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Report & Result: 2019 European Championship

Cory claim European title with sequel success that leaves everyone in Montreux breathless.

European
  The Cory Band reclaimed the European Brass Band Championship title in Montreux under MD Philip Harper

Just when all seemed lost Tintin triumphed.

There were only three sentences left to be read out to reach the denouement of what had been a gripping twin-chapter story of the 42nd European Championships.

Three short announcements before the identity of the winner, the vast majority of the packed audience in the Stravinski Auditorium in Montreux were expecting to be the Norwegian champion Eikanger Bjorsvik, was revealed.

But then the plot line veered 1500 miles from Bergen to Treorchy via Paris.

No one, not even Hergé himself saw it coming.

Extraordinary fashion

Just how Philip Harper and Cory Band did it will be debated for many years to come. When all seemed done and dusted, their remarkable powers of determination, technical brilliance and sheer unadulterated musical hutzpah had somehow clawed back lost test-piece ground to claim the title for a seventh time in extraordinary fashion.

A point behind them came Paris Brass Band (a result that lifted the hearts of their players, many of whom had recently performed in Notre Dame Cathedral, as it came with the invitation to compete at the 2020 British Open), with Eikanger Bjorsvik in third. The remaining top-six places went to Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern, Willebroek and Valaisia.

Whatever Paul Raphael decides to write about next, this will take some beating. It would most probably win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Stunned

The audience was left stunned, the Norwegians bewildered, the French overcome with emotion. The hall throbbed with a heady cocktail hum of disbelief, disappointment (there was some unsporting booing), delight and delirium.

Amid the chaos Cory players rushed to the stage from a local Irish themed pub to enjoy the beginnings of what would be a long night of celebration. It was a quite remarkable triumph for a quite remarkable conductor and band.

It was also the final act in what had been a spellbinding competition.

"I can't quite believe it,"Philip Harper (aka Paul Raphael) somehow summed things up to 4BR. "We had to do something special and we did. This band is incredible."

Few would disagree after this result.

Awesome

The judge's remarks hinted that they had work to do after their rendition of Ludovic Neurohr's fevered set-work, 'Dear Cassandra' on the Friday.

Not at their best, the positively written critiques of Ian Bousfield, Herve Grelat and Bert Van Thienen also touched on the judge's concerns: "very spirited", "lost some transparency which was a shame", "can have more groove".

24 hours later it was a different story altogether as Jan Van der Roost, Thomas Reudi and Rieks van der Velde assessed the performance of 'Explorers on the Moon' like over-excited 1950s teenage Tintin fans who had read the 17th book in the series without their parent's permission — late at night under the duvet cover with a torch.

As the penultimate band on the Saturday, their critiques fuelled the engines to enable Cory to overcome the three point deficit on their Norwegian rivals and the single point margin from the French: "Outstanding playing... just great!", "Thank you for a spectacular performance", "Awesome — stunning performance!!"

It was indeed.

Thrill a minute

Never has a European title been snatched from the grasp of a rival in such dramatic, thrill a minute fashion.

Friday had seen Eikanger reign supreme. Their rendition of 'Dear Cassandra', was a construct of questioning musical beauty; Ingar Bergby and his players opening up the composer's puzzle box of tricks, treats and traps to work it all out with such clarity of elegantly intense thought processing that it was unmistakably definitive.

They were a class part.

Behind them came the Germans of 3BA Concert Brass (who performed superbly under Luc Vertommen), Paris, Cory, Willebroek and Brass Band Oberosterreich — each providing very different interpretations to consider; from muscularity and heft to delicacy and lyricism.

Further back a nervous defending champion Valaisia perhaps knew they had already lost their grip on the famous Milton Steven trophy, whilst Luzern and Groningen also had too much ground to make up after musically engaging, if error prone accounts.

Meanwhile, English champion Brighouse & Rastrick seemed cursed with their luck (right from the draw in fact); a finely structured world premiere (although seemingly pacier than rivals) failing to find favour in the box to finish 10th, ahead of Gota, Concord and the Italian Brass Band.

Epic battle

Saturday's epic battle of the blockbusters was a more considered affair than in recent years; with just the one new work from the mysterious Paul Raphael — who all along had been hiding in plain sight.

The talk in the bars of the Montreux Convention Centre was that the title was Eikanger's to lose — and so it proved, although not in the way the vast majority of people expected.

The drama unfolded immediately: Valaisia's performance of Simon Dobson's textural 'Glass' contrasting hugely with the sheer visceral intensity of Luzern's imposing 'King Kong on Rue Igor Stravinsky' that followed.

3BA Concert Band provided an accomplished rendition of Peter Graham's 'The 39th Parallel' before Eikanger seemingly set the seal on their triumph with a stunning 'Concerto Grosso' — one that although not error proof pulsated with intensity and stylish contrast. It didn't however resonate in the box — ending 8th.

Exactly why, we may never know, but in a contest with such fine margins between performances of brilliance, it seemed harsh.

After that things played out on what seemed to be a prescribed path; Concord, Willebroek, Italian Brass Band, Groningen, Gota and Oberostereich each delivering high-class renditions of their own-choice works that were destined to jostle for the minor placings such was overall standard of excellence.

Paris though provided a jolt to the system – a colourful, imaginative rendition of 'Music of the Spheres' delightfully shaped with cultured cosmic understanding by Florent Didier to bring a fresh feeling of bravura to the familiar score.

However, if that was a space age trip of earth bound observation, Cory's 'Explorers on the Moon' was a whole new realm of interstellar cartoon-strip inspired excitement.

Hero

Philip Harper connected the opening of his sequel (it was him all along) to the ambiguous ending of 'Destination Moon' with an off-stage call to Tintin's spaceship that provided both a clever literary as well musical device to revive the teenage detective's lunar adventures.

It was spectacularly brilliant playing projected in an easily understood musical language that ended with the hero overcoming challenges and treachery to triumph. And whilst no-one had to make the self-sacrifice of engineer Frank Wolff to ensure victory it was one heck of a close run thing. They gave it everything.

With the audience left breathless by it all, Brighouse delivered a passionate 'Brussels Requiem' to close the contest – one rich in emotional intensity that saw them deservedly finish fourth but still end in the lower reaches of the final results table. They could count themselves unlucky.

The Gala Concert that heralded the results was an enjoyable affair, yet expectations were seemingly fixed on what was expected to be a Nordic triumph.

What came next however surprised everyone.

Crevasse

The announcements of Willebroek and Luzern brought generous applause and acknowledgement — before the revelation that the third placed band had been given 98 points on the set-work and just 91 on their own-choice sent the first tremor of the unexpected through the hall.

The second announcement that it was Eikanger hit the Richter scale.

It was as if Roald Amundsen after reaching the South Pole by a huge margin had on his return, fallen down a crevasse with base camp and adulation in sight. And then to cap it all, the Welsh, followed by the French had hopped over his sledges and huskies and claimed all the glory.

The announcement of Paris in second place further enhanced the feeling of something remarkable was about to be revealed — and so it proved.

That though, as others have said time and time again (and experienced), is the very nature of brass band competition: It's only the opinion of the judges that count.

How victory is claimed will always be scrutinised and debated, but it will never diminish the authenticity and deserved nature of it. And that is what happened here in Montreux.

What a contest it had been, and what a victory Herge's Tintin and Paul Raphael's Cory had claimed.

Iwan Fox

"I can't quite believe it," Philip Harper (aka Paul Raphael) somehow summed things up to 4BR. "We had to do something special and we did. This band is incredible."Philip Harper

Results:


Championship Section:


Adjudicators:
Set Work: Ian Bousfield, Herve Grelat, Bert Van Thienen
Own Choice: Jan Van der Roost, Thomas Reudi, Rieks van der Velde

Test Piece: Dear Cassandra (Ludovic Neurohr)
(Draw): Set Work/Own Choice = Total

1. Cory (Philip Harper): 95/98 = 193 points
Explorers on the Moon (Paul Raphael)

2. Paris Brass Band (Florent Didier): 96/96 = 192 points
Music of the Spheres (Philip Sparke)

3. Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag (Ingar Bergby): 98/91 = 189 points
Concerto Grosso (Derek Bourgeois)

4. Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern (Michael Bach): 91/97 = 188 points
King Kong on Rue Igor-Stravinsky (Paul McGhee)

5. Brass Band Willebroek (Frans Violet): 94/93 = 187 points
Concerto for Brass Band (Roland Szentpali)

6. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc): 92/94 = 186 points
Glass (Simon Dobson)

7. 3BA Concert Band (Luc Vertommen): 97/88 = 185 points*
The 39th Parallel (Peter Graham)

8. Brass Band Oberosterreich (Ian Porthouse): 93/92 = 185 points
From Ancient Times (Jan Van der Roost)

9. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof. David King): 89/95 = 184 points
A Brussels Requiem (Bert Appermont)

10. Provinciale Brass Band Groningen (Richard Visser): 90/89 = 179 points
Old Licks Bluesed Up (Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen)

11. Gota Brass Band (Michael Thomson): 88/90 = 178 points
The 39th Parallel (Peter Graham)

12. Concord Brass Band (Jesper Juul Windahl): 87/87 = 174 points
Vita Aeterna Variations (Alexander Comitas)

13. Italian Brass Band (Filippo Cangiamila): 86/86 = 172 points
Extreme Make-Over (Johan de Meij)

Best Soloist: Glenn Van Looy (euphonium) — Valaisia Brass Band

*Set Work placing takes precedence in event of a tie

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