Saturday saw one of the banding world’s great conducting talents finally secure a personal grand slam of major titles, as Allan Withington led Foden’s to victory at the 160th British Open at Symphony Hall.
In an engrossing contest packed with a host of intriguing ‘Electra’ interpretations from the 17 contenders, the Norwegian based Englishman brilliantly led the Sandbach band to claim the famous gold shield.
In the process they also stopped Black Dyke’s seemingly inexorable progress towards their own 2012 ‘Grand Slam’ in its high powered tracks.
Reigning champion Cory produced a superb defence of their title under the baton of new MD Philip Harper to come third, whilst there were excellent performances from crowd favourites Grimethorpe and Brighouse & Rastrick to secure fourth and fifth.
Leyland completed the prize winners announced from the stage in sixth.
Epitome of cool
As the Foden’s players joyously celebrated their first Open success since 2008, (as one happy player remarked—they seem to do rather well in Olympic years) the man who has finally added a Mortimer Maestro Trophy to his collection of National and European triumphs (not forgetting a host of Norwegian wins) was the epitome of cool as he quietly surveyed the aftermath of victory from the side of the stage.
With his designer sunglasses perched on top of his head and a smile worth a million Nordic Krone, he clutched the one personal memento to have eluded him in 22 previous attempts at the event—until now.
"I’m delighted of course," he said modestly, "But more pleased for the players. When I first came to the band a lot of people thought the success would come immediately, but it didn’t, so to win here after all the hard work they have put in makes this first victory all the better."
The MD was full of praise for the way his players approached a work that they certainly grew to enjoy: "It’s a very difficult piece," he added with a wry smile, before revealing one of the secrets to mastering it on the day.
"It took a great deal of work to get right. I concentrated on the music, not the technicalities such the time signatures, and the band really got the feel of what I wanted to bring out of the score. They were superb."
That was certainly acknowledged by each of the three adjudicators, Stephen Roberts, Derek Broadbent and Steve Sykes.
"Fabulous—what a performance! Detail, quality, musicality—it had it all!" wrote Stephen. "Dynamics and detail are superb! I just listen. And it was worth listening to!!" added Derek.
Steve Sykes closed by writing, "...a breathless conclusion. Well sorted by MD! Very enjoyable."
After the disappointment of the English Nationals in Preston, victory tasted very sweet for principal euphonium Glyn Williams, whose personal contribution saw him also claim the Geoff Whitham Award as the ‘Best Euphonium’ Player.
"It’s nice to be recognised for your playing," he said, "But it’s the overall victory that counts most. To win the Open takes a great team effort—and that’s what we have always had at Foden’s.
Allan has been inspirational since he came to the band and we were determined to show that we could win a major title under him."
With Black Dyke’s second place greeted with the usual sharp intake of collective breath around the hall, compere David Hayward’s announcement of Foden’s victory was greeted with generous approval from the audience, the vast majority of who thoroughly enjoyed the test ‘Electra’ posed for the competing bands.
However, the Queensbury band’s ‘near faultless’ performance, as described in Stephen Roberts remarks (Steve Sykes thought they ‘really nailed it!’), straight after the mid contest break, just failed to squeeze past Foden’s, who had earlier ended the first half of the contest in breathtaking fashion.
Near perfection wasn’t to prove quite enough though as Dyke headed back to Yorkshire with their Grand Slam dreams shattered.
"All three judges were so impressed by Foden’s, but when number 10 came on (Black Dyke) we really had to look so closely at things again," Stephen Roberts later told 4BR.
"We just felt there were a few more little slips in their performance—but it was very, very close."
Stephen’s remarks echoed those given earlier by Derek Broadbent from the stage, where he congratulated both the composer and the bands for a test piece that gave them ‘almost carte blanche’—and ‘the judges too’.
"There were two or three truly outstanding performances," he said.
"We looked for patterns and detail in the first movement, shape and phrasing in the second. The third was a certainly a ‘Dance to the Death—almost a ‘Devil’s Galop’ for some."
He added: "The winners had great precision, detail and so much musicality."
It took a great deal of work to get right. I concentrated on the music, not the technicalities such the time signatures, and the band really got the feel of what I wanted to bring out of the score. They were superbAllan Withington
The third of the ‘outstanding’ trio certainly came from Cory, as the Philip Harper era got off to a stunning start with a performance full of rich musicality and technical vitality.
The band’s mercurial soprano player Steve Stewart produced a stunning individual display to claim the Brian Evans Memorial Award, whilst the judges were certainly impressed by Cory’s overall rendition too, with Stephen Roberts writing: "...the whole piece hung together most convincingly. Bravo!"
Fine returns for Grimey and Brighouse
Fans of Grimethorpe will have been delighted by their return to major contest form. The Yorkshiremen (and woman) produced a fine performance under the baton of Garry Cutt as the last band of the day to gain a deserved fourth place.
Earlier, Professor David King’s refined interpretation, full of controlled dynamics and tempi saw National champions Brighouse & Rastrick produce the standard-setting high quality marker to beat off the number 5 draw.
Their eventual fifth place finish was aided by a superb individual contribution from the Stanley Wainwright ‘Best Soloist’ winner, Stuart Lingard on principal cornet, whose lyrical excellence in the central ‘Lament’ section was one of the musical highlights of the entire day.
The much fancied Leyland couldn’t quite do enough to eventually end higher than sixth, despite a typically enjoyable lyrical interpretation of the score from MD Michael Bach.
A few too many slips cost them the chance of their first Open success since 1994.
In a contest that saw a wide range of interpretations, it was a very solidly constructed performance from Co-operative Funeralcare under Allan Ramsay that impressed many to end just outside the prizes in seventh.
The remaining top ten spots went to a delighted Virtuosi GUS who gained a second successive eighth place finish, whilst Desford’s very individual musical take on ‘Electra’, saw them come 9th.
There was disappointment for two of the pre-contest favourites though, as Fairey ended 10th, with 2010 champions Tredegar way back in 15th.
Grand Shield champions Hepworth produced a solid account in 11th to head home the midfield finishers of Carlton Main and number 1 draw debutants Seindorf Beaumaris.
At the other end of the results table, it is understood that Kirkintilloch and Rothwell Temperance will head back to the Grand Shield, with Reg Vardy holding onto their Open status by virtue of ending one place higher on the day than their Yorkshire rivals.
Ian Clowes's brilliant images of the day and all the action can be found at: http://www.pbase.com/troonly/2012_british_open
Full contest retrospectives and analysis will appear on 4BR in the next few days.
Saturday 1st September
Test Piece: 'Electra' — Dr Martin Ellerby
Adjudicators: Derek Broadbent, Stephen Roberts, Steve Sykes
1. Foden's (Allan Withington)
2. Black Dyke (Dr Nicholas Childs)
3. Cory (Philip Harper)
4. Grimethorpe Colliery (Garry Cutt)
5. Brighouse & Rastrick (Professor David King)
6. Leyland (Michael Bach)
7. Co-operative Funeralcare (Allan Ramsay)
8. Virtuosi GUS (John Berryman)
9. Desford Colliery (Nigel Seaman)
10. Fairey (Russell Gray)
11. Hepworth (Michael Fowles)
12. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Phillip McCann)
13. Seindorf Beaumaris (Gwyn M Evans)
14. Kirkintilloch (Paul Holland)*
15. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)
16. Reg Vardy (Ray Farr)
17. Rothwell Temperance (David Roberts)*
* Relegated to Grand Shield (to be confirmed)
Stanley Wainwright Memorial Trophy: Stuart Lingard (Brighouse & Rastrick)
Brian Evans Memorial Trophy: Steve Stewart (Cory)
The Geoffrey Whitham Memorial Trophy: Glyn Williams (Foden's)