The ensemble: Altena Brass
Altena Brass was founded in 1999 as a regional brass band. The members were recruited from the area between the cities of Den Bosch and Gorinchem, in the south of the Netherlands. Fairly quickly the recruiting area became wider. Now, just a few years later, members come from places as far away as Eindhoven in the south-east, Arnhem and Nijmegen in the 'far-east' and the Rotterdam area in the west.
All of the band's musicians gained experience in professional orchestras or top-class amature ensembles. In style varying from easy-listening and jazz to classical and contemporary symphonic repertoire.
The aim of the band is to bring wind music in general and the Brass Band in particular to a wider audience. It does this by:
Giving concerts together with other ensembles and soloists
Original, adventurous and innovative programming
The Brass Band as a symphonic Brass-ensemble
The Brass Band is considered often as a stylistic phenomenon on its own, which is supposed to sound a certain way. Altena Brass consideres the Brass Band to be what it actually is: a large, stylistically versatile brass-ensemble. Therefore the conductor and band don't appoach a score with just the British Brass Band-tradition in mind. This apporach often results in a different, but interesting reading.
To to able to build as diverse a style as possible, Altena Brass often contracts guest-conductors or clinicians. Often from oustide the Brass Band scene, but not always. The band has had the pleasure of working with Ian Porthouse on numerous occasions. As a formal principal of Black Dyke, Fairey and Yorkshire Building Society Bands and succesfull conductor, he is a true specialist of British Brass Band tradition. While Altena Brass doesn't necessarily approaches music from that particular tradition, knowledge of the 'roots' is indispensable for guaranteeing being truely versatile.
Contemporary experimental, classical masterpieces and jazz
Through the diversity of concerts and audience, the band truely has a wide repertoire. As a rule, Altena Brass plays original Brass Band pieces. It has special affinity with contemporary, sometimes experimental music. But a good programme is often benifitted by music from 'the outside'. There are countless arrangements of popular and classical music written for Brass Band. The band's repertoire therefore varies from easy-listening and jazz to classical and contemporary symphonic repertoire.
The band wants to be as innovative as possible in it's programming. This has led to playing pieces such as Sinfonia for Brass Band, Piano and Harp by Gary Kulesha and Michael Daugherty's Motown Metal. Some other highlights were Graffiti by Knut Vaage, Dreigroschenoper by Kurt Weill and Rotations voor piano en orkest by Piet Swerts. There were Dutch or European premieres on a number of occasions, such as the European premiere of The Mechanical Advantage by Omar Daniel, a large concerto for percussion soloist and brass band (soloist was Tatiana Koleva). There even were three World-premieres: Leo and Altena Fantasie by Kerry Woodward and Alpha Centauri by Robert van Enschot.
But the great British brass band-tradion hasn't slipped the attention either. Altena Brass has played many of the great masterpieces such as Journey into Freedom by Eric Ball, Sounds by John Golland, Spectrum by Gilbert Vinter and Pageantry by Herbert Howells. Artistically sublime pieces, that are seldom heard in the Netherlands.
Some of the other composers played by Altena Brass are:
Original: George Lloyd, Derek Bourgeois, Philip Sparke, James Curnow, Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen, Edward Gregson, Philip Wilby, Rob Goorhuis, Dag Egil Njaa, Frédéric Devreese en Thomas Doss.
Arrangement: Dmitri Shostakovich, William Walton, Leo Janácek, Benjamin Britten, Percy Grainger, Serge Ragmaninoff en Guiseppe Verdi.
Surprising Encounters and The Easter Concerts
By combining concerts with chamber-music-ensembles, both wind and string, choirs and organists, and through co-operation with the Academies of Music in Tilburg en Utrecht, an audience that is not familiar with the Brass Band is being warmed up for it. Evidently the more 'traditional' Brass Band audience has an important place as well in the philosophy of the band. Altena Brass also enjoys giving concerts with other Brass or Wind Bands. In 2001 and 2005 the band was included in the programme of the Tilburg Concert Hall. In 2010 the band has been invited there again.
Since 2003, Altena Brass organizes its own annual "Easter Concert", for which a prominent guest-soloist is invited. So far, guest have been, among others, Brandt Attema, bass trombone with the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Hans Nickel (tuba, WDR Symphony Orchestra, Germany), Ian Porthouse (cornet), Tatiana Koleva (percussion), Ilja Reingoud (jazz-trombone) and Tjeerd Top (assistant principal violin, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra), Jasper de Waal (principal horn, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra). In 2011 Bart Claessens, the principal tromboneplayer of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra was our guest.
Altena Brass does not focus on contesting. It considers a contest as a means of improving the level of playing and not as a goal on its own. Competing in a contest more than often goes at the expense of other interesting activities. Beacuse of that, Altena Brass has the policy of competing in the National Championships not more than every other year. However, despite its short history, Altena Brass has had some good fortune at contesting too. In 2002 the band officially qualified itself for the European Championship Section, having been rewarded 90 points or more on three successive contests in the federal top division.
Others on Altena Brass
„The desire to combine the strengths of traditional British style brass band playing whilst searching for new musical avenues makes them an exciting and intriguing set of musicians. There is a great deal bands in the UK can learn from their forward thinking ethos”
Ian Porthouse, conductor of Tredegar Town Band and former principal cornet of Black Dyke Band
„An astonishingly beautiful ensemble”
Alex Schillings, Professor of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music, The Hague
„A neat compact ensemble”
Steve Sykes, bass player and conductor
„Beautiful band with geat musical approach”
Lex van Diepen, former conductor Band of the Royal Netherlands Airforce
„Some really great moments and you captured the spirit of the piece well”
Philip Sparke, composer
„A brilliantly complete performance, executed on the basis of a well thought-out vison”
Leon Adams, Professor of Conducting
„Full of healthy musical atmosphere and warmth”
Tom Brevik, conductor and composer
Maurice Hamers, Professor of Conducting and former conductor of the Royal Netherlands Marine Band
The Conductor: Jan Gerrit Adema
Jan Gerrit Adema (Drachten, 1970) has been the band's conductor since its formation in 1999. He has firmly put his stamp on the band. His background as a Brass Band musician (he was a member of Brass Band Soli Deo Gloria, now Soli Brass), combined with his symphonic experience, guarantees a well-considered style of conducting, combining the best of both worlds.
Jan Gerrit studied tuba and conducting in various Academies of Music in the Netherlands. He has graduated as an MA in both diciplines. As a freelance tuba player he played with many Symphony Orchestras, Wind Bands and Chamber Ensembles in the Netherlands. At present he is a regular guest player with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra.
As a conductor too, Jan Gerrit has a wealth of experience. He participated in master classes with David King, Jan de Haan, Sef Pijpers, Timothy Reynish and Claus Peter Flor. After graduating in Brass and Wind Band conducting, he then studied Orchstral conducting with Georg Fritz. His practical experience as a conductor comes from conducting the European Youth Orchestra, the Windband of the Academy of Music Tilburg, Brass Band Soli Deo Gloria (Leeuwarden) and The Jena Symphony Orchestra (Germany). In 2001 he was guest-conductor with the Johan Willem Friso Kapel, one of the professional military wind bands in the Netherlands.
Also have a look at the article about Altena Brass on 4BarsRest as published in november 2010.