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2003 Belgium National Championships

Brussels Conservatory
Sunday 30th November

4BR Retrospective
Andrew Elliott was there for 4BR, and he gives us his impressions on the Nationals and the playing of the top Belgium bands.

The National Championships of Belgium took place last Sunday November 30th in the Royal Music Conservatory, Brussels.

In the Belgian Championships, every band plays two test-pieces (a set work and an own-choice like the Europeans) and these are judged by a panel of three adjudicators who are in separate boxes, and mark each performance out of 100 possible points. The points for each band (two lots of three adjudications !) are then aggregated to give a final position. The complete result therefore contains enough statistics to keep budding Stattos busy for weeks. The adjudicators in this year’s contest were David Horsfield (UK), Jappe Dikstra (NL) and Malcolm Brownbill (UK)

Those results in full;


Set Test Piece: Un Vie de Matelot (Robert Farnon)

1st. Brass Band Willebroek (Frans Violet): Total points 571 (from a possible 600)
Set Test: (Draw No 2) 95 + 90 + 97 = 282
Own-Choice (Montage – Peter Graham); (Draw No 1) 97 + 94 + 98 = 289

2nd. Brass Band Buizingen (Luc Vertommen): Total Points 567
Set Test: (Draw No 5) 93 + 92 + 96 = 281
Own-Choice: (Ginnungagap – Johan Evenpoel); (Draw No 5) 96 + 93 + 97 = 286

3rd. Brass Band Midden Brabant (Benny Wiame): Total Points 557
Set Test: (Draw No 4) 92 + 89 + 94 = 275
Own-Choice (Partita – Philip Sparke); (Draw No 2) 95 + 92 + 95 = 282

4th. Festival Brass Band (Juri Briat): Total Points 541
Set Test: (Draw No 3) 88 + 87 + 92 = 267
Own-Choice (A London Overture – Philip Sparke); (Draw No 4) 93 + 90 + 91 = 274

5th. Kortrijk Brass Band (Lieven Maertens:) Total points 535
Set Test: (Draw No 1) 89 + 84 + 89 = 262
Own-Choice (Stonehenge – Jan van der Roost); (Draw No 3) 91 + 89 + 93 = 273


Set Test Piece:Variations on a Ninth (Gilbert Vinter)

1st. Metropole Brass Band (Guy Audenaert): Total points 546
Set Test: (Draw No 2) 86 + 87 + 95 = 268
Own-Choice (Chain – Piet Swerts); (Draw No 4) 92 + 90 + 96 = 278

2nd. Noord-Limburgse Brass Band (Ivan Meylemans): Total Points 524
Set Test: (Draw No 1) 85 + 90 + 89 = 264
Own-Choice (Paganini Variations – Philip Wilby); (Draw No 2) 85 + 87 + 88 = 260

3rd. Brass Band Leieland (Wim Belaen): Total Points 524
Set Test: (Draw No 4) 86 + 87 + 88 = 261
Own-Choice (Tallis Variations – Philip Sparke); (Draw No 3) 86 + 86 + 91 = 263

4th. Brass Band Campine (Eddy Avonds): Total Points 505
Set Test: (Draw No 3) 82 + 83 + 87 = 252
Own-Choice (Spectrum – Gilbert Vinter); (Draw No 1) 83 + 84 + 86 = 253


Set Test Piece: Sunrise (Eric Ball)

1st. Mons St Georges Brass Band (Thierry Deschamps): Total points 499
Set Test: 80 + 77 + 86 = 243
Own-Choice (Culloden Moor – Gareth Wood); 86 + 80 + 94 = 256


Set Test Piece: Little Suite for Brass (Malcolm Arnold)

1st. Young Brass Band Willebroek (Guy Audenaert): Total points 537
Set Test: (Draw No 1) 90 + 84 + 93 = 267
Own-Choice (A Malvern Suite – Philip Sparke); (Draw No 2) 92 + 86 + 92 = 270

2nd. Brass Band de Grensbewoners (Wilfried Theunissen): Total Points 520
Set Test: (Draw No 2) 84 + 85 + 91 = 260
Own-Choice (Lydian Pictures – Simon Dobson);(Draw No 3) 89 + 83 + 88 = 260

3rd. Brass Band de Thudinie (Jacques Clippe): Total Points 511
Set Test: (Draw No 3) 82 + 82 + 88 = 252
Own-Choice (Music from Kantara – Kenneth Downie); (Draw No 1) 84 + 85 + 90 = 259

In the Championship Section Willebroek once again proved to be the strongest band in Belgium from a field of five and booked their place in the European Championships next year. They were pushed very close however by Brass Band Buizingen with an extraordinary performance in the own-choice part of the contest. As the set work, Un Vie de Matelot proved a fair test for all the bands.

Kortrijk off number one provided a confident performance, but one which was marred with too many blemishes and some wayward tempi to make a mark.

Willebroek followed them on and immediately confirmed why they have been so successful at the European level in recent years. Everything perfectly in place, sounding poised and confident – and what a great balanced band sound. This performance was not spotless, with some intonation difficulties noted in the solo cornets and a wrong bass note, but the central cornet solo was mesmerising with the perfect mood from both soloist and accompaniment: probably the best playing of the whole championship.

Festival followed Willebroek and immediately encountered problems with splits in the solo lines early on which were costly. The principal cornet of this band stood up for the extended solo – a risky tactic which did bring the sound out from the band but also highlighted some minor slips.

Midden Brabant played third and produced a fine performance of few errors. The soprano player (wearing a black bandana – why is it always sopranos who do this sort of thing?) was marvellous, but some detail evident in Willebroek’s performance was not clear here. The finale of the piece is infamously ‘fff’ for several bars, but Midden Brabant appeared to keep the general band sound down and highlight the more important lines – this along with a quite fast tempo left the overall impression of a lack of power in the closing section.

Finally Buizingen’s performance of the piece covered most of the tricky spots efficiently. A sound superior to Midden Brabant was evident although some minor ensemble difficulties and a balance problem in the basses (only heard once) detracted. The cornet solo was very pretty but not 100% secure and the run through to the ending was very confident and a genuine ‘fff’ finish with control at probably the slowest tempo of the day.

The selection of own-choices proved as entertaining as usual.

Willebroek got this under way with a super rendition of Peter Graham’s ‘Montage’. This piece is a challenge to any band, but Willebroek mastered the difficulties with true style. The first movement was practically spotless but although the mood in the second was just right, some slips in the solo horn and euph lines spoiled it a little. Tiny inaccuracies again at the opening of the finale from sop and some ensemble difficulty in the solo cornets, but the horns were really impressive. Towards the end all the intricate musical lines were clearly heard and the euphs were really singing over the top of the band. Truly impressive, but is there anyone else here who could take advantage of the tiny slips?

Midden Brabant were up next with Philip Sparke’s ‘Partita’. The first movement – the ‘mini concerto for band’ - was at the tempo limit for the band. The pp playing was too loud and both the horns and euphs appeared to struggle at the fast speed. The EEb bass however was superb throughout and the tough trombone feature was very well played with great balance and rhythmic precision. Not much was awry in the second movement with good solo cornet, although it lacked a little passion in the playing and the bell-like entries were a little hard. The finale had a great feel with really fine work from both the solo cornet and soprano although much detail was unclear from the horns and baris. All the tricky time-signature changes and transitions were extremely well handled with a big sound to finish.

Following this Kortrijk had a nervy wait to start their performance as the on-stage microphone failed and communication with the three adjudicators was temporarily lost. At least one of them appeared unable to hear a spoken announcement from the stage – Was he able to hear the bands clearly? Stonehenge was Kortrijk’s choice and this piece, very difficult to bring off as a satisfying musical experience at the best of times, never really took off. There was some good playing around the stands and some fine dynamic contrasts evident but the atmosphere required was never successfully created (a dropped mute didn’t help) and the piece sounded way too long.

Festival gave us A London Overture by Philip Sparke. This was efficiently played with the principal cornet again standing for the lovely extended solo – well played, but is the additional stress involved really worth it? Plenty of detail was evident in this performance but it didn’t really come off.

Buizingen had again drawn to play last in this section – and it’s probably a good job from the organisers’ point of view that they did. Their choice was ‘Ginnungagap….Seeming Emptiness’ by Johan Evenpoel, a Belgian composer who was in the audience. The re-setting of the stage took an age due to the unusual layout of the band seating and an array of percussion which defied belief. I have to admit to a certain partiality here, as I have been present at some rehearsals in the development of this piece (commissioned by the Buizingen Band) - I therefore knew (approximately) what to expect. For the rest of the audience reality was put ‘on hold’ for twenty minutes during the performance of a quite extraordinary new piece of music. ‘Ginungagap’ deserves an article to be written about it but this is not the place; suffice to say that the composer has used every trick in the book to produce something which amazed the audience and inspired this band into a performance which the adjudicators must have struggled to judge objectively on first hearing – the score is very complex.

So the section ended and after a delay for the marks to be analysed the results were announced but the adjudicators did not speak from the stage (why not – Philip Sparke did last year and the vast majority of the audience understood what he had to say – clever folks these Belgians). I for one would have loved to hear what they thought about the standard of playing in all the sections, which I considered to be very high, and the difficulties of judging an own-choice section with such varied works presented.

In the First Section Metropole Brass Band proved clear winners, but congratulations should be given to the adjudicators who despite the complex scoring system still managed to create a tie for second place. The award was given to Noord-Limburgse band due to their superior score on the set test. Very tough luck on the Leieland Band (Hasn’t that name been used somewhere before…?).

The set test for the first section proved a very stern examination of these bands. Variations on a Ninth includes those famous cadenzas which we all love so much (unless we have to play them) and that first variation to test rhythmic accuracy across the band from cornets to trombones. In general the rhythmic stuff came off quite well but the cadenzas were a disappointment with many sounding very unsure and none played with real the élan required – one cornet player played wrong notes throughout the cadenza (those tricky repeated accidentals). Most of the following variations were treated well with some really effective interpretations. Despite some overblown and rough playing evident in one or two performances the spirit of this music was captured by all the bands.

In the Own-Choice part of the contest a couple of surprising works had been selected. Having heard the set piece performances, it would be expected that the likes of ‘Chain’ and ‘Paganini’ would be beyond these bands; this was however not the case. The performances in the own-choice sounded much more confident and comfortable with all bands putting on an impressive show.

Campine gave us Vinter’s ‘Spectrum’ (was it a good idea to play two Vinter pieces?) which despite some minor errors really captured the colour contrasts – a relaxed ‘Green’ sounding truly pastoral and ‘Orange’ was bright and spiky.
Wilby’s ‘Paganini Variations’ was Noord-Limburgse choice and a good one too. A solid opening was marred by some inaccuracies in the presentations of the theme and a little looseness in the opening variations but the atmosphere was building well to a good cornet ‘Bolero’ and a wonderfully handled flugel solo. The difficult (what isn’t difficult about this piece) accell towards the end was very well graded by conductor Ivan Meylemans (Principal trombone of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, I believe) and there were some fine full band sounds to finish.

Leiland performed ‘Tallis Variations’ very effectively with particularly impressive contributions from the principal cornet and bass trombone. The use of a euph to play the first baritone part did show up from time-to-time however. With its quiet ending this is a difficult piece for an own-choice – it needs real subtlety to be effective and that is what it received here.

Metropole chose a Belgian work – ‘Chain’ by Piet Swerts, which was used as the set piece in the European championships in 2002. Surely a really tough choice, bearing in mind the number of bands who came unstuck on that day. But this performance was a real belter – the solo horn and xylophone players must come in for some specific praise as they handled these bravura parts with aplomb. The tempo chosen was the steadier speed as used by YBS at the Europeans (though no foot stamping was seen here) and the effect was very impressive – a real quality performance throughout.

This section was deservedly won convincingly by Metropole and my impression is that all four of the bands in this section would survive comfortably in the UK championship section.

Andrew Elliott
© 4BarsRest

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