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Perfect setting to remember; This year's BRASS festival will feature a musical commemoration of the Battle of the Somme, as DAVID WHETSTONE reports.

Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

CORNET player Jimmy Hayes ascended the tower of Durham Cathedral to herald what could be one of the most moving concerts of the summer.

The Durham Hymns, a major new work for brass band and choir, will commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

The new work, featuring lyrics by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and inspired by the people of County Durham, will be premiered on July 16 at Durham Cathedral.

There will be a narrator (identity yet to be confirmed) alongside a 60-piece brass band under conductor Alan Fernie, a community choir and the vocal ensemble Voices of Hope, directed by Simon Fidler.

Composers Orlando Gough - remembered in the North East for his Foghorn Requiem off the coast of South Tyneside back in 2013 - and Jessica Curry have worked on the piece, drawing on the region's deep cultural connections with brass and choral music.

Meanwhile a third composer, Johnny Bates, will write a separate musical prelude to The Durham Hymns, written solely for brass band.

This will be a response to The Banks of Green Willow by composer George Butterworth, a lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry who was killed in the Somme offensive on August 6, 1916.

Butterworth, a London-born Old Etonian and a young composer of huge promise, went into battle with the Durham miners who comprised 13th Battalion, DLI, and mentioned their courage in letters home.

During fierce fighting, the 31-year-old was shot by a sniper shortly after his brave leadership had earned him the Military Cross.

His body was never recovered although his name is on the Thiepval Memorial commemorating the 72,195 victims of the battle with no known grave.

The Banks of Green Willow, composed in 1913, was inspired by folk songs collected by Butterworth in Sussex.

The Durham Hymns, commemorating the sacrifice, courage and endurance of the people of County Durham during the Somme battle, which raged from July 1 to November 18, 1916, will be a highlight of this year's Durham international brass festival, known as BRASS.

Tickets for The Durham Hymns - PS20 (PS15 concessions) in the nave or PS18 (PS13) by the font - are available from the Gala Theatre, Durham, at www.galadurham.co.uk or tel. 0300 0266600.

The 10th anniversary edition of BRASS, Durham's annual celebration of brass music, will take place from July 14-17. Recently announced as the festival's new artistic director is Paul Gudgin who has long experience of running festivals. He was in charge of the Edinburgh Fringe for eight years until 2007 and was subsequently commissioned to look at Durham's potential for Edinburgh-style street entertainment. Paul, who plays the trombone, is working to put his stamp on his first BRASS festival in 2017.

"Durham is an extraordinary place," he said.

"It's a perfect festival destination and, with the success of Lumiere and now with the BRASS festival too, the city is really flexing its festival muscles.

"From pit bands to northern soul, there is such a strong tradition of brass music in the area and I feel it is important for the festival to maintain and enhance that reputation.

"Building on that tradition while developing new and innovative ideas to get even more people interested and involved in brass music will be key to the festival's success."

Looking ahead to next year, he said "Brass music has always been about spectacle and Durham lends itself to the visually spectacular.

"I am looking forward to creating events on a grand scale that will hopefully take the breath away."

Coun Neil Foster, Durham County Council's cabinet member for economic regeneration, arts and culture, said: "BRASS is a fantastic event for Durham, attracting tens of thousands of music fans to the area and bringing hundreds of thousands of pounds into the local economy."

For details of this year's line-up, go to www.brassfestival.co.uk

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<BPaul Gudgin, artistic director of Durham's BRASS festival

Cornet player Jimmy Hayes launching the Durham Hymns concert at Durham Cathedral
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:May 12, 2016
Words:666
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