Arcomis is a Cardiff-based organisation concerned with the promotion and commissioning of new music. Modest yet effective, most of their work is at an essential grass-root level, yet, seemingly out of nowhere, they have conjured an incredibly bold and wide-ranging three-day festival of brass based at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall, the Cardiff University Music Department and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. What is impressive about the venture is that Arcomis have gone all-out for international quality, when it would have been easier to put a similar event together on a far more modest scale. The three days have a continuous programme of masterclasses, lectures and concerts, book-ended by two concerts by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, also featuring a concert by the London Sinfonietta.

David Pyatt © Nina Large
David Pyatt
© Nina Large

At the centre of the operation is a commitment to contemporary music which plays a central role in the three-day event, though balanced sensibly with older, better-known repertoire. The opening concert, given by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Martyn Brabbins was a case in point: the 1919 suite from Stravinsky’s Firebird helped to keep a more traditional audience on board. The BBC NOW were on fine form and Brabbins directed an admirably unfussy performance with almost none of the many mannerisms that have crept into so many contemporary performances of this work. Before this, two contemporary concertos by Knussen and Turnage were presented with only a little sweetening from Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto – all sporting a fine crop of three soloists.

Oliver Knussen’s Horn Concerto is one of his most successful works and, nearly 20 years after its première, is approaching classic status. With its deft and neatly-managed diptych form, it packs a rich journey into just 12 minutes, with the soloist pitted against Knussen’s shimmering harmonically-seductive orchestral background. Stepping out of his usual position as principal horn with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was David Pyatt, negotiating his way through the work’s thorny solo part with complete ease.

Mark Anthony Turnage’s Yet Another Set To, a three-movement trombone concerto in all but name, is the antithesis of Knussen’s elegance with a raw “in-yer-face” earthiness, only briefly dispelled by its delicate central movement. It’s a tough piece for both the orchestra and soloist, but trombonist Peter Moore, the youngest-ever winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year and still in his teens, projected the work’s urban aggression with great flair and confidence.

It is difficult this year to avoid the emerging young Norwegian trumpeter, Tine Thing Helseth, and here she was again in Arutiunian’s popular concerto. But it’s not difficult either to understand her success, and attracting her to the festival was another feather in the organisers’ cap.

There is much else to savour coming up in the next three days, including a focus on not only the Britten centenary, but more interestingly, Lutosławksi’s centenary, as well as the 50th anniversaries of Poulenc and Hindemith’s death (an anniversary that has been scandalously neglected). It’s a brave and daring enterprise.