Saturday 6th May:
Now he's got both hands on it: Dr Childs with the European trophy
The reality of the European Championships is that it is now without doubt the world’s finest brass band contest.
No. Make that the world’s finest brass band festival, which just happens to have a brass band contest at its competitive epicentre.
What we heard in terms of quality from the 11 bands in the top section event over two days was nothing short of remarkable: Black Dyke may have crowned champion, but you could have made a real case for a clutch of rivals being a worthy winner.
However, the whole five days were much, much more than that – from the excellent contribution of the European Youth Band, the emerging talents at the Composers Competition, the strength of the B Section and a highly entertaining gala concert.
The audience at the De Doelen Hall were very fortunate punters indeed – and not just to hear playing of such a remarkable standard on Friday and Saturday.
No wonder they made sure they thanked the bands for the privilege.
The standing ovations were not orchestrated - they seemed to be a result of a collective subconsciousness.
There was the usual show of national pride involved of course (it’s great to see the Norwegian and Swiss flags waved and the host of different accents from brass band lovers seated within a few feet of you where you went) but more than that, it was a heartfelt response to fabulous brass band music making.
By the time we came to the Gala Concert (which was also a wonderful display of serious musicianship and brilliant entertainment) the audience was in a state of fevered excitement – like the congregations of those suicide preaching American evangelical messiahs.
The announcement of the Dutch band Schoonhoven in third place was greeted by the type of roar usually heard at the local Feyenord football ground when a last minute screamer has hit the back of the net.
Even Wolter Lommerde, who had organised the whole event, but who is also the President of the Schoonhoven band, lost his head and bounced down the aisle like a contestant in ‘The Price is Right’ to accept the third placed trophy on behalf of his delighted compatriots.
It rather summed up the whole ethos of what turned out to be a great climax to a great event.
Rotterdam 2012 will live long in the memory banks.
Friday 5th May:
Happy man: Does Nicholas Childs and Black Dyke have one hand on the trophy?
It’s rare to be able to enjoy contest days like this one too often.
This was a brass band competition where the emphasis was on quality and not quantity – and the results were stunning.
The set work by composer Alexander Comitas was a cracker – an elegantly refined 21st century take on musical styles that seemed to span Edwardian Edward Elgar to 1960’s Eric Ball.
‘Vita Aeterna Variations’ was inspired by the most tragic of circumstances – the unexpected death of a talented 18 year old euphonium player called Jeffery Lindelauf.
Despite their grief, his heartbroken parents believed that they felt there was a life after death for their beloved son – although not in any great religious way.
In 2010 they asked the composer to write a work, which he did, and this European test piece grew from one of its original themes.
The result proved to be a spectacular success, not just with the appreciative audience who packed into the 1850 seat hall throughout the day, but with the bands and their MDs too.
The tragedy of wasted lives and untimely death really resonated on the day, as the whole of the contest observed an impeccable 2 minute silence at 8.00pm for Remembrance Day.
It was a very moving spectacle, and one that placed the sometimes overinflated trials and tribulations of band contesting into sharp focus.
Any reservations about the test piece itself not being hard enough were soon dispelled as it soon became apparent that this was a work that demanded musical style over technical substance from the word go.
It was still strange though to hear what sounded like the opening stanza to the theme tune to ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ followed by ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ and ‘Pines of Rome’ – or was that just us?
Whatever the ciphers and illusions the work created in a fevered mind those lucky enough to be here were treated to a host of outstanding performances from the 11 competing bands.
Some of the playing was simply sensational – nearly all of it was at the very least, excellent.
Opinions to which band people thought would end the day at the head of the leader board varied of course, but most we spoke to felt it was going to be a bit of a three way battle between Black Dyke, Cory and Manger.
All three delivered performances varied in their interpretation under their MDs – from Cory’s controlled tour de force to Manger’s darkly hued atmospheric treatment and Black Dyke’s almost flawless delivery.
Anyone of them could be leading.
Behind them there were performances to savour too, but such was the standard of playing on show, just producing excellence was never going to be enough.
With that in mind, why can’t the likes of the British Open and All England Masters to name but two, finally realise that the way to attract audiences back to listen to bands in set work contest conditions is to get rid of the average and the mediocre, the cup of tea bands and also rans and concentrate on sheer unadulterated high class quality.
If they were to do that, then many more people would be able to enjoy contest days like this in the future.
Thursday 4th May:
Paul McGhee is overcome with emotion after Tom Davoren proposes something...
What an interesting day this has been – right from the word go.
You have to hand it to the local organisers - after the suave sense of monetary excess in Montreux, the Dutch have managed to produce a festival that on first impressions is slick and very professional.
Out in force
There isn’t quite the same whiff of easily made cash in the air as was the case in Switzerland last year (the Dutch are suffering the same type of austerity problems as the rest of us) but the brass band community certainly came out in force to support the first major event of the festival with the Composers Competition.
The smaller Jurriaanse Hall which can accommodate around 400 people was about 80% full to hear four eclectic works from the finalists: And whilst they certainly made clear what they liked and didn’t like in their audience vote (which was the diametric opposite to the judges!) none of them made the journey home saying there were not thoroughly entertained by the musicianship on show.
The four pieces held the imagination In their own way – with Paul McGhee’s brilliantly atmospheric take on a novel that is all about people being topped after having a poem read to them, a thoroughly deserved winner of the 3000 Euro first prize.
Whether or not the work will become a test piece is open to debate -although hearing some recent compositions from so called up and coming young talent is more than enough to get you to slit your wrists in the bath.
It does demand to be heard time and time again in concert.
Away from the death and poetry, Philip Cobb’s playing certainly didn’t get anyone looking for an extra bottle of gin and a packet of Mogadon. He was sensational: Only 24 years of age and he can lay claim to be perhaps the finest young trumpet/cornet player in the world. He is that good.
Add to this two Dutch bands that were thoroughly professional and well prepared, Frank Renton on tip top form, an appreciative, supportive audience and organisers who have made everyone feel welcome, then this could be a weekend to savour.
Wednesday 2nd May:
The brilliantly refurbished De Doelen Hall - so different to 1991.
It’s amazing to think that the last time I was here was back in 1991, when Black Dyke won the European title under the baton of David King.
That was a different time in more ways than one.
I played soprano with Tredegar and we celebrated far too long into the small hours of the Dutch night after coming third under the baton of Nigel Weeks.
Meanwhile, the Australian was seen as offering Dyke a new era of overwhelming contesting dominance – something which never quite materialised, thanks in no small part to the management of the band losing their collective nerve.
When the high pressure ‘squeaky bum’ time came at the De Doelen Hall 21 years ago, David King once more came up with the goods.
In contrast, the collective sphincters of the John Foster hierarchy twitched more feverishly than a rabbits nose in front of an iceberg lettuce.
Dyke won in Rotterdam without topping either section of a contest that never quite came to life, thanks also in part to EBBA losing their nerve and dropping of the original set work entitled, 'Aragorn'.
The De Doelen Hall was less than half full when we took to the stage, and despite the victory, within months King was gone.
Just how the history books could have been rewritten if the Black Dyke management had stayed true to their original beief in the Australian is now a delightful hypothesis to enjoy over a pint of two in the local bars that surround the hall. .
Now he’s back though – although this time he leads Norwegian champion Eikanger Bjorsvik – a band that could be on the very cusp of their own extended period of European wide dominance.
You somehow know that the Bergen based band won't suffer a collapse of confidence in their talismanic leader.
The story provides an intriguing backdrop to an eagerly anticipated championship this weekend.
Rotterdam has been a radically changed city in the intervening two decades.
Then, the De Doelen Hall sat unimpressively amid 1960’s brutalised architecture. Now it fits snugly with its refurbished facade in a vibrant business area full of modern high rise glass and steel tower blocks.
Inside, the auditorium has been brought back to life too – with 1850 plush deep purple seats filling the hall with comfy expectancy.
Come the weekend they will be packed with brass band lovers from all over the world.
Different times indeed – both for the contest and especially for David King.
And don't bet against him coming out on top once more too.