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 2003 European Championships

 26 April-4 May 2003

The Own Choice Selections

4BR casts an eye over the own choice selections that have been made by the bands in their attempts to take the title. Over the years this has proved to be the most fascinating aspect of the contest as bands have tried to "showcase" their talents to impress the judges. Sometimes though the music loses out as the bands try to bring the house down.

Fashion and composers change and it is interesting to note how the successful choices have moved from the likes of Vinter, Arnold and Gregson through to Sparke and finally Wilby. In between though we have had a touch of Ravel and memorably Heaton and Bourgeois as well. Which composer will come out on top this year then?

Dove Descending – Philip Wilby

Dove Decending was written for the British Open Brass Band Championships of 1999 which was won by Yorkshire Building Society conducted by David King. The title is taken from the T.S. Eliot poem “Little Gidding” and is described by the composer as a Sonata in open tones. The performance requires a standard seating arrangement but in addition requires two groups of fanfare stands for ten cornet players which are to be placed in a five right/five left formation, plus three extra stands for trombones placed at a distance from the band and from each other. There is an optional organ part as well as the requirement to use a CD player. A seating plan is issued for the performing band to adhere to.

In essence the work is divided into two main parts – the first which the composer notes contains three elements – “a heraldic fanfare, a musical picture of Time composed in the open tones of the harmonic series and then the Old Testament description of the coming of Christ. The second part by contrast is a beautiful solo prayer entitled “Nativity” which finally leads into a resolution and return of the coming of Christ.

The piece has proved to be immensely popular with both bands and audiences, even though it is a very long work in terms of time. It is though a very demanding work that only the very best bands can really make a true performance of.

The piece has been chosen on a number of occasions by bands for this contest since 2000 with Yorkshire Building Society playing it in Birmingham as well as Fodens Courtois. Aarhus used it again in 2001. It was used by both BB Willebroek and Eikanger Bjorsvik Musikklag last year in Brussels, although as yet it has not provided any of these bands with a winning performance in the Own Choice section of the contest.

Jazz – Philip Wilby

Jazz was written by Philip Wilby after the composer had visited New York in June 1996. In the preface to the score the composer writes that he was “captivated by the ceaseless energy of the metropolis, with its short active history, and its intense but heartless glamour. In many ways, New York was born in the Jazz Age, and the sound of Big Band Jazz is like its musical alter ego. Where the Lincoln Centre now stands were once the original apartment blocks that inspired West Side Story, and those other Symphonic Dances: my composition cannot help but take inspiration from the sound and style of Bernstein’s masterpiece.”

After the amazing lip glissandi leap on the euphonium the work explores the different idioms of “jazz” from bebop to swing with solo and ensemble features such as the “Eddie Calvert” cornet solo. Although the parts are “written” the secret lies in the way in which the different idioms is approached – jazz is not written it is felt. It remains a style of writing that brass bands find exceptionally difficult to play well and as such is a piece that has yet possibly to have fully appreciated.

The piece was used as the set work for the 1997 All England Masters Championships which were won by the Williams Fairey Band, as well as the set work for the 2001 Regional Championships of Great Britain. It is the first time that it has been used as an own choice selection at these championships.

Revelation – Philip Wilby

Revelation was commissioned by the British Open Brass Band Championships with funds provided by the Worshipful Company of Musicians and the Harry Mortimer Trust for the 1995 British Open Championships, which was won by the Black Dyke Band conducted by James Watson. It is titled “Symphony for Double Brass on a theme of Purcell” – 1995 being the tri-centenary of the English composers death, whilst it’s inspiration comes from the poem by John Donne who describes “Revelation” as “At the Earth’s imagined corners, blow your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise from death, you numberless infinities Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go. All whom the flood did, and fire shall o’erthrow. All whom war, death, age, agues, tryannies, Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes Shall Behold God, and never taste death’s woe.”

The work lasts some 15 minutes and requires virtuoistic playing from both soloists and ensemble. Many of the solo lines must be played standing to the front of the band, which is split into two brass ensembles with percussion at its centre. The climax of the music is declared with a section of abandonment before the “Revelation” of Gods creation is reaffirmed in all its glory.

Since its use at the Open the piece has proved immensely popular with bands throughout Europe and at this contest it has been used twice in 1996 (YBS and Black Dyke who came 1st and 2nd in the own choice section), once in 1999 by Midden Brabant and twice in 2002 by Black Dyke and CWS Glasgow.

Tristan Encounters – Martin Ellerby

Tristan Encounters (Prelude and Transfigurations for Brass and Percussion) was commissioned by Philip Biggs and Richard Franklin with funds provided by the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, for the 1999 All England Masters Brass Band Championships which was won by the Yorkshire Building Society Band conducted by David King.

The work is derived from Wagner’s Prelude to the opera “Tristan and Isolde” and comprises a series of mood pictures which alternate between the romantic and the tri tone style of aggressive music. These alternates are sometimes severe throughout the 14 transfigurations (Wagner’s descriptive word for variations) and although the composer uses quotes from the Prelude it is very much music of the modern genre.

Although the work is continuous each transfiguration is well defined even if it may only be brief in time, with the crux of the whole piece coming in a series of cadenza features for soprano, cornet, euphonium, flugel horn, baritone, trombones, Eb bass and Bb bass at transfiguration 12. The composer enigmatically notes that “I am sure there is something of all our experiences in this work – which ones are yours?”

The work is dedicated to Rodney Newton and has been used just the once before by the Midden Brabant band as their own choice selection in 2001.

Harmony Music – Philip Sparke

Harmony Music was commissioned by Boosey and Hawkes Band Festivals Ltd for the 1987 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, which was won by the Desford Colliery Dowty Band conducted by James Watson.

The title is both a play on the German “Harmoniemusik” with all its associations with bands in general as well as a reference to the overall tonal harmonic language of the piece. The piece opens quietly with a long unison crescendo, interupted by upward rushes from the basses and trombones which introduce a fanfare like passage from the cornets. A sonorous chorale follows which builds from the lower band to a tutti climax.

There is a brief hint of faster music but before this is an immensely difficult euphonium cadenza which reaches both extremes of the instruments range. The Motlo Vivace is fast and furious as well as Francophile in style before the music subsides to a haunting homage to the composer Maurice Ravel which incorporates two accompanied cadenzas for cornet and horn. The opening returns before a shuddering climax that is tumultuous. The soprano and trombones try in vain to stop the chaos before a Presto Coda ends the work. Even some 16 years after it was written it is a piece that requires immense amounts of skill and talent from both players and MD to make come off, and remains one of the composers most accessible and popular compositions.

DeWaldsand used the piewce first in 1988. Black Dyke won the own choice section of this contest with the work in 1990 and has also been used by De Waldsang in 1991, BTM in 1992, Cory in 1993, Willebroek in 1994, Manger Musikklag and Burgermusik Luzerne in 1996, YBS to win the own choice section in 1999 and by BB Treize Etoiles in 2002.

Spectrum – Gilbert Vinter

Spectrum was written by Gilbert Vinter for use as the set work for the 1969 British Open Brass Band Championships which was won by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band conducted by George Thompson. Perhaps no other piece of music has created such a furore before or since in the brass band world. 1969 was the first year percussion was allowed in full and the music itself was scored for bongos, claves, wood block, tambourine, triangle, cymbal, side drum and bass drum – interestingly it was not scored for timpani.

Vinter who was born in 1909 was a mild and sensitive man and was greatly upset by the furore from ill informed brass band conductors, many of whom vowed never to return to the Open. By the end of that year (10th October) he was dead and only one more work – James Cook was released (five years later).

The piece is a highly descriptive musical picture of the colours of the light Spectrum - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and finally Purple (rather than Violet which in itself was a deeply personal choice for the composer). Each colour change is felt in the music, sometimes gay, sometimes vivid, sometimes mechanical, exotic or thoughtful and it covers many moods. It is a masterpiece of descriptive musical writing, even if today it seems amazingly mainstream in its musical language. It is however a true classic of the brass banding world.

The piece has been used on many occasions at the Championships. In 1978 by Silkeborg Blaeserne, 1982 by Soli Deo Gloria, 1983 by both Manger and Solna, 1989 by Kortrijk, 1994 by Solna and 1998 by Midden Brabant.

Montage – Peter Graham

Montage was commissioned by the All England Masters Brass Band Championships to be used for their contest in 1994, which was won by the BBS Fodens Band conducted by Howard Snell.

Peter Graham had written extensively for brass bands before he wrote Montage, but this composition represented a major shift in his compositional outlook and sought its inspiration from the likes of Lutoslawski and Messian. It is a three movement work that lasts around 15 minutes in duration. The first movement intrada forms a perfect ABCBA arch. Generative thematic fragments appear in A above a pulsating timpani line which in turn is mirrored by the glockenspiel; B is characterised by glittering cornet work and figures whilst C is a sinuous duet punctuated by sharply descending semitones.

The middle movement is a beautiful detached chaconne, both expressive and melodic which revolves around a chord sequence which builds to the climax of the whole piece. The final Rondo is full of drive and verve and moves towards a powerful conclusion, direct from the opening soprano and bass feature towards to very ending which makes immense demands on players stamina and technique.

Since its use at the Masters “Montage” has proved a popular work and has been used extensively throughout Europe. In 1998 it was used as the regional test piece for the National Championships. At the European it has been used by Manger Musikklag in 1995, Tredegar and Tertnes in 1996, De Cuivre Valaisan and Point of Ayr in 2000 and Yorkshire Building Society (to win the own choice section) in 2001.

Concerto Grosso – Derek Bourgeois

Concerto Grosso was written by the composer as far back as 1979, and was originally not a full brass band composition. The initial piece was in fact written for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, a ten-piece made up of four trumpets, 1 French horn, 4 trombones and a tuba and was written especially for Philip Jones’ farewell concert.

Bourgeois was at that time the Professional Musical Director of the Sun Life Band in Bristol and when in 1990 the band was asked to perform on the BBC radio programme “Bandstand” the composer took the opportunity of re-scoring the work for full band.

Although an immense “tour de force” the composer believes it to be within the capabilities of most top class Championship bands, although he believes that organisers of the major contests have been reticent to use the piece due to its length – it is 20 minutes long. Written in three main parts it is played as a continuos piece and explores in each of its sections material that ranges from the technically brilliant to the sombre, beautiful melodic yet with a real sense of fun and wit. Each of the major solo players within a band has material that extends their capabilities to the limit whilst the ensemble is tested to the full. It remains today perhaps the most vividly brilliant of brass band compositions.

Due to its immense difficulty and length it comes as little surprise that it is rarely heard on a contest stage, with Yorkshire Building Society giving the work its European Premiere in 2002, whilst Stavanger used it in 2003 to win the own choice section of the Norwegian Championships.


Masquerade - Philip Wilby

Masquerade was described as being "unplayable" when it was first commissioned for the 1993 British Open Championships, which were won by the Williams Fairey Band conducted by Major Peter Parkes.

At that time it was indeed perhaps the technically most difficult piece of brass writing ever to test bands on the contest stage, and the Open that year saw the piece received quite cooly as it took many casulaties.

Wilby took his inspiration from Verdi's last opera "Falstaff" and the piece itself uses elements from the original story and music. Falstaff is a larger than life figure, full of boast and bravado, although this leads him into trouble and the ladies of the town get their own back on him at night in Great Windsor Park.

The msuic is highly descriptive (there is the use of a large whiskey bottle) but there are also some beautifully realised moments of passion and thoughtfulness. The rising of the moon over the Park as the goblins and elves assemble is perhaps sme of Wilby's best work whilst th ending demands the greatest amount of technical brilliance to come off.

The piece was used as the set work for the 2002 National Championships of Great Britain and on this occasion it proved much more accessible to bands and the audience, proof that brass ban playing had progressed in the 10 years from its last domestic use.

At this championship it has been used by Williams Fairey in 1993 to win the own choice section, by Midden Brabant in 1996 and by CWS Glasgow in 1999.

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