Brass band fans tuned-in in numbers across the world to enjoy the performances provided by competitors in the Grand Final of the 2020 Foden's online Solo & Ensemble Competition.
The event formed part of the Sandbach band's latest initiative supported by Arts Council England to help promote brass banding activity during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Based on its successful annual event that has taken place annually since 2010, it saw 34 performances in six sections of competition, introduced by 4BR Editor Iwan Fox.
The initial entry of over 70 had been whittled down by the preliminary round judges, John Barber, Gary Curtin, Jonny Bates and Mark Wilkinson.
The finalists had to impress Gary Curtin and Russell Gray (Under 18 Slow Melody); Jonny Bates and David Childs (Under 18 Air Varie); Michael Fowles and David Childs (Over 18 Slow Melody); Mark Wilkinson and Russell Gray (Over 18 Air Varie); Mark Landon and Simone Rebello (Percussion) and Bram Tovey, Michael Fowles and John Barber (Ensemble).
And as they confirmed before the announcement of the results, they certainly had a difficult task in picking the winners.
Simone said that the percussion finalists had all shown "control and touch"and had approached their playing "with care and expertise"on their "excellent performances", whilst Russell Gray added that the 'Under 18 Slow Melody' competitors all had "a feeling for the music"that had restored his confidence that the next generation "hadn't lost the art of playing the melody".
David Childs highlighted his opinion that the secret to success in the 'Under 18 Air Varie category' was the ability "to get beyond the notes and humanising the music"in looking for the musical line and expression, although he did point out that the 'Over 18 Slow Melody' competitors had "their own issues to varying degrees".
"It's all about musicianship"he said, "carrying a line and phrase in a meaningful way."
Russell Gray noted the 'Over 18 Air Varie' saw him ask himself if he was "hearing what he was looking at?"from the score of the works.
He felt all the competitors "stretched themselves"but that meant that there were times when he was left "wanting more"from the performances. He did however feel that the overall standard was "extremely high".
It was left to Bramwell Tovey to sum up the general feeling about the success of the event and the ensemble category in particular in these troubled times, when he said how great it was to hear people playing together — and to so see conductors in action!
"How pleasurable it's been to listen to the ensemble section,"he said.
Four very talented players battled for the Percussion Category award — the honours eventually claimed by Jordan Ashman.
The 16 year old from Cambridge who plays with the GUS, Youth Brass 2000 and the National Youth Band of Great Britain (NYBBGB) gave a sparkling rendition of 'Piazonore' by Alexej Gerassimez.
Another National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain alumni Lewis Barton had plenty to celebrate on Friday evening as he not only claimed the 'Under 18 Slow Melody' title, but made it a 'double' by also taking first prize in the 'Under 18 Air' Varie' category.
There was some wonderful playing to enjoy in a keenly fought 'Slow Melody' event as each of the five competitors gave fine accounts of themselves.
Third place went to Megan Newbury who plays cornet with the SW Comms Band and the NYBBGB, for her performance of 'All that I Am'. The runner-up was Nadia James from Crewe, who plays cornet with the Marple Band and NYBBGB, who played 'Song of the Night'.
However, it was Lewis who took the title with fine rendition of 'Don't Doubt Him Now' by Leonard Ballantine.
He is the multi-talented principal cornet of the Elland Silver Band (he was also a finalist in the percussion category), a role he has held with the successful top flight Yorkshire Championship Section band since the age of 13.
That extra experience and confidence was certainly shown with a polished rendition of Herman Bellstedt's 'Princess Alice' as he claimed the 'Under 18 Air Varie' title to add to a growing list of impressive achievements already gained in his short playing career.
Runner-up was 16 year old tenor horn player Daniel Marsh from Rainford with his exciting rendition of 'Slavishe Fantasie', whilst third place went to Camborne Band cornet player Lia Teague for her confident performance of the classic 'Facilita'.
A lyrical inspired account of Tom Davoren's 'A Simple Gift' by Anthony Smith, claimed the 'Over 18 Slow Melody' title. The solo euphonium of Filton Concert Brass displayed high class control and nuanced phrasing as he repelled the strong challenge of four high quality rivals.
He later wrote on his Facebook page that he was "delighted"to have won the title.
GUS Band flugel Della Pearce gave an emotive performance of 'By Trevone Bay' in memory of her late father to take the runner-up spot, whilst Sarah Billard, a freelance Eb tuba player was third with her engaging account of 'Flowerdale'.
Blue Riband Kaya
Although the Blue Riband 'Over 18 Air Varie' didn't quite see all the finalists play to the very top of their form, there was still plenty of good quality playing on show, led by eventual winner Kelly Kaya from the Third Carrick Band in Northern Ireland.
Her performance of William Rimmer's arrangement of 'Carnival of Venice' saw the two time Irish champion add another title to her impressive CV.
Kelly took the opportunity through her Facebook page to thank the band for their support and well wishes, but also for the wonderful bouquet of flowers sent to her in a show of appreciation and "massive congratulations"on her achievement.
Second place went to tenor horn player Daniel Sharpe from 1st Old Boys Band in Northern Ireland with his accomplished rendition of Rodney Newton's 'Tenor Toccata', with third place taken by the experienced Andrew Blackledge playing 'Slavische Fantasy'.
At a time when COVID-19 restrictions has meant a renaissance in small ensemble playing, it was particularly encouraging to see an entry of ten competitors provide judges Bram Tovey, Michael Fowles and John Barber with food for thought in making their final decision.
In the end the top two places on the podium were claimed by ensembles from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff — the victor's laurels eventually going to the RWCMD Calvert Ensemble led by conducting student Lewis Wilkinson.
The line-up of Jack Hoof and Ffion Morris (cornet), Jack Lythaby (horn), Ruth Mellor and Josh Dickens (euphonium) and Gregor Spence (tuba) gave a fine rendition of Morley Calvert's 'Elegy and Caprice' — a work derived from his 1978 European Championship test-piece.
It proved good enough to beat their college rivals (also conducted by Lewis) as the RWCMD Gloria Ensemble performed 'Gloria' by Kenneth Downie, with the Shirley Band Tuba Quartet in third as they showcased the rarely heard 'Quartet for Tubas' by Eric Ball.
Foden's Band was certainly delighted by the initial response to the competition which saw 70 players from around the world (including a finalist from China) take part, and whose performances were enjoyed by over 145,000 viewers.
With support from Arts Council England and a raft of sponsors led by Kapitol Promotions and Brass Band World magazine, it also showed that a condensed 'final' presentation also worked well as a commercial promotion.
And whilst there would have been a few wry smiles in viewing some of the presentational packages (and interior decorating) that accompanied some performances, further experience of the online competition format will certainly led to a much more professional appreciation of what is required — especially the need for soloists to engage some sort of musical accompaniment.
With support from Arts Council England and a raft of sponsors led by Kapitol Promotions and Brass Band World magazine, it also showed that a condensed 'final' presentation also worked well as a commercial promotion4BR
Adjudicators: Simone Rebello & Mark Landon
1. Jordan Ashman
2. Samuel Milton
Finalists: Lewis Barton; Daniel Vincent
Under 18 Slow Melody:
Adjudicators: Gary Curtin & Russell Gray
1. Lewis Barton
2. Nadia James
3. Megan Newbury
Finalists: Frederik Engleson; Lia Teague
Under 18 Air Vaire:
Adjudicators: Jonny Bates & David Childs
1. Lewis Barton
2. Daniel Marsh
3. Lia Teague
Finalists: Nadia James; Christopher Oddy
Over 18 Slow Melody:
Adjudicators: Michael Fowles & David Childs
1. Anthony Smith
2. Della Pearce
3. Sarah Billard
Finalists: Peter McDonough; Nathan Moore
Over 18 Air Varie:
Adjudicators: Mark Wilkinson & Russell Gray
1. Kelly Kaya
2. Daniel Sharpe
3. Andrew Blackledge
Finalists: Chao Feng; Peter McDonaugh
Adjudicators: Bramwell Tovey; Michael Fowles; John Barber
1. RWCMD Calvert Ensemble
2. RWCMD Gloria Ensemble
3. Shirley Band Tuba Quartet
4. GUS Quartet
5. GUS Trombones
Finalists: 1st Old Boys Trombones; Brass from the Barn; RWCMD Militaire Ensemble; RWCMD Journey Ensemble; The Little Brass Factory