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The European Championships - results and reviews

A review of Yorkshire Building Society's amazing "Triple Crown" win, reviews on all the performances, comments from the conductors and our own views on the Montreux weekend.

Just as it was said in the Star Wars movie – “The Force is with you” – and so it proved for David King and his Yorkshire Building Society band at the European Brass Band Championships as they secured their third consecutive title and fifth in all in the past six years. It is a phenomenal achievement and one that cements David King’s reputation as the leading contesting conductor of his generation.

Not that it was easy by any means. Buy As You View Cory from Wales and Treize Etoiles from Switzerland pushed the Yorkshire band all the way with two sets of brilliant performances that probably on any other occasion would have won the contest outright. These three bands stood apart from the rest of the field in a contest that ebbed and flowed in so many directions before the winners could finally be announced.

The morning session saw the bands getting to grips with Carl Rutti’s amazing “Montreux Wind Dances” – a highly complex piece of writing that demanded the highest levels of both technical and musical input from both bands and conductors – many found it very difficult to bring off satisfactorily. It was going to be a hard task for the men in the box, Thomas Wyss, Jappie Dijkstra and Maurice Hamers.

Sandefjord Brass Symposium led the way from the front off the number one draw and Garry Cutt gave a very musical reading of the piece that owed a lot to some fine individual playing from his soloists. It was the benchmark performance and gained them 88 points – perhaps a point or two below what we thought.

Brass Band de Bazuin Oenkerk and Strabane however found the piece a very difficult proposition however and problems arose both with the technical and musical demands that were not met in full. There were some nice moments from both but overall they looked glad to have got through the piece at the end still intact. 87 and 81 points respectively seemed fair.

Brass Band Trieze Etoiles gave a superb account of themselves under the baton of Peter Parkes that owed so much to the Major giving the music time and space – especially in the last movement that was slightly under tempo, but all the better for it. Some superb solo playing and a band sound that wasn’t forced in any way. 95 points seemed high, but it was a top class show.

The reigning champions, Yorkshire Building Society gave perhaps the most detailed performance in terms of a musical approach and it was a markedly different reading to that given by Trieze Etoiles. The effects in the percussion especially were beautifully realised and there was a real sense of musical understanding about David King’s reading – 94 points was for us a little bit mean – but then we weren’t in the box.

The Ransome Band up next with Russell Gray really giving the band some fine direction and a reading that was clear and concise. Evident hard work had gone into the preparation and technically it was very secure. Perhaps the band relied on nailing this aspect down too much as it could have done with a bit more expression from the soloists, but it was a very good account nonetheless. 91 points was par for the course.

CWS Glasgow and Nick Childs gave perhaps the most musical reading of the day, but had too many blips and blobs to push them higher. The quality of the bands overall playing was punished too often by occasional lapses and this spoiled what could have been a real corker of a show. 90 points and it could have been quite a few more.

Brass Band Midden Brabant and Aarhus gave good accounts of themselves without ever really suggesting they were going to push all the way and disturb the top three performances. Again it was a question of technical frailties that cost them both so much, although Midden’s performance had much to recommend in it’s musicality and Aarhus did have some very competent players on show around the stand. 93 and 90 points was about right, although in view of what went on before them perhaps a little generous.

And finally to BAYV Cory. This was a coruscating performance – brilliant in style and musicality. Bob Childs had certainly done the work on the score as the piece simply came to life with the musical images of each of the movements clearly defined and focused. It was stunning playing and it was no surprise that Carl Rutti himself commented that it was breathtaking. Worthy winners and 97 points was nothing less than the performance deserved. Could it be enough though?

Set Test Result

1. BAYV Cory 97pts
2. Trieze Etoiles 95pts
3. Yorkshire Building Society 94pts
4. Midden Brabant 93pts
5. CWS Glasgow 92pts
6. The Ransome Band 91pts
7. Aarhus Brass Band 90pts
8. Sandefjord Brass 88pts
9. BB de Bazuin Oenkerk 87pts
10. Strabane Concert 81 pts

The Own Choice Section was going to be the real test not only for the bands but also for the adjudicators. Allan Withington, Roy Newsome and Pascal Eicher had the afternoon task in what was going to be one heck of a showdown.

Bazuin Oenkerk opened proceedings with “Paginini Variations” by Philip Wilby and although it is a fantastic piece of music, the very top bands can more than easily play it very well and Oenkerk didn’t quite do themselves justice on it and suffered. 85 points was a fair return, but you felt that if they had been a bit more adventurous and gone for a piece that would have really stretched themselves the end result could have been so much better.

Sandefjord on the other hand did and got their reward with an excellent account of “ Of Men and Mountains” by Edward Gregson that although didn’t quite come off to give a real push for the prizes nevertheless was a very brave attempt. Garry Cutt brought a lot of musical shape to the piece and his soloists played very well indeed. 91 points was just reward for taking the risk.

Trieze Etoiles had performed way above expectation in the morning but the afternoon performance on “Cambridge Variations” showed it was no fluke. Brilliantly directed by Peter Parkes they gave a superb account of themselves with tremendous technical and musical aplomb. Great effects and balance and dynamic control of the highest order seemed to put them in pole position. 95 points again would surely have been enough to win the title on any other day.

Brass Band Midden Brabant choose Martin Ellerby’s “Tristan Encounters” which was a very brave choice indeed. This is a very difficult piece to bring off and required soloists of the very highest quality to perform at the top of their game. It just didn’t come off this time with too many slips and an approach that didn’t quite get to the heart of the music. Brave indeed – but it undid the work of the morning where they made such an impression. 87 points seemed harsh, but it was about right.

Yorkshire Building Society must have known they had to produce something special - and they certainly did. “Montage” by Peter Graham was perhaps the most high-risk choice of all the own choice works to be performed on the day. It was a brilliant performance of technical and musical detail that was at times hair-raising. David King brought out such a committed performance that it would have been easy to overlook the fantastic performances from his players, but the corner men and women gave astonishing accounts of themselves and the musicianship shone through from beginning to end. 97 points was the immediate reward from the judges – but was it going to be enough to retain the title?

CWS Glasgow choose “Harrison’s Dream” by Peter Graham and set about their task with in much the same way as they approached the morning set test. There was so much to commend the playing and the direction from Nick Childs was spot on, but again the disappointment of the slips and some untidiness spoilt what could have been a very special show indeed. It was a performance that very nearly came off in every way, but at times very nearly came to grief in all ways. A bit of a curate’s egg of a show.   90 points and again it could have been so much more.

Aarhus Brass gave a lovely rendition of Philip Wilby’s “….Dove Decending” that showed up the qualities of the band – good sounds and some a wonderful musical interpretation from Mr Christensen as MD. The euphonium playing in particular was of the very highest class throughout and the middle movement was so well shaped and constructed. 89 points was one fewer than the morning, but it was well deserved.

Buy As You View Cory must have known that they had performed well in the morning, but would have also known that they had to give the performance of their lives to grasp the title from YBS who had earlier done the very same in the effort to hold onto their crown. Bob Childs had chosen “Harrison’s Dream” the piece that saw them take the National title in London last October. It was in many ways an even better account than that in the circumstances, but at times the detail was lost in the acoustics of the hall and some technical slips around the stand may have cost them dear. We are talking about a superb performance here though and it had to be weighed up against two brilliant shows from YBS and Trieze Etoiles that saw even the minor slips being judged costly. 93 points was not just enough.

Strabane Concert enjoyed a good romp through “A London Overture” by Phillip Sparke and it was evident they had enjoyed themselves even though in realistic terms they were somewhat out of their depth. 83 points was a little generous given the quality of the opposition, but Irish banding should be encouraged in any way possible.

The Ransome Band took the stage as the final band of the day and gave a well structured account of “Isaiah 40” by Robert Redhead. This was a surprise choice as it was on “Harrison’s Dream” in London that the band had secured the place at the Championships when they came second to BAYV Cory. It was a good attempt to make what is a strangely muted piece come to life, but the audience didn’t really appreciate the effort which was a shame and possibly that rubbed off on the judges who appeared to be more than a little harsh in their assessment. 84 points was a good few less than they deserved.

So it was all over and the waiting began. And what a wait it was – nearly 5 hours later the result was announced somewhat hurriedly in the circumstances and Yorkshire Building Society were in the record books as “Triple Champions”. It was so well deserved but oh so close with one point separating the top three bands. If Trieze Etoiles had one more point in either section they would have been champions themselves and if Cory had just one more point in the own choice section, the trophy would have been on it’s way back to Wales for the first time since 1980. It was that close.

Final Result:

(Set test mark, Own Choice, and total)

1. Yorkshire Building Society: David King. 94, 97: 191pts
2. Buy As You View Cory: Robert Childs. 97, 93: 190pts
3. Brass Band Trieze Etoiles: Peter Parkes. 95, 95: 190pts
4. CWS Glasgow: Nicholas Childs. 92, 90: 182pts
5. Brass Band Midden Brabant: Benny Wiame. 93, 87: 180pts
6. Aarhus Brass Band: Preben Christensen. 90, 89: 179pts
7. Sandefjord Brass Symposium: Garry Cutt. 88, 91: 179pts
8. The Ransome Band: Russell Gray. 91, 84: 175pts
9. Brass Band De Bazuin Oenkerk: K. Van De Woude. 87, 85: 172pts
10. Strabane Concert Brass: Peter Christian. 81, 83: 164pts

BAYV Cory were awarded 2nd place as they received more points than Trieze Etoile on the set test piece. The same occurs for Aarhus over Sandefjord.

Solna Brass from Sweden withdrew from the contest.

Comments from the conductors:

Robert Childs was both delighted and disappointed at the result. “I’m so pleased at the way the band performed in both of the pieces and I really couldn’t have asked for more from them. I felt we played to our potential so I’m delighted at that, but to come so near and yet so far is disappointing.”

“I thought we played really well in the morning and Carl Rutti came up to me later to say how impressed he was with our performance of the “Wind Dances” – I certainly enjoyed it as a piece of music. I thought we played “Harrison’s Dream” as well as we could have done so there are no complaints from me and I congratulate YBS and David King for a fantastic achievement in winning the title for the fifth time – they are worthy champions”

Russell Gray was also pleased at the way his band performed over the two aspects of the contest. “We are a growing band and this was a real marker for us to judge how we are progressing against top class opposition – and I was not disappointed. I thought we performed really well in the morning and as good as we could have in the afternoon, but somehow the piece didn’t quite impress the ears of the judges.”

“Congratulations to David and YBS though – they were quite outstanding. It has been a great experience for the band and one we thoroughly enjoyed and has given us great confidence for the forthcoming Masters at Cambridge at the end of the month.”

Garry Cutt was also full of praise for the win by David King and Yorkshire Building Society but also full of plaudits for his own charges at Sandefjord.

“YBS were well deserved winners and David King has been a real inspiration with them. It’s a great achievement to win the title five times in six years. I’m also so pleased at the way Sandefjord took their opportunity at the contest. Their commitment to the band is amazing and even though we are a bit disappointed at seventh place, the performances we gave showed that we are moving in the right direction and shows people that the standard of banding in Europe is improving all the time. The show in the own choice was the best I’ve heard the band give – they have a lot to be proud of.”

Peter Parkes was also a happy man with the way in which Trieze Etoiles so nearly gave him a ninth title.

“I said to the band that if we could come in the first three in both sections we would be in with a chance – to come second on each and still come third just a point behind hurts a little, but shows what I believe is true about the band – they are more than capable of winning any contest – British Open included.”

“I enjoyed the set test – although it wasn’t as complex as it looked when you really worked hard at it and “Cambridge Variations” came off a treat – the players and audience really enjoyed what we did so I really pleased about the way in which the band made an impression on the contest as a whole. I can’t wait to have another crack with them next year.”

4BarsRest Comments:

And so yet another exciting European Championship comes to an end and with it comes the opportunity to review what we felt was very good, good and not too grand about the whole weekend.

The good stuff was very good indeed. The organisation and the way in which the bands are catered for at the contest is first class. Comments have been made to us about the high class standard of the facility itself, the way in which refreshments were provided for the bands prior to them going on stage, the provision of a personal guide for each band, the practice facility and the way in which each band was given ample time to set up in comfort on stage. The EBBA must be congratulated for the way in which this has been done and should be copied all over Europe.

The solo contest was a marked success as was the First Section Contest – although it would be nice to have been able to have more than three bands competing.

The Test Piece also brought comments of satisfaction from all players and conductors we spoke to. It was a brave and interesting choice to go with Carl Rutti’s composition and even though it had difficulties in the nature of it’s scoring and some dynamic balances, the overall musicality of the piece shone out brightly and he is a composer who should be actively encouraged to produce more work for bands in the future.

The not so good was primarily concerning the positioning of the Adjudicators tent – high and to the extreme right of the hall so that it seemed to be facing not square onto the bands but in direct earshot of the trombone sections of the bands. The conductors we spoke to seemed to think that this would have given problems as it was not in an acoustically ideal position and was too far back in the hall to possibly pick up the quieter detailed playing.

Also the strange affair of passing slips of papers to the representatives on stage, which gave them the top six results just before the official announcement. One conductor said to us that he found this a bit strange but a welcome attempt to avoid any embarrassment. This was a bit odd and needs some explanation.

The bad however was the ludicrous position adopted by the organisers in relation to the judges not providing either written remarks or any oral remarks from the stage after the contest had finished. It is one thing not to tell the paying public, but quite another not to tell the bands how they reached their decision. What criteria were used to judge the set test or the own choices? Who decided the points awarded and how did the judges themselves remind themselves about the relative merits of each performance?

It may have been the judges choice themselves not to give remarks – but not to give any sort of remarks from the stage was just plainly ignorant and amateur. Some bands had spent close on £20,000 to get to Montreux and not to be able to digest the reasons why they came 1st or 10th or how they performed in relation to others – constructive remarks are often a benefit to bands as they can highlight areas of weakness that can be worked on so that a band can improve – just getting a mark and nothing else does no one any favours.

The final gripe concerns the reason why the result of the contest is held back to the Gala Concert – some five hours after the actual contest has finished. It makes no sense, especially as if all the competing bandsmen (about 250 in number remember) wanted to hear the result, they had to go out and buy a ticket for the concert at about £18.00 a head. That’s about another £4500 in the coffers. It just smacked of a bit of a money-making ruse to get extra bums on seats in the evening. It’s not right and it should be changed immediately – if not, then issue free tickets to the competing players so they can get to hear how they did without being charged. Results should be announced as soon after the contest is over.

So that’s it then folks. Great contest, great playing, great bands and people – all let down a bit by a rather blinkered approach to adjudication and the results. Things can’t always be perfect in life – but a little bit of a tweak and a deflation of a few egos may do the trick with this one. YBS were stunning and are the most worthy of champions again, whilst BAYV Cory and Trieze Etoiles can count themselves a little unkucky to have come up against this exceptional band on such brilliant form - both of these bands would have been deserved winners in any other year. Can anyone stop YBS from doing a "Grand Slam" next year. See you all in Brussels in 2002.

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