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Report & Result: 2018 British Open

A scintillating contest was won in memorable fashion by a remarkable band at Symphony Hall — as Cory under Philip Harper claimed their seventh British Open title.

Philip Harper Shield
  Philip Harper leads Cory to British Open victory


Philip Harper could barely contain the outpouring of his emotions: And who could blame him?

His band — and it is his musical DNA that now runs through Cory's competitive veins, had just won arguably the finest brass band competition in the world for many years, with what he himself described as, "pretty much like a perfect winning performance."

Few who were lucky enough to hear Cory at Symphony Hall could muster much of an argument against that opinion, or his heartfelt show of pride, passion and sheer unadulterated joy.

Memorable victory

This was the most memorable of victories by a remarkable conductor and band.

The judges, Paul Holland, Rob Wiffin and Stephen Roberts certainly confirmed the stature of the victory; variously describing their rendition of 'A Brussels Requiem' in their written remarks as 'completely brilliant and moving', a 'fantastic performance' and 'an absolute stunner!'

Afterwards in the curry houses and bars of Broad Street in Birmingham that endorsement would surely have been further rubber-stamped by supporters and rivals alike.

Despite superb performances in particular from defending champion Valaisia, Brighouse & Rastrick and Eikanger Bjorsvik Musikklag, Cory triumphed in a manner that spoke volumes in regard to their immense sense of collective musical spirit and endeavour — as well as their incredible levels of artistic and technical prowess.

No resting

And the frightening thing for rivals (and especially those at the National Finals in a few weeks time) is that the Welsh band will not settle on their laurels either — even after this special achievement.

"Well there you are," Philip Harper said. "That did feel pretty much like a perfect winning performance.

As the world's number 1 brass band you're always the favourite — and we are not going to win them all, but when we do win we hope it kind of sends a message out that we ain't going to give up that number 1 ranking very easily."

He added: "We always strive to improve with every performance, be it in the bandroom or on the contest stage," before ominously confirming; "I haven't thought about London yet, but we soon will."

Any other occasion

How those Albert Hall contenders can hope to topple Cory on this type of form will surely give conductors musical migraines in the coming weeks, as even when first Brighouse & Rastrick, followed by Eikanger and then Valaisia gave performances that on any other occasion may well have emphatically claimed the title, were still left defeated.

This was also confirmed by the judge's written remarks.

Valaisia's performance, described by the judges as being "absolutely amazing", of "enormous stature", and "just astonishing" came second, whilst Brighouse's in third was one that contained "exceptional playing", "full of musical understanding", played in an "exhilarating manner".

Eikanger — a "great band" giving a performance that was "very impressive" and "fantastic" had to be content with fourth.

It gives you some idea of the stature of Cory's seventh British Open success.

Closest

The Swiss came closest — beaten only in the opinion of the judges when speaking to 4BR after results, by the sheer magical quality of Cory's playing in the central 'In Memoriam' section.

Speaking to 4BR after the results Paul Holland said that it has been a "stellar' contest and "a brilliant standard", although, two bands still stood out. The difference between Cory and Valaisia he said was that the slow music from the winner was, "really touching".

In the event they felt Brighouse and Eikanger came a yard or two further back, although they also confirmed that rest were left somewhat sniffing the Welsh band's vapour trails in a high class contest of their own.

He added that the bands placed as far down as eighth gave "really fine performances" that on "a different day, different draw, if they ran it again, the order could change. We were splitting hairs about some of the positions there."

As for the main criticism of others he felt that some bands had "over-egged" the slow music making it "a bit contrived".

Stephen Roberts concurred, adding that the top bands were "exceptional" and the first two "were really tight" and "that it could have gone either way". He felt that the bands that created "drama and drive" had done well.

Dyke pressure

Perhaps that was something they identified with Black Dyke. Their fifth place firmly secured their place at the 2019 contest (and what pressure they were under) — although some critics felt that may have ridden their luck after a performance of ensemble excellence but soloist fragilities.

In contrast, a resurgent Leyland certainly made an impression on neutral listeners to round off an engrossing contest off with a thoroughly deserved sixth place finish.

Meanwhile, Carlton Main impressed many under the baton of Belgian conductor Luc Vertommen (who later admitted to understandably feeling an emotional tie to the work) in coming seventh for the second successive year, whilst slightly subdued accounts from Grimethorpe and Fairey eventually finished behind them.

Foden's in tenth will have left disappointed that a colourful account led by Michael Bach didn't quite impress in the box as it did with many in the hall.

Aldbourne impress

The midfield finishers won't have had much cause for compliant: Performances of merit from Desford, Tredegar, Flowers and Wingates were certainly scarred by expensive individual errors, although Aldbourne in particular impressed on their debuts to come a solid thirteenth.

However, at the danger end of the results table Grand Shield champion Hammonds will know they will have to impress next year if they are not to make a quick return to Blackpool after finishing sixteenth, whilst Whitburn fell from the heights of runner-up in 2017 to seventeenth after they couldn't build on a fine start off the number 1 draw.

Both will be already feeling the creak of the relegation trap door joists.

For the unfortunate duo of Rothwell Temperance and Co-operative Funeralcare, the Winter Gardens awaits next May.

We always strive to improve with every performance, be it in the bandroom or on the contest stage. I haven't thought about London yet, but we soon willCory MD, Philip Harper

Worldwide attraction

On a day when very few soloists came away completely unscathed, the outstanding European trio of Vincent Bearpark, principal cornet of Valaisia, soprano Jon-Vegar Sole Sundal of Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag, and euph star Philippe Schwartz of Brighouse & Rastrick claimed deserved individual honours.

Once again the British Open showed to the banding world just what an attraction it has become — and not just with the brass band aficionados who once again came from across the globe to enjoy a remarkable contest day.

Accents from the USA to Australia and from Camborne to Christchurch in New Zealand were heard in animated conversation on the concourse as they picked up their study scores and programmes, whilst the Twofour television production company followed some of the bands for a future Sky Arts series and 4BR provided continuous live coverage of the event.

It made for a contest that will live long in the memory banks — not least of all for the truly memorable way in which it was won by Cory Band under Philip Harper.

Result:

Adjudicators: Paul Holland, Stephen Roberts, Rob Wiffin OBE

1. Cory (Philip Harper)
2. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc)
3. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof. David King)
4. Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag (Bjarte Engeset)
5. Black Dyke (Prof. Nicholas J. Childs)
6. Leyland (Thomas Wyss)
7. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Luc Vertommen)
8. Grimethorpe Colliery (Allan Withington)
9. Fairey (Garry Cutt)
10. Foden's (Michael Bach)
11. Desford Colliery (LMTF) (Michael Fowles)
12. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)
13. Aldbourne (Dr David Thornton)
14. Flowers (Phillip McCann)
15. Wingates (Paul Andrews)
16. Hammonds Saltaire (Morgan Griffiths)
17. Whitburn (Florent Didier)
18. Rothwell Temperance (David Roberts)*
19. Co-operative Funeralcare (Frans Violet)*

Stanley Wainwright Memorial Trophy: Vincent Bearpark (Principal Cornet) Valaisia Brass Band
Brian Evans Memorial Trophy: Jon-Vega Sole Sundal (Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag)
Geoffrey Whitham Memorial Trophy: Philippe Schwartz (Brighouse & Rastrick)

*Relegated to the Grand Shield

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