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The Energy Suite by Barry Forgie

Commissioned in 2012 by Surrey Brass, with the support of the RC Sherriff Trust, The "Brass Energy" Suite reflects the relationship between Man and Energy over the years. There is plenty of contrast between the five movements - entitled "Animal", "Steam", "Oil", "Nuclear" and "Recycle" - and mixes classical, jazz, and original styles to produce a very playable and listenable 25 minutes of music.

The idea for “Brass Energy” came from Surrey Brass Founder John Goodwin, who inspired whilst on holiday in Cornwall when he saw large numbers of wind turbines on Bodmin Moor, with horses roaming underneath them and the next day read several scathing newspaper articles about how the planned construction of hundreds of new turbines would blight the landscape.

As an engineer in his “day job”, this sight got him thinking about the topic of energy and how man related to it over the ages, from those turbines right back to the age of horsepower. Energy is something that affects everyone on the planet, with those wind turbines, climate change, increasing energy costs, solar panels, the debate about nuclear power, the search for new oil resources, and so on. Not to mention the Government Energy Bill, which is coincidentally was due to be published in the week of the first performance in 2012. John was not aware that anyone had written a piece of music to portray these issues so decided to go about commissioning a composer to do just that.

Following an enthusiastic reception about the idea from RC Sherriff Trust, which has supported previous Surrey Brass commissions for Music for Silent Films, and a piece to commemorate Concorde, both of which were created in Elmbridge, financial support was generously promised, and the challenge was on to find a composer. Despite wide publicity, initial approaches failed to find anyone suitable so the project was shelved for a short while - until Barry Forgie turned up one night at Surrey Brass to take a rehearsal of some new jazz arrangements he’d kindly done for us. Not long after that Barry was persuaded to take the job on and the premiere was the result.

“Steam”

Steam opens the suite since it contains two vital things, pistons, and the feelings of a child. When Forgie was a child train spotter in his home town of Peterborough he often saw the “great streaks” like Mallard flash past, and in this piece tries to depict the rhythm of these massive machines. He cunningly sets up a pattern and drive and builds from this underlying rock feel to depict the inexorable pattern of a steam engine. The second theme is based on the blues, is superimposed on the first with harmonic use of the whole tone scale to provide contrasting machinery sounds. The theme is on tuba and bass trombone to reflect the feelings of a small boy in the presence of these massive monster machines. The piece ends the journey with the train coming to a halt in a station with some rather fantastic special effects of hissing steam.

 The first movement of the Energy Suite, "Steam" recorded live in the concert by Surrey Brass is on YouTube here together with a slideshow.

 
“Animal”

The scene opens in the jungle with all kinds of animals calling to one another! The cacophony subsides to reveal a soft lilting tune that alternates 5/8 and 3/4 time - because Barry wanted to create a tune to the words “hippo-pot-a-mus wal-lk-ing”! The trumpets use bucket mutes to create a soft and subdued sound. A contrapuntal section follows with all the animal noises in the crowd reflecting that all animals are generically linked and the answering phrases depict that linkage.
The charm of the tune is the contrast between time signatures, never going into a stable pattern, in contrast to all the other movements. All animals move in different ways and this movement reflects that. The piece ends in 7/8, a favourite of Forgie’s who has written many pieces in this time signature including a unique arrangement of “Fascinating Rhythm” by George Gershwin for Lee Gibson – she was the only person who could ever sing it!

“Oil”

Most of Oil is concerned with cars and vehicles of various kinds. The opening street scene reflects the pulse of the street with a horn riff made to feel rather unreal with chords with deliberately “misplaced” root notes reflecting the feeling of not really knowing what is going on together with more built in confusion from texture and time sequence. The only thread holding it all together is the tune on the piccolo trumpet – and then the scene changes. The horns represent the hubbub in the street whilst the piccolo trumpet is a lone voice that can be distinguished – but it keeps getting g interrupted. Trumpet blares imitate klaxons whilst a heavy swing feel introduces a flash guy in a big sports car showing off. You might spot the theme tune from a very well known oilman’s TV serial at this point! The music gradually builds to an massive car crash, and this is mashed up by a posse of Hells’ Angels on their motorbikes realistically portrayed by the trombones. The quietness following the crash is broken by descending fourths in the tuba and effects reminiscent of tinkling glass and machinery winding down. Distant sirens are heard before the street gradually recovers from this trauma, with the piccolo lone voice reappearing. Gradually everything gets back to normal and the piece ends quietly as the traffic fades away.

"Recycle”

The calmness of recycled energy from wind, sea and sun reflect the natural phenomena and energy of the planet, not man and animals. The piece starts with muted trumpets depicting the natural and gentle sea and wind. Sun, wind, and ocean are used to portray the ancient art of sailing. The theme is a haunting melody played by the trombone accompanied by a repeated figure played on muted
trumpets and vibraphone. Horns and flugels bring a warm glow to the piece through the voicing and the use of a new tonal centre.

“Nuclear”

This piece refers to many aspects of nuclear energy both benign and maelevolent, reflecting the movement and interaction of atoms. A special effect is created to mimic human cries using mouthpieces without the instrument as a contrast to normal playing. A persistent bass riff drives the piece on and on with a jolly tune representing the benefits of nuclear power – but then it all goes horribly wrong with the expected build up turning into a massive explosion. The aftermath portrays a bleak post-apocalyptic vision with human cries being interspersed with echoes of the previous movements – are traditional ways the best? Gradually mankind recovers from this disaster and the piece builds once more to a triumphant and optimistic ending to the Energy Suite.

Barry Forgie, Composer and Conductor

Surrey Brass was delighted to welcome Barry Forgie to conduct the premiere of his new work in concert. Barry began conducting the BBC Radio Big Band on a regular basis in 1977 and continues to the present day. He has built an unparalleled repertoire for the band, transcribing the best of big band music from early Ellington, through the Swing era, to the likes of Gerry Mulligan and Buddy Rich.  He has toured the USA and Canada featuring numerous broadcast concerts with artists as disparate as George Shearing , Van Morrison and Cybill Shepherd, Arturo Sandoval, Clark Terry and Cleo Laine. Barry has worked as a Musical Associate on several Hollywood films.  Barry has covered the whole gamut of music, from conducting Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song And Dance in London's West End to the composition of a 50-minute Beatles symphony.  Recent work includes a European Tour with the European Jazz Orchestra featuring original work by Forgie, a BBC commission for the Last Night of the Proms and a tour of Mexico with the combined forces of the BBC Big Band and RPO Symphony Orchestra featuring the music of the Beatles.

The Energy Suite Concert

Whilst this is not by any means the first time the ensemble has ventured into jazz performance, it is the first all-jazz programme they have done and is a bold adventure into the genre, with classic Big Band music arranged specially for our particular range of brass instruments.

Once again artistic partnership underpins our efforts and we are hugely grateful for the support of two jazz “greats”, Barry Forgie, and Bill Geldard, who have developed a solid relationship with the group over the last few years leading up to the premiere of the "Energy Suite". It is impossible to overstate their generous support to the ensemble during this time and we hope our collaboration extends for many years to come.

To illustrate the breadth of the performance, here is a listing of the numbers performed the same night:

 

Ding Dong
the Witch is Dead

Harold Arlen arr. Alan Roper

The Creep

Ken Mackintosh/Brian Fahey.

Slow Hot Wind

Henry Mancini arr. Barry Forgie

The Continental

Con Conrad  

Tuxedo Junction

Erskine Hawkins arr. Glenn Miller

Ilkla Moor Bah ‘Tat

Trad. Arr. Norman Stenfalt

Children of Sanchez

Chuck Mangione arr. Michael Chapple Flugel Soloist John Goodwin

I Loves You Porgy

George Gershwin arr. Bill Potts

Scarboro’ Fair

Trad arranged Barry Forgie

Trumpet Blues and Cantabile

Harry James arr. Bill Geldard

Mexican Evening

Composed /Arranged  Bill Geldard

Energy Suite

Composed/Arranged Barry Forgie

Dreamsville

Henry Mancini arr. Barry Forgie

Sing Sing Sing

Louis Prima arr. Fletcher Henderson

 


Let's Play It Again

Surrey Brass and Barry Forgie would really like to perform this show all over again - if you can help to make it happen please get in contact.