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Bob On! - The winning conductor tells us how it was done

The winning conductor of the 150th British Open Champions tells 4BR about his thoughts on the piece, the day and the feeling of winning the premier contest in the banding world.


We managed to catch up with Bob Childs the day after BAYV Cory had won the British Open for the second time in three years, and had done so in such a convincing manner that there were few voices in Birmingham who didn't believe that the famous shield was going to it's rightful resting place for the remainder of the 2002/2003 contesting season.

Amid all the people coming up to congratulate him on the achievement, Bob discussed with 4BR his first impressions of the "Maunsell Forts". "My first impression was that this certainly wasn't going to be an easy piece to perform and especially to win on. It didn't give me the opportunity to utilise my star players, it wasn't loud or fast, and it had that look about it that it needed to be studied very carefully indeed."

"It's a very fine piece of brass writing in my opinion, and asks the type of questions of both players and conductor that we find the most difficult, and in many ways we have let lapse over the years. It is so subtle in construction and architecture that you need to take considerable time to realise the musical shape and structure. I found it a very challenging score to fully understand - it was so precisely constructed - the composer knowing exactly what musical picture he wanted to portray."

"We therefore took the opportunity the practice the very things the music demanded of the bands. Quiet, balanced ensemble work - hymns and pieces such as "Spring" and the second movement of the "Downland Suite". It made me, and the band aware how difficult quiet playing is, but made us appreciate the effort we needed to put in if we were to make the right impression."

"I looked at the score to see what problems would needed to be addressed and there were so many! Some you can see the solutions to - others you need to camouflage, but the beauty of the music was in its construction of a musical picture that just ached of atmosphere. When you consider what the servicemen had to go through when working and fighting on the Forts you can clearly see why there is such understated menace, and a sense of foreboding in the different sections of the work."

"There were so many areas of the work that had to be understood if you were to make sense of the writing in the piece. John McCabe made his intentions very clear, but still left the conductor scope to try and create texture and colour, shape and style. There were canon figures that were repeated then inverted, a Passagaglia ground bass theme that was sometime clear and transparent, sometimes hidden - at one point it appeared in the Bb bass line and the superb effect of textures that incorporated the softer tones being overwhelmed by more strident colours in the climaxes."

"I felt there were 7 sections of the work that completed the work for me. The opening and end were atmospheric - creating the picture of the Forts before and possibly after attacks, whilst the 3 fanfare sections echoed for me the attacks from enemy forces. The two other sections encapsulated the sense of the coming attacks - the foreboding of a hidden menace".

It was obvious that Bob Childs relished the piece, both as a musical challenge and as a piece of fine composition and he felt that although it may not be universally liked at the moment, in time it will take it's place as one of the most significant pieces written for brass bands.

"Composers such as John McCabe should be wholeheartedly encouraged to write more for brass bands. Both he, and composers such as John Pickard explore territory that is fresh and challenging - sometimes a bit to fresh and challenging for some ears, but it is music of the very highest quality. We forget sometimes that bands have lost the ability somewhat to play quietly, with balance and tone - there is nothing better to listen to than a good band playing quietly."

So will this mean the same approach to the Nationals then? - If it is, then he had a glint in his eye and wouldn't say! We also pressed him to say if BAYV Cory will be seeking a place at the Masters in 2003 - and once more there was a diplomatic smile.

He would love to be able to conduct his band at Cambridge he said, but understands that there are a number of issues that need to be addressed before that could possibly happen. "I believe top class level competition can only be good for all bands, and I would love to try and win the Masters. I want to be able to measure BAYV Cory against the very best bands on more than just two occasions a year on the contesting platform, so lets hope something can be sorted out."

Who knows eh? On the evidence of Saturday 14th September it would take a damn good band to beat the band from the Rhondda. The contenders for the Nationals have been warned.


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