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2003 British Solo and Quartet Championships

Promoted by The British Open and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council
Hyde Town Hall
Sunday 2nd November


Malcolm Wood looks back at this years event at Hyde Town Hall.

When it comes to experience and know-how in the brass-band world, you don’t have to look much further than to Richard Evans and James Scott. Between them, they have been there, done it, and got the T-shirts. Both are former distinguished players of the cornet (James Scott was a double Great Britain Solo Champion), winners of numerous competitions as conductors, and when it comes to adjudicating, respected decision makers at the highest level. The reason being because they really do know what it takes to become a champion and a winner in the banding world, and what it takes to achieve it.

It therefore came as no surprise to anyone in Hyde Town Hall on Sunday 2nd November that these two men were unanimous in awarding the British Open Solo Prize for 2003 to Scottish Co-op’s outstanding cornet player, Alexandra Kerwin for her rendition of "Slavische Fantasy" by Carl Hohne. Alexandra’s’ performance was praised for its shape and technique, and was of such a high standard that the other eight finalists can consider themselves a touch unfortunate to be competing against someone who really was playing to the top of her form in the final. The standard was high, but the winner was a class above the rest on the day.

Alexandra will definitely do the UK proud when she competes at the Ern Keller competition in Australia in February next year – the tremendous bonus which the organisers now add to the honour of winning the title.

Earlier in the day, some twenty-seven hopefuls did battle royal in the preliminary round. Six players would go through to the final, to be joined by last year’s champion, Foden’s euphonium star, Natsumi Inaba, Joe Cook, the 2003 Ern Keller International Soloist of the Year, and Rosie Pearce, the 2002 Australian ‘Champion of Champions’ winner. A reciprocal arrangement between the British Open and Ern Keller organisers means that both competitions attract great players, so the standard for getting into the Final itself is as high as ever. That aside though, it would perhaps have been more of a level playing field if everybody had been through the qualification round and progressed to the final – but it is a small quibble!

As a result, with only six players going through, it was always going to be tough, and the standard of playing was high, although not everybody made the most of the acoustic in the hall. Of the competitors, cornet players Matthew Kay and Alex Thomas will have wished they had taken advantage of a Sunday morning lie-in. The two lads, play with the British Open Champions, Yorkshire Building Society, and had been playing at a concert in London, the previous evening. It has to be said, both players can consider themselves really unfortunate not to have qualified for the finals, with Alex in particular putting in a high quality performance of Concerto No.1 by Willie Brandt. Nigel Boddice & Roy Roe had to make the decisions of those to go through, and, left the audience wondering a little bit why competitor ‘x’ had gone through but not competitor ‘y’ – the perils of being a judge!!

In addition to Alexandra, (and those receiving a bye) the finalists were as follows:

Kirsty Abbott , Cornet, Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band
Helen Varley, Tenor Horn, B T Band
Martyn Patterson, Euphonium, Tongwynlais Temperance Band
Mark Glover, Euphonium, Staffordshire Band
Ian Wright, Euphonium, Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band.

The runner up was Mark Glover from the Staffordshire Band who chose to play “Varied Mood”, a standard show piece for euphonium that was written originally for David Moore. It was certainly a performance of merit, with some nice control, and having competed earlier, knew what the sound of the hall was like, and used it too good effect. It was classy, but by today’s standards perhaps not quite a piece that extended this very good player to the full.
Third place went to Carlton Main’s euphonium player, Ian Wright. Ian played a piece by G. Marshall called ‘Ransomed’ and as with Mark Glover, it was a performance that was well controlled, had some nice phrasing, and brought the music to life. Ian produced a fine euphonium sound, but once more we felt it was a piece that didn’t quite extend a talented player.

So what about the others? Defending champion Natsumi Inaba can consider herself unlucky, to have drawn number two, and follow what turned out to be the eventual winner. This is a player who has really made her mark in the brass band world, and Natsumi chose Martin Ellerby’s “Euphonium Concerto”. The performance was confident, well shaped, and with good technique, but on this occasion, it did not quite come off for her and she ended put of the top three.

Kirsty Abbott chose the Herbert Clarke classic, ‘The Debutante’ for her crack at the title, and no doubt, Richard and James would have admired the performance. On another day, it could have been so different and pushed for the top honours, but on this occasion it just not to be. Some player though. Tenor Horn player Helen Varley, chose “Masquerade” by Philip Sparke. Helen was delighted to have got through the qualifying round earlier in the day, and in addition be named as the Individual Champion in the Flugel/Eb Horn category. Without doubt, this is another fine player to look out for in the future, who will have gained valuable experience from the competition, and will no doubt be back in 2004 for another crack at the title.

Euphonium player Martyn Patterson was one of two finalists who chose to play “Pantomine” by Philip Sparke. Originally composed for Nicholas Childs, it is not the easiest of solo’s to pull off, but Martyn put in a performance that was very commendable, had plenty of virtuoso moments, but possibly needed a bit more time and space.

The performance of the two Australian stars was certainly worth waiting for. Fellow Australian, Professor David King, observing and learning about his protege’s from the University of Salford and YBS during the day listened intently to tenor horn player, Rosie Pearce, who produced plenty of energy in her rendition of “Concert Fantasy” by Gustav Cord. This is a player who quite honestly could play solo horn in any top class band in the UK and her performance drew many admiring comments – it was a fine bit of playing.

By the time the competition was over, it had been a long day, but worth it for Rosie and for the last competitor, Joe Cook, who was invited as the reigning Ern Keller Champion. Joe, playing euphonium, also chose “Pantomine”, and although both Rosie and Joe came outside the top three, it was a privilege to hear both of them, because they are both exceptional players.

The Championships also saw the return of the Quartet Competition for both the Senior and Junior Sections. In the Seniors, the names of Kirsty Abbott, Jane Wright, William Rushworth and Ian Wright, representing Carlton Main took home the title with a superb performance of “Elegy and Rondo” from the pen of Gilbert Vinter. Close behind them were Scottish Co-op and the four trombones from Brighouse & Rastrick. Richard Evans could not hide his disappointment though that there were only four quartets taking part, and questioned whether or not a full calendar of banding competitions and individual band concerts had resulted in so few entrants. There is an art to quality quartet playing, and the winners certainly had it, but one wonders how many bands actively encourage this type of playing anymore? We could well do with something of a revival in this forgotten brass banding art form.

The Junior Quartet Champions for 2003 were Shirland Welfare Training, with Shaw Youth and Dobcross Youth ‘A’ being awarded second and third respectively. Fairey’s conductor, Bryan Hurdley and Chris Wormald from Smithill’s School presided over the Junior Quartet and the Junior Slow Melody competitions.

The winner of the Junior Slow Melody was Eb bass player from Dobcross Youth, Jan Norwicki, closely followed by Rebecca Weldon (Tenor Horn) of Valley Brass Haydock, and Daniel Walton on cornet from Shirland Welfare Training in third.
The intermediate Slow Melody Final was in the hands of Nigel Boddice and Roy Roe. They chose euphonium player, Jamie Ogden from Rothwell Temperance as the winner from Tom Hutchinson (also Rothwell Temperance) on Cornet and Vicki Reynolds on Tenor Horn from Hathern Band in third.

The day itself was in the hands of experienced contest controller Frank Hodges, who made sure everything ran according to plan. Once again, the competitors would not have been able to play to the standard they did without the help of the Piano Accompanists, Roderick Barrand and David Jones – a thankless task. MC for the day was the familiar, Robert Kerwick, who would have certainly benefited from the use of a microphone, a standard piece of equipment for an event such as this. Thanks must also be given to British Open Promoters Karyn and Martin Mortimer and to Tameside MBC, who continue to support brass band competitions, not just on this occasion, but throughout the year.

In the end, the long journey from Scotland was not a fruitless one for Alexandra Kerwin, and good luck in February when she makes the even longer trip South to Australia. She will represent the UK superbly, whilst it is also good to report that the Junior and Intermediate Classes showed that there is plenty of quality talent coming through the ranks. If only we could get a bit more interest in the Quartets, the things would be looking rosy indeed.

Malcolm Wood
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