EBBA's Challenge Section continues to provide rather more questions than definitive answers following the Italian Brass Band's outstanding victory under the direction of MD, Filippo Cangiamila.
Their successful title defence was their third win in the past four years, and the nation's fourth in the last five. Although not officially confirmed, it's understood that the Italian Brass Band Association will seek to compete in the Championship Section in future.
All well and good then, especially as this victory was accompanied a heart-warming story of sheer determination, as their charismatic MD later told 4BR.
He revealed that with less than a month before they headed to Utrecht, no less than 10 players were refused permission from their employers to play at the event (members play with various military ensembles, local police or Carabinieri bands in and around Rome).
Despite the intervention from Italian Band Association President Lito Fontana, the decision was not reversed and the band had to find new personnel in a desperately short space of time.
That they did was remarkable — as was the eventually decision by the authorities to allow four players to go to the contest with the band but still refuse them permission to play!
"It was a real problem for the band,"Lito later told 4BR. "It's incredible that the decision was made, but we were determined to overcome it. Only in Italy can this happen!"
He added: "Everyone worked so hard and this was the result. We are all so proud of the band and the players and what the result means. We think we are now ready to compete in the Championship Section, but we will need to discuss this further and with EBBA."
The MD was equally enthusiastic by the prospect: "I think we would all love that — although we will have to wait and see. We are ambitious and want to improve all the time, so perhaps the time is right. For now we celebrate this victory!"
That taste of success was especially sweet then as the players, supporters and MD sang their hearts out on the stage in celebration before making the wonderful gesture of joining in the applause and the singing of the ubiquitous 'Campeones' song with the newly crowned European Champions of Valaisia.
This was the compelling mark of what EBBA has been trying to achieve with the Challenge Section since it was reorganised, although it still seems perplexing that the podium finishers of Gota Brass Band from Sweden and the Germans of Badische Brass Band are part of countries that already play an active part in competing in the Championship Section.
On the weekend EBBA reported on the encouraging news that Spain and even Poland may well send competitors to the event in the near future, whilst the obvious maturing development of Sunday Brass from Lithuania and the continued long term support of Northern Ireland (excellently represented by Laganvale (Metal Technology) Band) shows that the contest remains an attractive proposition — even if its actual purpose remains frustratingly unclear.
Those though are concerns for EBBA to sort out in time for Montreux or even Palanga in 2020, as here the contest was a joyful musical battle between five determined bands and their excellent MDs.
Each performed Hendrik de Boer's engaging set-work, 'Mystic Echoes' — a transparent three-movement composition that asked contrasting questions of mood; one resolute, rhythmic and pulsating, the other darker, lyrical and Delphic.
It was enjoyable stuff — testing technique and ensemble balance (using a clever chordal homage to the composer Scriabin) before eventually coming to a triumphant conclusion.
The Italian Brass Band was splendid; detailed, balanced, textured and dynamically coherent — the focal point being their 'Best Instrumentalist' award winner, principal cornet Francesco Crivello, a player of supple musical gifts.
Combined with a finely structured interpretation by the MD of Roland Wiltgen's taxing 1995 European set-work 'Red Earth', it gave the band from Rome a comprehensive margin of victory. It did not flatter them.
A little way behind came the confident Swedes of Gota Brass Band led by Michael Thomson.
Their set-work also spoke of detailed appreciation and warm tonality, whilst their performance of the increasingly popular 'Sinfonietta No 3' by Etienne Crausaz was spirited, colourful and dramatic.
The point deduction for going over the time limit seemed a touch draconian, although thankfully it did not affect the overall result.
Much to admire
There was also much to admire with Badische Brass Band — especially as their performance in Utrecht took place just a week before their own German National Championships in Bad Kissingen. Bold and symphonic in tonality they produced a confident account of the set-work plus an appropriately coloured take of Gilbert Vinter's 'Spectrum'.
Elsewhere, the maturing contest experience gained by the Lithuanians of Sunday Brass was marked and richly encouraging. Two boldly portrayed renditions of the set-work and own-choice of 'Vivat!' by Tom Davoren under Tadas Sileika gave further concrete evidence of their progress, whilst the same applied to the spirited playing of Laganvale (Metal Technology) led by Stephen Crook.
Their performances, especially of their own-choice 'Toccata e Fantasia' by Thomas Doss were delivered with passion and pride, as well as a great deal of confidence and artistry.
What the future holds for this contest is perhaps anyone's guess — as in a strange way it works for no apparent reason other than providing a platform for bands, rather than nations, to showcase their ambition, determination and development — and that, as the Italian Brass Band showed in more ways than one, can be no bad thing.
with less than a month before they headed to Utrecht, no less than 10 players were refused permission from their employers to play at the event4BR
Adjudicators: Jan de Haan, Joseph Parisi, Ian Porthouse
Test Piece: Mystic Echoes (Hendrik de Boer) & Own Choice
1. Italian Brass Band (Filippo Cangiamila) — 94
2. Gota Brass Band (Michael Thomsen) — 90 *
3. Badische Brass Band (Dominik Koch) — 88
4. Sunday Brass (Tadas Sileika) — 84
5. Laganvale (Metal Technology) (Stephen Crooks) — 82
Best Soloist: Francesco Crivello cornet (Italian Brass Band)
*denotes 1 point deducted for surpassing the limit of total playing time