Music for Brass Ensembles Part 2: 1970s & 1980s

Sonata for 13 Brass
March 3rd 1978
Birmingham School of Music (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire)

Suite No.1 for Brass Quintet
November 9th 1983
Birmingham Cathedral 

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Frank Downes (1921-2005): Horn player, Pianist, Conductor, Head of Orchestral Studies at Birmingham School of Music/Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, father of Composer Andrew Downes.  Here he is at his Open University MA Graduation Ceremony, shaking hands with Donald Burrows, OU Professor of Music.

More info on these works

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, first posted on July 23rd, 2018

The Brass Ensemble of the Birmingham School of Music (now Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) was brought to an amazingly high standard in the 1970s and 80s by Frank Downes, Andrew's father.  As a result of their excellent playing, the ensemble were invited to perform in Open University ceremonies all over the country (read more here).  Andrew was inspired by their playing of his 'Fanfare for a Ceremony', and went on to compose his Sonata for 13 Brass Instruments (6 trumpets, 4 horns, 2 trombones and tuba) for them.

The BSM Brass, directed by Frank Downes, premiered the Sonata in the Recital Hall of the Birmingham School of Music on March 3rd 1978.

Many performances by the Ensemble followed in the late '70s:

in Hereford Cathedral - 

Ludlow Town Hall - 

St Cuthbert's, Wells - 

Birmingham School of Music again -

Bromsgrove Festival

Blakedown Church (Worcestershire) - 

and in the Church of the Ascension, Hall Green, Birmingham, when Andrew had to take over the conducting of the concert at the last minute, because Frank was ill - 

After this performance, Andrew was given a very favourable review by Stephen Daw in the Birmingham Post: 

‘An excellent and integrated work … highlight of a lively evening’  Stephen Daw BIRMINGHAM POST 

And also in the Hall Green, Birmingham, Parish magazine:

Here is a snippet from the Finale of that Hall Green performance:-

In the early 1980s the BSM Brass Ensemble, directed by Frank Downes, gave a number of further performances, mainly of movement 3, Finale:

in Lyon Conservatoire, France (2 performances) -

at the Birmingham School of Music

in Worcester Cathedral

in Birmingham Cathedral -

and in July 1985 in Birmingham Town Hall, in a joint concert with Thomas Trotter, City Organist -

After Frank Downes' retirement, Reg Reid took over the direction of the Birmingham Conservatoire Brass Ensemble.  Under the baton of Reg Reid, and students Nigel Somerville and Nigel Evans, they gave a number of performances in the Adrian Boult Hall and Birmingham Cathedral. 

5 members of the Brass Ensemble - Richard Adams and Martin Rockall (trumpets), Nicholas Firth (horn), Kevin Pitt (trombone) and Eddie Connor (tuba) - formed, in the early 1980s, the Cambrian Brass Quintet, which did so well that they became the Birmingham School of Music Ensemble in Residence in 1984-5.  They asked Andrew to write a work to play in the many concerts which they were organising.  Andrew wrote his Suite No.1 for Brass Quintet, which consists of 5 movements: Pastorale, Fanfare, Elegy, Folk Dance, Epilogue.  Cambrian Brass premiered the Suite at a memorial concert for Bernard Brown, well loved and brilliant trumpeter and teacher.  Andrew dedicated his work to the memory of Bernard Brown.  This first performance took place in Birmingham Cathedral on 9th November 1983. 

The BIRMINGHAM POST review praised Andrew's individual and immediately characterful style: 

Here is a snippet from their premiere performance:
from Movement 3, 

Cambrian Brass went on to perform the work in a Royal Festival Hall Foyer Concert, the Barbican Centre, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the London College of Music, Birmingham Cathedral, Birmingham School of Music Recital Hall, and for several music societies around the UK.

A new Birmingham Conservatoire Quintet, Forum Brass, performed the work in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham in May 1992.

One of my pupils, Ellie Brockman, liked The Elegy so much, that she arranged it for her group 'Essence' as a keyboard piece with cello and flutes.  They included it on their CD, entitled 'Essence Together', which they made in 1997.

I had created string arrangements of 3 of the movements, Pastorale, the Elegy and the Folk Dance, for concerts which I played in and directed in our local area -

In October 2019 and June 2024, adding woodwind instruments and later guitars, I included the Elegy and Folk Dance in my concerts for 'Music for Sanctuary' (a charity set up by our daughter Anna, raising funds for Homeless charities) in Hagley Free Church and St John's Church Hagley respectively, with my Hagley Community Orchestra. 

Also to raise funds for 'Music for Sanctuary', our daughter Anna further arranged the Elegy and Folk Dance for 4 violins and played all 4 parts herself on a multitrack recording, which she posted online in May 2020, in celebration of Andrew's 70th birthday year and during the Coronavirus lockdown.

In its original form, the Suite for Brass Quintet no 1 has continued to form part of the repertoire of Brass Quintets.  In 2016, Sennet Brass performed the Suite as part of Andrew's 65th Birthday concert in Birmingham Cathedral. 

The BIRMINGHAM POST in their review after this performance said that Sennet Brass delivered the work with "verve", and about Andrew's writing: 'The music is evocative and compelling... and brilliantly scored.'

In March 2020 Curzon Brass won the Andrew Downes Performance Prize at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire playing the Suite no 1 for Brass Quintet.  They have won several competitions since then, including Brass Quintet no 1 in their programmes.  In October 2022, they performed the work as part of the 'Music for Sanctuary' Recitals Series, in St John's Church, Hagley, Worcestershire.  This was part of their Andrew Downes Performance Competition prize (delayed by the Covid pandemic). 

In March 2022, Second City Brass came joint second playing this work in the Andrew Downes Performance Prize competition, at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire:


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