Review: National Youth Wind Orchestra of Wales

Tim Reynish 10th April 2013

Simon Wills Conductor

BBC Hoddinott Hale, Wales Milennium Centre, Cardiff

21st April 2011

Aaron Copland - Emblems

James Macmillan - Sowetan Spring

Vincent Persichetti - Masquerade

Kurt Weill - Kleine Dreigroschenmusic

Simon Wills - Corpus Christi - WORLD PREMIERE

Florent Schmitt - Dionysiaques

Better late than never, I guess, is this review of a programme given some two years ago in Cardiff. This will be more a report than a review, since I had no idea that the concert was taking place. However, here are some comments from players who gave the course, repertoire and staff 100% rating.

"I really enjoyed playing the Schmitt as it pushed me technically and I thought that Sowetan Spring was a very good piece overall. I loved Masquerade as it was good fun and thought that the Corpus Christi was a really well composed piece!"

"Roedd y repertoire yn eang ac yn ddiddorol - roedd perfformio darnau ar gyrion y repertoire arferol yn brofiad da."

"The concert in Hoddinott hall for me was the most memorable part of the course. Also the great tutors and the oppurtunity to work with Simon Wills."

As usual for a wind band concert, there was no national or regional press covering what was a terrific programme of major works for wind, plus an exciting world premiere, and while I cannot comment on the concert, I can try to give an idea of the new work by conductor, composer and trombonist, Simon Wills.

Simon writes:

This is the second time a wind commission has come immediately after the finishing of an opera. AfterThe Secret Agent, I wrote my horn concerto for BASBWE. That is a rather dour, introverted piece. Corpus Christi, on the other hand, is raving bonkers with a lot of noise, chaos and digressions. Though slight enough - and only 10 minutes long - I think it may mark the start of a new direction. Malebolge felt like the last highly organised contrapuntal tour de force that I have in me. I need to burst out and write thoughtlessly. And since it's fun - I will!

I wanted to preserve my own particular vocabulary while keeping the piece very simple, since I wasn't sure how good the band would be. I needn't have worried on that score, since they were excellent, and the performance in Hoddinott Hall in April was very exciting - and loud.

Here's the programme note:

A couple of years ago, when the bird flu epidemic was at its height, I managed to contract the bug in Mexico City. After a few disagreeable days, I became bored enough with my hotel to venture onto the streets, pale and far from fully recovered. The festival of Corpus Christi was in full cry, and in my fragile state I was overwhelmed by the animals, fireworks, processions of children dressed as gauchos, the drunks, the lunatics and the hundreds of noisy bands - and above it all the great cathedral bells on Zocalo, the central square. It's an uncharacteristic piece for me - I tend towards the introverted in most of my music - and I think it may be more a portrait of a fevered state of mind than of the fiesta itself!


You will have already gained an idea of what an excitingly original musician Simon is, lucky those brass ensembles, trombonists, ensembles and orchestras who come under his influence at the Guildhall and elsewhere. I have really enjoyed this arresting 8 minute work, and played it several times on my computer. It starts with an arresting motif on horn, repeated and dying away, accompanied by little dance motifs on clarinets and high woodwind; this leads into a modal folk-like melody intoned by clarinet and bassoon, taken up by other woodwind, until interrupted by rowdy episodes on brass, vulgar glissandi in the trombones and a more extended dance theme which perhaps might have been penned by Shostakovitch had he experienced Asian Flu during the Festival of Corpus Christi. Snippets of marches and dances all combine in a joyous riot of thematic interplay, fading into a coda of the opening horn motif and the modal theme. I remember the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Wales tackling the world premiere of Adam Gorb’s Farewell with huge energy, panache and expertise, the same qualities which they brought to this important new work. They are a first rate group, and are making a significant contribution through their annual commissions.

I remember Simon’s very virtuoso Horn Concerto which was commissioned by the BASBWE College Consortium and premiered at the Barbican in 2006 when I was teaching at Guildhall. It is an exciting but uncompromising work, which needs exposure; this work is perhaps more audience friendly, needs a publisher, and should lead to many performances.


Simon Wills is a prolific, widely performed and broadcast composer for the stage and concert platform with a fast-growing reputation as an accessible but dramatically powerful writer of opera. He is cheerfully anti-modernist in outlook and describes his unorthodox compositional style as "a sort of benign semitonality". He is cheerfully anti-modernist in outlook and though his music contains a high degree of intellectual organisation he declines to explain it on the grounds that it is unnecessary to do so. The language is generally very direct, simple and tuneful.