On Saturday 9th December 2023, the Bradford Cathedral Choir is holding its second annual Christmas Concert with the Black Dyke Band.
The concert will feature a programme of classic Christmas songs, including two pieces that have been specially arranged for brass bands.
The first is Nova, Nova! by Iain Farrington which was commissioned as a choir and organ piece by St John’s College, Cambridge for their Advent Radio 3 broadcast in 2022
Iain then arranged the piece for the Black Dyke Band, in conjunction with Bradford Cathedral and the Halifax Choral Society, which will be used at the upcoming concert.
Iain has written for numerous high-profile groups including the BBC Proms, a variety of the BBC ensembles, and the London Symphony Orchestra. We spoke to him to find out more about him and his work.
Could you tell us a little about Nova, Nova!, and how the commission came about?
Nova, Nova! was written for the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, for their Advent Carol Service. This is broadcast every year around the world, and I played the organ for these services as a student. I was asked to compose something energetic and joyful, so I wrote something really upbeat with strong jazz and funk elements. It’s a fairly unusual piece for a serious church service!
How did you go about adapting the piece for the brass band?
The organ accompaniment adapted really well for brass band, as it’s so rhythmic and punchy, with a big band quality. There’s the added bonus of drum kit and extra percussion, which gives an extra jazz flavour.
You have written for many high-profile groups, including an organ piece for the recent Coronation of King Charles III. Are there any pieces that you most particularly enjoyed creating?
The Coronation was very special as it was such a public national event, bringing Classical music to a huge audience. I’ve been lucky to compose and arrange pieces for so many different occasions, for big and small stages. I suppose the most enjoyable ones are those where I’m allowed to be really creative and personal. I love writing pieces for my own concerts as a pianist, as I can make them as hard as I like!
You also appeared in the famous Rowan Atkinson sketch in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games – what was that like to be involved in?
That was incredible, and such a great show. We were lucky it didn’t rain, as the piano would have got soaked!
You also play as part of the Art Deco Trio – do you enjoy the variety of the musical styles you play?
I’m really enthused by many different styles of music, and the way that they can interact. Jazz and popular songs are a great love of mine, and often inspire my own work. The Trio allows me to perform my favourite music with two brilliant colleagues, while having a lot of fun in the process.
You’ve also done lots of work for music aimed at a younger audience – do you think it’s important to get children inspired by music at a young age?
It’s so important to be involved with music for children and non-professionals. I’ve composed and arranged a lot of music for family concerts, as well as for youth orchestras, choirs and other amateur groups. Making high-quality music accessible to a wide group of people is vital, and can be one of the most rewarding parts of our job.
You can watch a recording of the original piece below, and find out more about Iain on his website.
This Endris Night
The second piece is This Endris Night by Gregory Drott, which was written on Christmas Eve 2019, and adapted for brass band for the upcoming concert at Bradford Cathedral. Gregory is the Director of Music at St Stephen’s Gloucester Road in London, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music.
The piece is a very gentle and reflective composition, originally written for unaccompanied choir, and Gregory has added in three brass parts, designed to be heard at a distance from the rest of the choir. They respond throughout to the music the choir sings. The text of this is a beautiful 15th Century carol.
We caught up with Greg to find out more about the piece, its inspirations, and also more about him.
You wrote This Endris Night on Christmas Eve 2019. What inspired you to write it, and did composing it on that particular day add to the feeling of the music?
I usually put something down on the music list for my choir and then that gives me a deadline to write to… So, I had to write it then because it was due the next day! Musicians tend to be extremely busy in the lead-up to Christmas, and I was fairly exhausted by that point of the season. But I had a real sense of calm, that I’d got through the hectic period and now Christmas was here, with its feelings of peace and warmth. I think that’s why the piece came out particularly reflective and spacious.
It is based on a 15th century carol – what did you find most appealing about using that piece?
Years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I became very interested in all the medieval carols collected in the Musica Britannica editions. More the texts than the music. These words just seemed very evocative and mysterious.
You originally wrote the piece for an unaccompanied choir, but have arranged it to add in three brass parts. How did you find adapting it in this way?
It was great fun to be asked to do this. It’s a lovely opportunity to have the brass add a little halo to the choral parts, and their own sparkle.
When arranging it for brass, what were you looking to achieve in the way it was composed?
My idea was for the brass to share the soft unfolding motif that the choir sings, and to overlap and blend their sounds with the choir, so there’s a sense of interweaving textures. Essentially, it was like adding a nice reverb to the choir!
You were involved in the ‘Psalms of the Duchy’ project. How did you find that?
What a good project this was, one of Anthony’s great ideas. Writing music that speaks clearly in a very short space of time is an excellent practice for one’s compositional technique.
You also perform as part of the ‘Ensemble Matisse’ – could you tell us more about your work with them?
We’ve given premieres of various composers’ works alongside explorations of more standard repertoire like Stravinsky. A particular standout was a Messiaen ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ at the Norwich Festival, and some lively Bartok at King’s Place in London. We also played a fascinating (and terrifying) piece by Kevin Volans on the radio. Collaborating with living composers has been one of our great joys.
Finally, you taught our Assistant Director of Music Anthony Gray at Cambridge University; was that a good relationship?
Doctor-patient confidentiality is at the heart of any good supervisor-student relationship… But I’m a big supporter of Anthony: he has some rare gifts. He was a brilliant Organ Scholar. And he’s still on my Christmas card list, so that should tell you what you need to know. Ho ho!
You can find out more about Gregory Drott on his website.
You’ll be able to hear both these pieces at the upcoming concert in December.
Anthony Gray, Assistant Director of Music at Bradford Cathedral, says:
“I’m so delighted to have been able to commission Iain and Gregory to create these arrangements.
“The opportunity to work with the Black Dyke Band both with the Cathedral Choir and Halifax Choral Society is incredibly exciting, and to have the chance to ask composers to create new music for the occasions is very special.
“Iain and Gregory have created works which, whilst being significantly contrasting in character, will both provide something completely unique in the programmes of both concerts this month. I am eagerly anticipating conducting them!”
Graham Thorpe, Director of Music at Bradford Cathedral, says:
“We are really excited to have been able to collaborate with two such amazing composers for Christmas this year.
“Both pieces spoke to me in very different ways, and their transformation into music for choir and brass has added something quite unique, and very special for this second concert with the Black Dyke Band.
“Thank you to both Iain and Gregory for their superb arrangements, and to Anthony for his imagination and facilitation.”
The Black Dyke Band and Bradford Cathedral Choir Christmas Concert takes place on Saturday 9th December 2023 at 7pm, and will feature these two pieces as part of the amazing programme of music. There are very limited tickets left, which can be bought at black-dyke-band.eventbrite.co.uk or from the Cathedral office on 01274 77 77 20 (Mon-Fri 9am-2:45pm).