The international language of brass band music making found a common form of expression in Eccles on the outskirts of Manchester on the weekend.
Eleven competitors took part in the Brass Band Conductors' Association (BBCA) Conducting Competition in the hope of not only claiming the title, £200 first prize and membership of BBCA, but also the future opportunity to test their skills working with an elite level band.
At the end of an intensive semi-final and final examination day aided by the skilful accompaniment of the Hammonds and Eccles Borough Bands, it was the Swiss-Italian Boris Oppliger who claimed the honours from judges Dr David Thornton and Paul Hindmarsh.
The 30-year-old has already accumulated extensive experience after gaining his Masters in Conducting & Instrumental Pedagogy from Bern University in 2020. He is currently the Musical Director of the Swiss First Division band, Ensemble de Cuivres la Covatte Coeuve as well as the Fanfare de Montsevelier ensemble and the mixed choir 'Val Terbi en coeuve'.
In addition he also organises annual wind ensemble projects in the city of Bern and chairs the music commission of the Federation of Brass Bands of Ajoie.
His calm persona and precise, elegant technique certainly impressed as he worked on an extended section of Peter Graham's 'The Essence of Time' with Hammonds Band in the morning semi-final.
It saw him qualify for the six-person final, where he led Eccles Borough Band in Philip Harper's arrangement of the filmatic highlights from 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' to secure the accolade.
Speaking to 4BR following the presentation of the award, he said: "The UK remains the benchmark standard for brass band conductors. This has been an event I have wanted to participate in for some time and to be able to get through to the final against so many fine conductors was something I was proud of."
He added: "My thanks and congratulations go to them all, and to the organisers and especially the two bands — they were wonderful to work with. To win is a huge honour and offers so many exciting possibilities for me to improve my conducting in the future."
Runner-up and 'Highest Placed UK Entrant' was English conductor Jack Capstaff, adding another impressive entry to an emerging CV of achievement that has seen him gain plaudits for his work with Midlands Championship Section Derwent Brass.
He also worked on 'The Essence of Time' in the semi-final before leading Eccles through 'For the Love of a Princess' arranged by Andy Duncan in the evening.
Meanwhile, third place went to the experienced Swedish conductor of former National Champion Solna Brass, Carl-Emil Björklund. He also claimed his place in the final working on the Peter Graham test-piece before conducting 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' in the evening.
The other finalists in a high-quality competition were well known Scottish conductor Stuart Black ('Essence of Time'/'A Disney Fantasy'), Alan Gifford ('Essence of Time'/'Mary Poppins — Symphonic Suite') who is currently studying at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and Colum O'Shea, MD of Chapeltown Silver Band in Yorkshire ('Contest Music'/'James Bond Collection').
Speaking about the event, Dr David Thornton told 4BR: "It was a very high standard throughout the day with the conductors coping well with the diverse challenges posed by 'Contest Music' and 'The Essence of Time' as well as the concert scores.
It was interesting to see the approaches taken in working on the scores and the way in which they communicated that to the bands."
There was a real confidence about his approach, especially his command of what he wanted to do and how he communicated it -verbal and non-verbal. That's the mark of a fine conductorDr David Thornton
As to the winner, both he and Paul were in unanimous agreement. "There was a real confidence about his approach, especially his command of what he wanted to do and how he communicated it — verbal and non-verbal. That's the mark of a fine conductor."
"We had such an enjoyable day, and my congratulations go to all the conductors who made our job very difficult and to both bands for great playing,"Paul added.
"It was so good to be able to talk to each of the eleven conductors and find out more about their inspiration, approaches, and musical outlooks. The bands who have them at the helm are in very good hands."
The six finalists came from a keenly fought semi-final where the 11 hopefuls (Helen Douthwaite-Teasdale had to withdraw due to illness) had to work through elements of either 'Contest Music' or 'The Essence of Time'. They included Neil Brownless, Andrea Durante, Ian Walshaw, Kieron Howe and Davide Casafina.
Each had just 15 minutes with an impressively responsive Hammonds Band, before the judges gave feedback to each before making their decision who would go through to the evening's final.
Night at the Movies
The six were then given another 15 minutes to work on their concert pieces which formed part of an entertaining 'Night at the Movies' by a confident Eccles Band (with a special mention to Alan Morrison on soprano who played throughout the day for both bands), led through their individual contribution by Mareika Gray.
A supportive audience certainly enjoyed the performance of the conductors and the band who played with concentrated effort and fully deserved the plaudits directed to them.
Speaking about the event, BBCA Chair, James Holt said: "It has has been a huge success and I'm extremely proud of the Association for what has been achieved.
I would like to thank all that have played their part with special mention to Hammonds and Eccles Bands whose playing was outstanding throughout. I also want to thank our adjudicators Paul Hindmarsh and David Thornton for their thorough work throughout the day."
He added: "All the competitors have been highly complimentary of the feedback received and the huge benefit this will have for their future conducting."
The competition which had run for many years was brought back in 2016, with the 2021 event held on-line due to Covid-19. Now, with the support of a rejuvenated BBCA and with the support of Yamaha, Brass Bands England and 'ECHO' — Eccles Community Hub Organisation it future seems bright.
As does that of the winner.