During its history, the New York Staff Band (NYSB) has only made a handful of visits to Toronto, so there was a very good turnout to see the band. Having just heard the Canadian Staff Band festival the night before, the audience had high expectations, and the NYSB did not disappoint.
As at its recent 120th anniversary concert, the band opened with Redhead's "A Fanfare of Praise," quite a good way to get the audience's attention.
"Ceaseless Service" (Ditmer) followed and showed off the unity of pitch and timbre of the band. Warren Smith Jr. on bass trombone made his presence felt throughout the concert. One might ask if it was too much. The answer is "no." He played with such power yet control that it was thoroughly enjoyable; he is a true "beast of the bass trombone."
The first soloist of the evening was cornet player Gordon Ward. He performed a flawless rendition of "Crossroad" (Bulla) which, as it turned out, would foreshadow the other fine solo performances of the evening. "Exultate!" (Downie) followed, and the band produced a true wall of sound. The unison runs that passed along from the euphoniums to baritones to horns with amazing uniformity were most impressive.
Former NYSB member Peter Graham was the featured composer for the next two pieces. In the hymn setting of "Crimond," the short but lovely cornet duets were a highlight. The band then closed the first half with four movements from "Call of the Cossacks."
"Procession of the Tartars" started off markedly faster than the "crochet equals 112" written in the music. When the rest of the bass section joined the solo Eb bass, not only did the tempo not drop a beat, but the unity of sound was uncanny. It was at this point that it became apparent that the band was in top form, and it was not going to let up.
"Cossack Fire Dance" showed off the band's soloists. Most impressive was solo trombone Burt Mason performing the "Czardas" quote. So many times we hear trombonists attempt this, tonguing wildly while pitch suffers. Mason got every note.
While seated on the front edge of the stage, Andrew Garcia gave a moving performance of "Doyle's Lament." Concert etiquette was broken as the audience applauded between movements, after both the "Fire Dance" and "Doyle's Lament." The "Cossack Wedding Dance" closed a splendid first half.
"Just a Closer Walk" (arr. Fernie) started the second half, and although there was fine interplay among all, soloist Burt Mason started to steal the show. The band performed Ray Ogg's "Rousseau" before featuring Mason again with "Old Rugged Cross." Having already displayed his technical and jazz virtuosity, Mason made the trombone truly sing in this lyrical work.
Euphonium player Aaron VanderWeele was featured next in Bearcroft's "The Better World." Having already showed off his blazing finger technique in "Cossack Fire Dance," in this solo he showed that his quick tonguing can keep up with fast fingering. VanderWeele also displayed, as he had throughout the night, the big lyrical euphonium sound he could draw out of the horn.
Major Tom Mack led the band chorus in "Every Time I Feel the Spirit." The band sang as well as they played and truly showed why it's more important to have musicians than singers in a choir. The band closed with "Holy War" (Steadman-Allen), and had it not been below 0 degrees Celsius outside, I might have thought I was in a Lutheran church on Reformation Sunday in October as the tune "Ein Feste Berg" became the repeated theme of the finale. The audience showed its appreciation with a standing ovation, demanding an encore.
As with their anniversary concert, the band played "Stars and Stripes Forever," which takes a bit of cheek for just a handful of visits to Toronto. However, after yet another standing ovation, bandmaster Waiksnoris apologized for the potential "faux pas" and concluded with the benediction, "Rock of Ages." I have to say they were in top form that night.
—Pat Herak is a staff writer for 4barsrest.com.