John Rimmer (b.1939)
Performers: Dalewool Auckland Brass, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya (conductor)
Recorded by Radio New Zealand in the Auckland Town Hall
13 June 2002
Introduction by Kenneth Young
There's a number of brass players in New Zealand who’ve been attracted towards composition. For instance, Ross Harris began with the horn, yours truly on tuba, and today’s featured composer, John Rimmer, is a Horn player with a long association with the brass band movement.
He taught at the University of Auckland from 1974 to 1999, founding its electronic music studio in 1976 and its new music ensemble, the Karlheinz Company, in 1978. On retirement, he served two years as Composer-in-Residence to the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
During that residency, John Rimmer's dual delight in the timbres of both orchestra and brass band resulted in a work combining the two forces. He called it Europa.
One can immediately sense that the composer really wanted to explore the textural possibilities of such a combination. The band members begin by blowing air through their instruments within a shimmering string, woodwind and vibraphone texture, before intoning the harmonies with mutes in. I was struck by the similarity in timbre between a muted cornet and a softly played oboe, and as the work progresses one realises that the possible colour combinations are seemingly endless.
John Rimmer wrote:
"In composing this concerto I recognised two contrasting musical cultures within the European artistic tradition. The Brass Band represents what I call a 'closed' musical system, portrayed by its standardised instrumentation heard to great effect in its stirring marches, sonorous hymn playing, contest pieces and arrangements of popular and show music, while the orchestra, with its dazzling array of many instrumental colours, its flexible instrumentation and its potential for extending musical boundaries, represents an 'open' musical system."
I personally feel that Rimmer admirably goes beyond this brief, finding textural similarities between the two ensembles which mean the listener is often not aware of what is band and what is orchestra. Europa is in no way a patronising nod from the orchestral world to its culturally entrenched cousin.
John Rimmer was spurred into composing this work after reading about Europa, one of the large moons of the planet Jupiter first seen by Galileo in 1610 and named after a goddess of Greek mythology. He says: "such thoughts were instrumental in generating my first musical ideas, for instance the name 'Europa' is represented by a six note melody heard throughout the work."
Towards the end of this 25-minute, one-movement composition, we hear a marvellous set of solos and ensemble passages; solo violin with solo cornet, solo euphonium with solo cello, the three orchestral trombones pitched against the 3 band ones, the delight of a duet between the orchestral tuba and a solo Eb bass, a solo tenor Eb horn combating against the entire orchestral horn section, the orchestral trumpets toying with the cornet section of the band; all of which builds to a devastating climax involving all the brass players from both ensembles.