London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble 1963-2013

 

London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble circa 1993 Children's concert, Manila,1985 The London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble's beginning was down to the inspiration of one man, Lieutenant Commander David Biddulph (R.N. retd.) He had enjoyed playing the trombone since his days on active service and was, with his wife, Alison, a keen choral singer. They had five children, one of whom, Michael, followed in his father's footsteps as a trombonist. Michael studied trombone at the Royal College of Music and was then a member of the Irish Guards' Band during what was, in those days, two years' compulsory National Service. Tragically, in 1958, he was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way to a parade. Five years on his father, seeking perhaps to forge a spiritual link with his dead son, asked three later R.C.M trombone students, Peter Harvey, Richard Hill and John Simcock, whether they might enjoy playing through some arrangements of Gabrieli motets. Both parties liked the musical results so much that a debut concert at Wimbledon Girls' High School was arranged for the autumn of 1963. Probably because of the organisational abilities of the older man, a retired Royal Navy Commander who would have recognised a golden opportunity when it presented itself, they began to offer concerts for children. Children's concerts by live musicians were not a new idea but zippy, fast-moving children's' concerts given by young guys looking like the Beatles most certainly were! The following year saw contracts signed for over three hundred educational concerts.

LGBE Carnegie Hall In 1965, Pye Records' Chief Engineer, Bob Auger, heard them fooling around whilst on a pop session. What he heard sounded fresh and exciting, a deal followed, and the first ever LP devoted entirely to Renaissance brass music, King James I Royal Brass Music, was released later that year. By 1967, founder trombonist Richard Hill had become an A&R Manager for Polydor/Deutsche Grammophon. They allowed him to produce a concept album, Canterbury Pilgrim, based on Chaucer. This evolved into the hit musical Canterbury Tales which had the LGBE in the orchestra pit - thus providing an employment base for Britain's first full-time brass ensemble - now constituted as a brass quintet. In the 1968/69 season it also splintered the first North American tour. After their New York Carnegie Hall recital they were entertained as visiting heroes by the New York Brass Quintet, and the New York Times critic wrote that "The playing has the same precision and smoothness, as did their stage manners. The players' control of tone, dynamics, rhythm and every expressive device was complete." A long odyssey had begun. European visits followed, as did a further North American tour. Richard Hill produced a string of popular LGBE recordings including the ground-breaking, The Four Elements, on the famous Deutsche Grammophon yellow label.

 

Egypt 1984 London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble Istanbul 1977 BBC TV Omnibus 1976

Chris Larkin Kuwait, 1984 In 1975, stewardship of the Ensemble passed to Chris Larkin and Crispian Steele-Perkins. Between 1975 and 1984, when Crispian quit the group to devote himself entirely to study of the Baroque trumpet, the Ensemble made tours of Canada, Europe (Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Ireland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Yugoslavia), South America (Brazil, Mexico & Paraguay), the Far East (Hong Kong, India, Malaysia & The Philippines) and the Middle East (Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the U.A.E.). Two recordings of baroque brass music were made for Enigma Records in the 1970s, now amalgamated as the award-winning CD, The Splendour of Baroque Brass. This CD has been through the catalogues of both Warner and ASV and is still available from Sanctuary Classics. The group's 21st Anniversary was celebrated with a gala concert at the Royal Festival Hall in aid of BBC Television's "Blue Peter" appeal.

 

21st Anniversary Concert, 19th December 1984 BBC 'Blue Peter' RNLI appeal, 1984 LGBE with Janet Ellis of Blue Peter programme on 21st Anniversary

William Houghton succeeded Crispian as leader in 1984. Since then most European countries have been re-visited, repeat tours of the Far East and South America (Colombia, Ecuador & Peru) have been made, and, in 1986, the Ensemble became the first British brass group to tour the People's Republic of China. With Philip Jones retirement in 1989, the LGBE became the United Kingdom's longest-established British brass ensemble and,  two years later, made its BBC Promenade Concert debut. In 1993 the 30th Anniversary Concert took place in St. John's, Smith Square, with Philip Jones as an honoured guest.

Great wall of China 1986 London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble Santorini Greece 1983 London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble at the Royal Albert Hall 1991

Another important activity has been the commissioning of new music for brass. The fruit of a long connection with Catalunya has been works from Joán Guinjoán and Xavier Montsalvatge. In 1989 the great French organist, Jean Langlais, composed his Cérémonie pour Cuivres for Chris Larkin, the Ensemble's Director since 1984. Other major works by Alun Hoddinott, Paul Patterson, Naresh Sohal and Hugh Wood have been premiered by the Ensemble at the festivals of, respectively, Swansea, Greenwich, Camden and The Three Choirs.

Antique BrassesAntique Brasses. Chris Larkin, who joined the Ensemble in 1973, has spent most of his professional life researching and unearthing art music for brass composed during the last two centuries. For the LGBE's Henry Wood Prom debut in 1991 he programmed two of his discoveries: some regimental marches by Cherubini (1814) and the four movement Nonetto in C Minor by Félicien-César David composed in 1839. These were performed on modern brass instruments however. Now that present day players have achieved such phenomenally high technical standards on the brass instruments of former times it seemed opportune to make a new CD of some fascinating repertoire using period instruments. This the Ensemble did in 1999 as their fourth CD for the Hyperion label.

Many of the world's finest period brass instrumentalists were recruited: Ralph Dudgeon, Stephen Hollamby and John Wallace (keyed bugles); Crispian Steele-Perkins, David Blackadder, and Philip Bainbridge (natural trumpets, slide trumpet, keyed trumpet, cornopean and Swedish jägarhorn); Andrew Clark, Roger Montgomery, Anthony Halstead, Sue Dent, Gavin Edwards, Martin Lawrence and Chris Larkin (hand-horns and Vienna pumpenhorns); Abigail Newman, Peter Thorley and Peter Harvey (trombones) and Stephen Wick and Anthony George (ophicleides).LGBE Edinburgh 2006

The London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2003 with a concert at the Cadaqués Festival in their old stamping ground of Catalunya. Now, as the Ensemble celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2013, it still spends a week at the University of East Anglia (every year since 1985) - providing the music for Congregation - but now normally appears as a large brass ensemble. As such, it had the honour of giving the 24th Sir Adrian Boult Memorial Concert at Westminster School in November 2010.