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2003 London and Southern Counties Regional Qualifying Championships

First Section - Retrospective

Adjudicator: Brian Buckley

Test Piece: Passacaglia on a Theme of Brahms - Arthur Butterworth

A bit like the Championship Section the First Section here on the Sunday was a clear cut scrap between two bands –Friary Guildford conducted by K. Maxwell and the newly formed Zone One Brass directed by Simon Dobson.

On another day when Arthur Butterworth’s fine test piece caused havoc with the vast majority of the competing bands, these two performances stood out as beacons of quality and fully deserved to book their places in Dundee for the National Finals later this year. Both will also be strong contenders, as they certainly possess qualities that will hold them in good stead against other bands of this standard, and will also hold them in good stead if they get the nod for promotion up to the Championship Section. After hearing all the performances later in the day from the top bands in the region, both of these line ups would have more than held their own at the higher level.

Friary Guidford played off the number 6 draw after the first five performances of the day must have tested adjudicator Brian Buckley’s abilities to find something positive to write on his remarks sheets. From City of Cambridge off number 1, through Haverhill Silver, Epping Forest, Stonesfield Silver and Egham the standard ranged from the very poor to the adequate with all five bands failing to meet both the technical and musical demands of the music.

This is a very hard test piece for the First Section and all around the country bands have failed to master its complexities. What has been the most disappointing aspect though has been the failure of the MD’s to read and digest the foreword in the score that quite explicitly informs them that the music must be approached in a restrained and thoughtful manner. This is homage to Brahms not Stravinsky – although once more you wouldn’t have guessed it from the way some bands went hammer and tongs at it. It also made for a great number of performances that simply never got started – with players (especially soprano) having to try and whack it out in an attempt to be heard above a hard blowing ensemble sound. It made for some very uncomfortable listening.

Each of those first five bands simply approached the piece in the wrong manner and as bravely as the players tried the approach led to overblowing, hard percussive entry on notes and poor endings to phrase endings. Each had the odd moment of good stuff, but overall each was a not up to the mark.

Friary Guildford though benefited from a very intelligent piece of direction from the MD and some fine balanced and restrained ensemble playing from the middle and bottom end of the band especially. This meant that the top end never felt the need to overblow and a rounded balanced sound was maintained at both extremes of the dynamic range. There were blips and blobs for sure, but it was a fine overall performance of a very difficult set work. 189pts and a two point winning margin was fully justified – as was the five point margin over the third placed band.

Chichester at number 7 and Hatfields of Colchester at number 8 fell into the same traps as those first five bands and approached the piece in a manner that didn’t suit the music or more importantly their abilities to produce good band sounds. When they took their feet of the volume pedal it sounded so much more in control – but they didn’t do it often enough and they paid the penalty.

Ipswich and Norwich Co-op under S. Kenna were the best of the rest for Brian Buckley, although we had them a touch lower than 3rd in 4th behind Medway for us, but it was a compact performance that was approached with a sense of the broadness and restraint the music cried out for. The individual lines let them down a bit too often to challenge for a qualification spot, but nevertheless it had its moments.

That led to the newly formed Zone One Brass taking the stage – Zone One after the area of London all or most of the students live (the congestion charge bit we think). They were directed by Simon Dobson, the composer of the Fourth Section test piece and right from the start the quality of the students was evident and there were some talented players to be heard. Young Mr Dobson also knows his Brahms and this performance had all the necessary breadth and restraint that others so lacked. It had a few dodgy moments but overall these didn’t detract from a performance of real merit and one that had a stamp of quality about it. This is a talented young man and he has a talented band under him as well. Second place was well deserved – they just had too many little blips and blobs that cost them, but they will be a stronger band for the experience here and will go to Dundee confident of doing well.

After them our pre match tips Alder Valley made a decent job of things to come 7th, whilst Fairlop found the ice a real musical and technical struggle and they came home joint 13th.

That left the last three bands and KM Medway, Northfleet and Denham all gave very decent shows – all just marred by too many individual errors and a propensity to let go of the reins and lose the restraint and balance they certainly had at the beginning. It was a pity as there was a lot of good playing in each performance, but the need to create excitement doesn’t always need to be accompanied by a volume increase and a hardness of approach. We had Medway third though with Northfleet a couple of places below them and Denham a place or two further back.

The two top performances on the day were a good length or three ahead of the rest, whilst the bands that made up the top six gave shows that had real merit. We just think they could have benefited more if they didn’t try and blow like a top section band and played more to their obvious strengths. Below that the standard fell away – quite drastically towards the bottom and there was little to choose between the bands who came inside the top ten and those who propped up the bottom of the table.

As for our tips? Three in the top five with Friary tipped by us to come 6th coming out on top, whilst Zone One played to form to come second. Our dark horses upset things a bit and came 5th, but our others could only manage 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th. Not bad but not jackpot material from us was it?

The one thing we were left with though was the feeling that all of the bands though would benefit greatly if they played these types of piece more.


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