Allan Withington and Stavanger Brass Band broke the code to Eikanger Bjorsvik's four year hegemony at the Norwegian National Championships with a thrilling victory at Bergen's Grieg Hall.
Topping both the set-work and own-choice elements with their performances of Stig Nordhagen's 'Myth Forest' and Simon Dobson's 'The Turing Test', they secured their first title success since 2015, and their 10th overall, by a surprisingly clear cut margin from runner-up Manger Musikklag, with the defending champion in third.
It also gave their MD his fourth Elite Division victory and his second King's Cup trophy — the bi-annual award presented on behalf of the nation's monarch. Stavanger will now represent the nation at the 2021 European Championships in Malmo in Sweden.
The victory was also the 20th consecutive time one of the big three 'anger' bands had lifted the magnificent National Trophy (it is one heck of a hefty piece of wood and metal though), although there was considerable evidence that the top-six finishers of Jaren Hornmusikkforening, Krohnengen and Tertnes are closing the gap on their rivals after delivering impressive performances of both the evocative set-work and their own-choice selections.
Colour and texture
None though were as good as those produced by the newly crowned champion, with both sets of judges later telling 4BR that it was Allan Withington's ability to bring out the colour textures and dynamic contrasts on the test-piece and 'The Turing Test' that was the most telling factor in their victory.
Writing about their rendition of 'Myth Forest' on Friday evening Bjorn Sagstad said: "Thank you for the nuances, balances and musicality,"whilst Arsene Duc added: "Thank you for this clever interpretation and long lines of music". Kim Lofthouse summed up his overall thoughts with: "Great balances all the way to the end."
24 hours later and the superlatives came from the three open adjudicators for Simon Dobson's complex, but very humane portrait of the troubled mathematical genius Alan Turing — a work that combined the cold logic of binary code mathematics with a despairing feeling of personal humiliation as Turing contemplated, and then decided to take his own life.
"A performance just absolutely brimming with outstanding quality,"wrote Sheona White. "Incredible, fantastico!!!"added Lito Fontana, whilst Rex Martin wrote: "What a beautiful sound. Great meticulous attention to detail."
For the MD though, all the praise was directed at his band. "Wow. They have worked so hard for this and deserve it. I'm so happy for them. I don't think we could have played any better over the two days — and the points show that (they were awarded 98 and 99 points).
It's a great privilege to conduct a band with such an open appreciation of different music — and I'm also delighted that Simon Dobson (the composer of 'The Turing Test') was here to hear us perform. Both his and Stig's piece demand detail, texture and nuance to make them come alive. I think we did that and the end result is this memorable victory."
Once again the main contenders produced outstanding performances over the two legged event — with Eikanger's broadly layered approach to the set-work under Ingar Bergby many neutral's pick on the first day.
However, they were unable to reproduce the same effect on Thomas Doss's 'Spiriti', as lead line fragility and dynamic overload saw them fail to make an impression with the judges who placed them a lowly seventh, ending their chances of becoming the first band to win five National titles in a row.
Meanwhile, Manger's 'thrill a minute' approach under Peter Szilvay certainly brought the audience to their feet on their moth inspired own-choice of 'Midnight's Butterflies', but didn't quite gain the same response on the set-work.
With Stavanger back to the very best of their form, the ultimate destination of the title was hard to calculate — although in the end the margin of victory was clearer than many thought.
Behind the podium finishers, Florent Didier engineered both a sense of elegance on the set-work and a spitefulness on their own-choice of Simon Dobson's new work, 'Venom' to end fourth.
Meanwhile, Prof Nicholas Childs used all his experience in guiding newly promoted Krohnengen into fifth with a finely judged 'Myth Forest' and passionate 'Fraternity' to push Tertnes into sixth, as Martin Winter drew a brace of powerful renditions from his band — especially on their own-choice of 'Metropolis 1927'.
There was also a great deal to enjoy from the other contenders as Kleppe, Bjorsvik Brass, Oslofjord and Oslo provided engaging, if occasionally inconsistent performances.
However, it was noticeable that both sets of judges remarked on the dynamic levels of many of the bands (including Eikanger on their own-choice) which they felt had perhaps reached a point when sheer weight of volume was robbing performances of clarity, balance and tonality.
The harsh, cold metallic timbres and the ever more exotic percussion effects were certainly overdone at times — although as the remarks of the judges for the winners showed, a defined level of control and textured colouration (Stavanger won both the Best Soloist and Best Section awards) was the key on this occasion to title winning success.
There was an impressive winner of the First Division title, as Ila Brass Band led by former Eikanger tuba star Magnus Brandseth produced a performance of their own-choice selection of 'Myth Forest' that would certainly have challenged for a top-six place or better in the Elite Division the day before.
Beautifully crafted and delivered with an icy, mystical feel of despair it gave them their first National title success since 2001, and will see them return to the Elite level for the first time since 2016.
Joining them will be Rong Brass after they produced a thrilling account of 'Bipolar(ity)' by young Belgian composer Stijn Aertgeerts under Dutch conductor Erik Janssen.
The final podium place went to Askoy Brass led by Reid Gilje with their rendition of 'Destination Moon', whilst the remaining top-six places were claimed by solidly delivered performances by Musikkorpset Gjallarhorn, Radoy Brass and Tomra Brass Band.
As always at this contest there was plenty of ambition on show, although the judges later told 4BR that the choices were well made.
A new work written by conductor Jonathan Bates and inspired by the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen saw Orskog claim their third Second Division title, but their first since 2010.
Amundsen famously beat British Antarctic explorer Robert Scott to the South Pole in 1911, so there was a neat twist of fate that the Foden's tenor horn star led his Norwegian compatriots to success on their third attempt together, beating the homegrown talents of Folleso Musikklag and Thorgeir Thunestvedt by a narrow single point margin.
Third place went to Fjell Brass under another Nordic Brit in Joseph Cook, with the remaining top-six places in what was a very Norwegian/British battle for success going to Jolster Musikklag (Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen), Oster Brass (David Morton) and Lindas Brass (Vidar Nordli).
There was plenty of fine playing on show over the two days in the small Peer Gynt auditorium, with the Third Division title claimed by a super rendition of Jan de Haan's 'Flashback' performed by Bergen Brass Band.
With some early members of Eikanger Band in their ranks, they used all their experience under conductor Thor-Arne Pedersen to add the title to their 2011 Fourth Division success.
Joining them in the Second Division next year will be Trondheim Politis Brassband conducted by Espen Andersen, who ended just half a point behind their rivals after delivering a thrilling account of another work by Jan de Haan, 'The Patriots'.
Third place went to Stavanger Kommunes Korps, with the remaining top-six places claimed by Sagvag Musikklag, Tromso Brass and Haukas Musikklag in a contest that certainly showed the strength in depth of Norwegian banding at this level.
There was a first ever National title success for Moen Musikkforening in the Fourth Division — much to the delight of the band's representative on stage at the results ceremony and their supporters in the hall.
Their super performance of Kenneth Downie's 'Purcell Variations' under conductor Ole Kristian Egge gave them a single point margin of victory over rivals Gjesdal Brass Band, who produced a touching reading of George Lloyd's 'Royal Parks', with Filadelfia Hornorkester Drammen providing the number 1 draw marker on William Himes' 'Aspects of Praise' to end third.
The remaining top-six places went to Flora-Bremanger Brassband, Kjolsdalen Musikklag and Tysvaer Brass.
The success of the Norwegian Federation (NMF) is developing grassroots banding in the country was certainly shown in a highly enjoyable Fifth Division.
The own-choice selections, allied to the relaxed registration rules and open adjudication, is also enhanced by the inclusive atmosphere (the compere talks a little about the band or even some of the players as they get ready to play).
The packed hall was full of warm applause for the efforts of each of the 11 bands, with the title eventually claimed by Fla Musikkorps conducted by Odd Steinar Morkved with their cracking number 1 draw rendition of Peter Graham's 'Dimensions'. It was their first National title success since 2010 as they immediately bounced back from last year's relegation.
It gave a clear margin of victory over rivals Sotra Brass under Ben Hirons, who followed them on stage with a detailed reading of 'A Cambrian Suite', whilst Skeie Brass under a busy Nigel Fielding (who also played for two other bands on the weekend) in third, playing 'Viking Age'.
The other top-six places in a super contest went to Holmestrand Ungdomskorps, Randaberg Musikkorps and Langhus Brass.
Impressive championship event
Once again the Norwegian Music Federation organised a hugely impressive championship event — aided by the live-streaming of all the sections, the excellent back room commitment of a huge number of volunteers and professional staff, excellent local, regional and national media coverage and even a revamped logo design and signage that was liberally displayed in the city and in and around the hall itself.
And whilst there may have been the first signs of 'listener fatigue' in some of the sections (the Grieg Hall was perhaps not as packed as it has been over the years), the quality of playing — and especially from the new champions, still left you with an appetite for more in the years to come.
A performance just absolutely brimming with outstanding quality. Incredible, fantastico!!! What a beautiful sound. Great meticulous attention to detailwritten remarks for Stavanger's rendition of 'The Turing Test'.
Set Work: Bjorn Sagstad, Kim Lofthouse, Arsene Duc
Own Choice: Rex Martin, Lito Fontana, Sheona White
Set Work/Own Choice = Total
1. Stavanger Brass (Allan Withington): 98/99 = 98.50*
2. Manger Musikklag (Peter Sebastian Szilvay): 95.5/96 = 95.75
3. Eikanger Bjorsvik Musikklag (Ingar Bergby): 96.5/93.5 = 95.00
4. Jaren Hornmusikkforening (Florent Didier): 93/95 = 94.00
5. Krohnengen (Prof Nicholas Childs): 94/92.5 = 93.25
6. Tertnes Brass (Martin Winter): 91/94.5 = 92.75
7. Kleppe Musikklag (Philip Hannevik): 90/94 = 92.00
8. Bjorsvik Brass (Andreas Hanson): 88/95.5 = 91.75
9. Oslofjord Brass (Frode Amundsen): 91/91 = 91.50
10. Oslo Brass (Ivan Meylemans): 89/93 = 91.00
Best Soloist: Trombone (Stavanger Brass)
Best Section: Percussion (Stavanger Brass)
*Stavanger Brass receives invitation to represent Norway at the 2021 European Championships in Malmo, Sweden
Adjudicators: Bjorn Sagstad, Katrina Marzella, Arsene Duc
1. Ila Brass (Magnus Brandseth) — 97
2. Rong Brass (Erik Janssen) — 96
3. Askoy Brass Band (Reid Gilje) — 94
4. Musikkorpset Gjallarhorn (Adam Cooke) — 93.5
5. Radoy Brass (Bjorn Breistein) — 93
6. Tomra Brass Band (Frans Violet) — 92
7. Molde Brass (Russell Gray) — 90
8. Flesland Musikklag (Thor-Arne Pedersen) — 89
9. Brottum Brass (Ray Farr) — 88
10. Hasle Brass (Robert Solberg Nilsen) — 87
11. Sola Brass Band (Gwyn Evans) — 86
12. Sandefjord Brass Symposium (Helge Haukas) — 85
Best Soloist: Euphonium (Rong Brass)
Best Section: Percussion (Radoy Brass)
Adjudicators: Lito Fontana, Katrina Marzella
1. Orskog Brass (Jonathan Bates) — 97
2. Folleso Musikklag (Thorgeir Thunestvedt) — 96
3. Fjell Brass (Joseph Cook) — 95.5
4. Jolster Musikklag (Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen) — 95
5. Oster Brass (David Morton) — 94
6. Lindas Brass (Vidar Nordli) — 93.5
7. Manger Old Star Brass (Margaret Antrobus) — 93
8. Tertnes Amatorkorps (Tormod Flaten) — 92.5
9. Sorum Musikklag (Elsine Haugstad) — 92
10. Tysnes Musikklag (Yngve Nikolaisen) — 91
11. Alexander Brass Band (Morten E Hansen) — 90
12. Nes Musikkforening (Thorbjorn Lunde) — 89
13. Krohnengen Old Stars (Oyvind Raknes Nikolaisen) — 88
Best Soloist: Euphonium (Orskog Brass)
Best Section: Tubas (Fjell Brass)
Adjudicators: Rex Martin, Sheona White
1. Bergen Brass Band (Thor-Arne Pedersen) — 94.5
2. Trondheim Politis Brassband (Espen Andersen) — 94
3. Stavanger Kommunes Korps (Morten Ovrebekk) — 93
4. Sagvag Musikklag (Tom Davoren) — 92.5
5. Tromso Brass (Maria Nygard Molund) — 92
6. Haukas Musikklag (Yngve Nikolaisen) -91.5
7. Stangaland Brass (Paul Hughes) — 91
8. Lyshornet Brass (Oyvind Raknes Nikolaisen) — 90.5
9. Bjorvika Brass Band (Robert Solberg Nilsen) — 90
10. Laksevag Musikkforening (Frederik Schelderup) — 88
11. Valdres Brass (Rune Furoy Johansen) — 87.5
12. Skui Brassband (Hans Andreas Kjolberg) — 87
13. Agder Brass (Eirik Gjerdevik) — 86.5
14. Gjovik Bybrass (Morten Fagerjord) — 86
15. Norheimsund Musikklag (Patrik Randefalk) — 85.5
Best Soloist: Trombone (Sagvag Musikklag)
Best Section: Cornets (Trondheim Politis Brassband)
Adjudicators: Kim Lofthouse, Selmer Simonsen
1. Moen Musikkforening (Ole Kristian Egge) — 93
2. Gjesdal Brass Band (Jonas Skartveit Rogne) — 92
3. Filadelfia Hornorkester Drammen (Pal Andre G Worren) — 91
4. Flora-Bremanger Brassband (Johnny Saelemyr) — 90
5. Kjolsdalen Musikklag (Arvid Anthun) — 89.5
6. Tysvaer Brass (Martin Kinn) — 89
7. Fraena Musikkorps (Jens Kristian Mordal) — 88.5
8. Hetlevik Musikklag (Sturle Berntsen) — 88
9. Grenland Brass (Tommy Sorby) — 87.5
10. Saksumdal Musikkforening (Andres Halla) — 87
11. IMI Brass (Halvor Gaard) — 86
12. Indre Torungen Brass Ensemble (Lars Bjornar Strengenes) — 85
13. Floro Hornmusikk (Torgeir Halvorsen) — 84
14. Frei Hornmusikk (Stein Age Sorlie) — 83
Best Soloist: Cornet (Hetlevik Musikklag)
Best Section: Trombones (Gjesdal Brass Band)
Adjudicators: Bengt Florvag, Svein Henrik Giske
1. Fla Musikkorps (Odd Steinar Morkved) — 93
2. Sotra Brass (Ben Hirons) — 91.5
3. Skeie Brass (Nigel Fielding) — 91
4. Holmestrand Ungdomskorps (Arild Ovrum) — 90
5. Randaberg Musikkorps (Pal Magne Austernes-Underhaug) — 89
6. Langhus Brass (Tomas Austestad) — 88
7. Fjordbrass-Lavik (Jason Burn) — 87
8. Riska Brass Band (Espen Westbye) — 86
9. Lismarka/Mesnali Brass (Andres Halla) — 84
10. Brumunddal Brass (Gunnar Roen) — 83
11. Otta Musikkforening (Per Kritian Syversen) — 82
Best Soloist: Euphonium (Fla Musikkorps)
Best Section: Cornets (Randaberg Musikkorps)