilst primarily being a technical tour-de-force, a lyrical central section once again exploits the euphonium’s singing qualities, reaching a majestic peroration before subsiding into tranquility. The folk-like dance starts up again, this time culminating, via a reference to the first movement, into an exuberant and life-affirming coda.”

The live British première of Edward Gregson’s Euphonium Concerto took place in its brass band form and was given as a BBC Radio 3 broadcast, by David Childs and the Tredegar Town Band at the RNCM Festival of Brass on 27th January, following the BBC Philharmonic recording. A version for euphonium and wind band (transcribed by Jack Stamp) was commissioned by Eugene Corporon and the University of North Texas Wind Symphony, receiving its premiere in November 2021, before being released in on CD (Respair – GIA WindWorks label) in 2022. A studio recording of the brass band version with Black Dyke Band (The World Rejoicing – Doyen label) was also released in 2022. Today, Gregson’s Euphonium Concerto is available with four separate accompaniments: piano, brass band, wind band and symphony orchestra - all via Novello publishing.

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