Valaisia Brass Band retained the Swiss National title in Montreux with a brace of performances stamped with unquestionable 100% proof marks of artistic brilliance.
Led by conductor Arsene Duc, they lifted the imposing National Trophy for the second year in succession by topping the results sheets of two sets of adjudicators — securing their place at the 2017 European Championship boosted by an overall prize package of CHF 14,500.
In the process, their performances of the set-work, 'Music for Battle Creek' and own-choice of 'Goldberg 2012' in particular will have sent musical shock waves across the European continent, signalling that they will be a major force in Ostend in under six months time — and at the British Open in Manchester next September.
The significance of the victory was all too apparent, as the players raced on to the huge Stravinski Hall stage to join in the celebrations of becoming the first band since 2001 to successfully retain the National title.
Their amazing recent record at the contest has seen them being headed just twice since 2013 in either the set-work or own-choice disciplines.
Few people who listened in awe at their staggering rendition of 'Goldberg' will question their contesting pedigree, as they repelled the immense challenge of podium rivals Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern and Brass Band Treize Etoiles, and top-six finishers Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia, Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisan and Brass Band Berner Oberland in the most emphatic musical fashion.
Despite each of the 12 contenders encountering various problems on the Sparke set-work, all returned 24 hours later to produce a series of stunning own-choice accounts; with Luzern and Treize Etoiles in particular thrilling the audience with 'Hypercube' by Oliver Waespi and 'Paradisum' by Thomas Doss respectively.
It still wasn't to be enough however, despite touching heights of virtuosic excellence themselves, as they simply could not match Valaisia's overall musical artistry, which combined exquisite control and impeccable balances of dynamics and ensemble layering.
Those remarkable characteristics were certainly appreciated in the written remarks of the judges, with the set-work adjudicators Phillip McCann, Howard Snell and Benny Wiame variously describing their rendition of 'Battle Creek' as being 'well controlled', having 'super music direction from conductor' and showing 'excellent technique'.
The following day the superlatives emerged from Jan van der Roost, Paul Holland and Klaas van der Woude as 'Goldberg 2012' was described as being, 'very refined and full of great moments', 'Majestic — what a performance!!' and simply, 'Magnificent!'.
Speaking to 4BR after the contest Phillip McCann stated that the set-work judges recognised that all the bands had encountered problems, but that it was Valiasia's impeccable control of dynamics and subtle musicality that stood out — especially in the reflective middle section.
Meanwhile, Paul Holland added that he felt privileged to have heard what he called one of the 'truly great' performances at a major contest. "I just turned the pages of the score and everything came flooding out," he said, "...from the smallest technical detail to the most perfect interpretation of the composer's musical intentions. It was a privilege to hear what I think was one of the truly great major contest performances."
In addition to the overall plaudits, Valaisia's principal cornet Vincent Bearpark and solo euphonium Glenn Van Looy took the awards for 'Best Duet in Set-Work' with Vincent adding a third 'Best Soloist' accolade to his ever-growing collection.
White wine celebration
Little wonder MD Arsene Duc was ready to fill up the National Trophy with the very best white wine from the Valaisia region. "I am very proud," he told 4BR. "I think we played very well and had a great time. We were confident and I have players who are always excellent."
He added: "We enjoyed both works, but 'Goldberg' was fantastic — so fine a piece. It gave us a lot of pleasure to play it."
And as for the Europeans and British Open? He added modestly; "That will be great challenges for the band, but ones we are honoured to be part of."
The growing stature and overall quality of the championships was further emphasised in the other keenly contested divisions, as titles were claimed by Brass Band Impertial Lenzburg A-Band (Rafael Camartin), BML Talents (Patrick Ottiger), Musik Frohsinn Oberburg (Jan Muller) and Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band (Luca Frischknecht).
In the First Division, the quirky news item inspirations of 'L'Effet Divers' saw a host of fine performances from the 19 contenders, with Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg A-Band eventually securing their first National title success since 1979.
Former champions Brass Band Rickenbach and Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia eventually claimed the remaining podium slots, with Brass Band Cazis, AEW Brass Band Fricktal and Ensemble de Cuivres Ambitus taking top-six finishes in a contest that showed the increasing depth of high quality bands that are emerging throughout the various cantons of the country.
There was also delight for BML Talents led by Patrick Ottiger in the Second Division as they returned to the top step of the prize-winning podium for the first time since 2010, ahead of Brass Band Berger Oberland Junior and Brass Band Harmonie Rickenbach.
Once again, an engaging set-work, '...as a Glow' by Ludovic Neurohr, which has been amended since it was first performed at the final of the 2015 European Composer Competition (along with 'L'Effet Divers') brought the best out of the 14 contenders, with the final top-six places going to Brass Band Feldmusik Escholzmatt, Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia B and Brass Band Abinchvova.
The Sunday morning contest was provided by a wonderful battle of good musical manners, as the youthful Musik Frohsinn Oberburg, led by their equally fresh faced MD, Jan Muller claimed a first ever National title ahead of 13 classy rivals on Oliver Waespi's renniasance dance inspired 'Graces of Love'.
With the results announced at the same time as the later Excellence Division, the band certainly revelled in the opportunity to celebrate in song and occasional happy impromptu dance on the huge Stravinski auditorium stage.
The podium finishers in a contest between a number of well led bands went to the wonderfully attired La Lyre paroissiale de la Roche (all in traditional Swiss dress) with Brass Band Gurbetal in third. The top-six finishers were Musikverein Brass Band Henggart, Musikverein Buckten and Brass Band Junior Vaudois.
Although there were only six bands taking part in the Fourth Division, the standard of playing was admirable, as each gave an account of 'Evolution' by Philip Sparke that would not have been out of place in a much higher section in the UK.
And just as Valaisia retained their title in the top division so did Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band conducted by Luca Frischknecht, as they beat off the strong challenge of five well match rivals headed by podium finishers Jugend Brass Band Neuenkirch and Entlebucher Jugend Brass Band.
Not for the first time, the Swiss National Championship not only impressed with its competitive levels of excellence, but also with of its organisational professionalism, flexibility and promotion of a friendly inclusiveness.
Throughout the weekend, listeners (and especially fellow players) packed into both the main Stravinski auditorium and the Miles Davis Hall to support the competing bands — whilst the results ceremony in particular was a raucous delight of friendly rivalry and celebration.
It is now one of the truly great major contest events in worldwide banding.
I just turned the pages of the score and everything came flooding out, from the smallest technical detail to the most perfect interpretation of the composer's musical intentionsAdjudicator Paul Holland
Test Piece: Music for Battle Creek (Philip Sparke)
(SW): Phillip McCann, Howard Snell, Benny Wiame
(OC): Paul Holland, Jan van der Roost, Klaas van der Woude
1. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc): 1+1= 2**
2. Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern (Michael Bach): 4+2 = 6
3. Brass Band Treize Etoiles (Dr. James Gourlay): 2+5 = 7
4. Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia (Vincent Baroni): 7+3 = 10
5. Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisan (Francois Roh): 3+8 = 11
6. Brass Band Berner Oberland (Corsin Tuor): 5+7 = 12*
7. Brass Band Fribourg A (Dr. Robert Childs): 6+6 = 12
8. Liberty Brass Band Ostschweiz (Andreas Koller): 8+4 = 12
9. Oberaargauer Brass Band (Christoph Luchsinger): 10+10 = 20*
10. Ensemble de Cuivres Jurassien (Blaise Heritier): 11+9 = 20
11. Constellation Brass Band A (Yvan Lagger): 9+12 = 21
12. MG Risch-Rotkreuz (Roland Froscher): 12+11 = 23
** Qualified to represent Switzerland at 2017 European Championship in Ostend, Belgium
* Denotes set-work placing takes presidence
Best Soloist in Own Choice: Vincent Bearpark (Valaisia Brass Band)
Best Duet in Set Work: Vincent Bearpark and Glenn Van Looy (Valaisia Brass Band)
Test Piece: 'L'Effet Divers' (Stan Nieuwenhuis)
Adjudicators: Brett Baker, Reid Gilje, Thomas Doss
1. Brass Band Impertial Lenzburg A-Band (Rafael Camartin) — 97
2. Brass Band Rickenbach (Enrico Calzaferri) — 96
3. Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia (Michael Bach) — 95
4. Brass Band Cazis (Enrico Calzaferri) — 94
5. AEW Brass Band Fricktal (Tristan Uth) — 93
6. Ensemble de Cuivres Ambitus (Francois Roh) — 92
7. Brass Band Sursilvana (Roman Caprez) — 91
8. Brass Band Harmonie Neuenkirch (Manuel Imhof) — 90
9. Brass Band Eglisau (Andreas Burri) — 89
10= Brass Band Emmental (Jan Muller) — 88
10= Brass Band Treize Etoiles B (Cedric Vergere) — 88
12= Brass Band Rosalp (David Bonvin) — 87
12= Universal Brass Band Wil (Gian Stecher) — 87
14. Oberwalliser Brass Band A (David Lochmatter) — 86
15= Brass Band MG Reiden (Roland Froscher) — 85
15= Brass Band Fribourg B (Maurice Donnet-Monay) — 85
17. Brass Band Kirchmusik Fluhli (Armin Renggli) — 84
18. Regional Brass Band Bern (Jon Kowszun) — 83
19. Brass Band Breitenbach (Bence Toth) — 82
Best Percussion: Brass Band Cazis
Test Piece: '...As a Glow' (Ludovic Neurohr)
Adjudicators: Paul Holland, Jan van der Roost, Benny Wiame
1. BML Talents (Patrick Ottiger) — 95
2. Brass Band Berger Oberland Junior (Jan Muller) — 94
3. Brass Band Harmonie Rickenbach (Lukas Scherrer) — 93
4. Brass Band Feldmusik Escholzmatt (Roger Muller) — 92
5. Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia B (Sebastien Pasch) — 91
6. Brass Band Abinchvova (Gian Walker) — 90
7. Ensemble de Cuivres Jurassien B (Florian Lab) — 89
8. Liberty Brass Band Junior (Christoph Luchsinger) — 88
9. Brass Band Posaunenchor Flaach (Thomas Fischer) — 87
10. Brass Band Junior Valaisan (Maurice Donnet-Monay) — 86
11. Brass Band 43 (Jacques Rossier) — 85
12. Brass Band l'Avenir Lignieres (Cyril Perrenoud) — 84
13. Brass Band Rapperswil-Wierezwil (Pawel Marciniak) — 83
14. Brass Band Matzendorf (Marcel Bossert) — 82
Best Flugel: Brass Band Harmonie Rickenbach
Test Piece: 'Graces of Love' (Oliver Waespi)
Adjudicators: Howard Snell, Benny Wiame, Christophe Jeanborquin
1. Musik Frohsinn Oberburg (Jan Muller) — 94
2. La Lyre paroissiale de la Roche (Mark-Olivier Broill) — 93
3. Brass Band Gurbetal (Urs Stahli) — 92
4. Musikverein Brass Band Henggart (Christian Bachmann) — 90
5. Musikverein Buckten (Cedric Fuhrer) — 89
6. Brass Band Junior Vaudois (Simon Sulmoni) — 88
7. Jugend Brass Band Michelsamt (Lukas Scherrer) — 87
8. Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg B (Stefan Aegerter) — 86
9. Brass Band Zurich (Werner Kubli) — 85
10. Constellation Brass Band B (Ivan Denis) — 84
11. Musikgesellschaft Jenaz (Tristan Uth) — 83
12. Fanfare l'Harmonie de Vendlincourt (Oliver Bendit) — 82
13. Brass Band Musig Hittnau (Anita Grob) — 81
14. Brass Band Schupfen (Anton Helscher) — 80
Test Piece: Evolution: Five States of Change (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Howard Snell, Klaas van der Woude, Benny Wiame
1. Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band (Luca Frischknecht) — 96
2. Jugend Brass Band Neuenkirch (Manuel Imhof) — 95
3. Entlebucher Jugend Brass Band (Mario J. Schubiger) — 93
4. Thunersee Brass (Christoph Hertig) — 92
5. Mgrr Junior Band (Matthias Kieffer) — 91
6. Jugend Brass Band RML (Ivan Estermann) — 90
Best Principal Cornet: Hunterlander Jugend Brass Band