26 April-4 May 2003
First Section and Conductors Competition -
The First Section
Given all the problems the organisers had in attracting three bands
to play in the First Section contest this year, both they and the
bands themselves should be congratulated for the standard of the
playing and the way in which the contest was tweaked to try and
create more excitment and interest.
There is of course a radical need for this aspect of the European
to be looked at so that more bands from all around Europe are attracted
to perform, but there are hopeful noises from the right sources
to suggest that Glasgow 2003 should see a much more healthy representation
from member countries.
One possible way forward has been suggested that the Champion First
Section Band of Great Britain be invited, plus the Regional Welsh
and Scottish Champions (as they Areas are used to decide who represents
their countries in the Premier event) as well as Norway, Netherlands
and other countries who run a First Section contest at their Nationals.
Bands from the Faroe Islands who have competed before may be able
to afford the trip to Glasgow more readily in 2004 as could a French
band and possible German ensemble. We will have to wait and see,
but one thing is for certain, the contest cannot continue in its
This years contest was a straight fight between Norway in the form
of Brottum Brass conducted by Erling Myserth, Arklow Shiping Silver
under the direction of John Bonner from Ireland and Brass Band Malmo
from Sweden directed by Stefan Cooper.
Brottum were comfortable winners as they sounded a true European
First Section Band – perhaps not quite top First Section as
would compare to the bands in the UK (more top of the 2nd Section)
but they were the one band on the day that provided the class playing
from a well chosen programme.
They started well with “Malaguena” before a neat bit
of trombone playing in “Londonderry Air”. A bit of funky
urban brass in the shape of “Storbystev” followed in
which they produced their best playing and showed off a fine sop
player before ending with Eric Ball’s “The Kingdom Triumphant”
which was well played but lacked the intrinsic warmth and understanding
of the melodic lines that Eric Ball’s music so cries out for.
Still it was good quality stuff and earned them top place with 86
points from the judges Torgny Hanson, Goff Richards and Jan Van
der Roost, who also adjudicated the set work section of the main
Second place went to the Irish band Arklow Shipping Silver who
were conducted by a nervous John Bonner. After a bit of a poor start
on “Variations for the Brass Band “ by Vaughan Williams
they settled down and started to sound more at ease as the piece
went along. There was some fine playing from the soprano and euphonium
section and by the end it was very much on a par with Brottum. However,
the second back up choice of “Three Saints” didn’t
quite come off as it gave the band no real chance to show a difference
in styles from what had gone on before and so we had two test pieces
of must the same ilk. This was a touch better played than the Williams
but you just wanted to hear something a bit different. Still, second
place again and so they will be even more determined to go one better
come Glasgow next year.
Finally, Malmo from Sweden who were flamboyantly directed by Stefan
Cooper, who may have thought he was either a competitor in the Conductors
competition or that he had BAYV Cory around the stand. Either way,
he was great to look at even though his band didn’t respond
in the slightest to his direction.
This was a pity because they started well with the famous old march
“The Champions” (perhaps a touch ambitious and cheeky
a choice in the circumstances) which led to a very neat bit of solo
cornet playing from the Principal in “Rag Polka”. This
was followed by a brave attempt at some quiet playing on “For
the Love of a Princess” before ambition got the better of
them and they delivered a pretty poor account of “Land of
the Long White Cloud”. Mr Cooper directed things from a different
perspective somewhat and it ended rather tamely. A bit less conducting
in the mirror may have helped the band and his own efforts.
Still, the winners were worthy of their top prize as were the runners
up who enlivened things in the after contest part no end –
a great bunch of lads and lasses. Lets hope the next contest in
Glasgow can be something a bit more meaningful for all concerned.
The talent is there.
The Conductors competition came to a climax on the Thursday night
before the weekend’s major contests took place. 17 competitors
had made the trip to Bergen from as diverse places as the host country,
Switzerland, Wales, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Denmark, but a little
disappointingly, not England or Scotland.
The first round had consisted of all the contenders taking a 25-minute
rehearsal with either the Tertnes or Askoy Bands from Norway, whilst
from the initial line up 8 were chosen by the judges to go forward
to the Second Round on the Tuesday. The judges were Isabelle Ruf
(who had a busy week of things), Karl Ole Midtbo and Derek Bourgeois,
who joined the pair for the Final.
Speaking to those who witnessed the first round, the standard was
not particularly high with many of the conductors failing to engage
with the bands, and with techniques that were rather too text book
to encourage expression or detail response from the players. It
seemed as one eminent person told us – “as if we are
producing brilliant players but robot conductors”.
Once the semi final line up had been agreed the conductors had
the opportunity to work with the Tertnes band for a longer period
each, in which the judges could not only asses their technical abilities
with the baton but also asses their musical personality and knowledge
of repertoire and outlook through a series of informal interviews.
This gave them a rounded picture of the conductors themselves and
even if it sounded a bit like the process that was for so long mocked
in “Miss World” it certainly on common consent made
sure the best three contenders reached the Final.
The Final itself took place in the intimate surroundings of the
Peer Gynt Hall where the three conductors chose lots to decide which
test piece they would direct with the Sandefjord Brass Symposium
Band. Earlier in the day the conductors had the opportunity to work
“in camera” with the band on their piece, whilst it
gave the judges a further chance to asses their talents. Come the
night they had to perform to a large audience of some 300 people
who were crammed into the hall and who gave generous support to
all three competitors.
The first thing to say about the Final itself though was that the
poor old Sandefjord Band were knackered. Any band in the world would
have been hard pressed to play for 4 hours in the afternoon rehearsing
either “Tristan Encounters”, “Stonehenge”
and “Dove Descending”, but to then have to perform them
all in the space of one half of a concert in addition to two other
numbers was asking a proverbial miracle. Their lips must have been
around their ankles, but full praise to them for all their efforts
as they gave three decent shows that were good enough to do what
was required of them – give the conductors a chance to show
off their talents.
The three finalists were Herve Grelat from Switzerland, who had
to conduct “Stonehenge” and who was the youngest of
the three at 26, Jesper Juul Sorensen from Denmark aged 30, who
directed “Dove Descending” and John Philip Hannevik
aged 33 from Norway who directed “Tristan Encounters”.
All three had proved their worth to the judges in the previous two
rounds and so the Final was eagerly anticipated by the large audience.
All three conductors were technically very good – although
the contesting experience of the winner, Jesper Juul Sorensen who
was to take Lyngby Taarbaek in the European contest itself was self-evident.
His more flamboyant style certainly impressed the audience (which
had a strong Danish representation it must be said), but didn’t
really impress all the judges (Mr Bourgeois looked singularly unmoved
by his gyrations). However, his was the most compelling “performance”
even if the band under his direction was by now completely out of
John Philip Hannevik was more restrained and had the added difficulty
of directing perhaps the hardest of the three test pieces in “Tristan
Encounters” which due to the short space of time he had to
work with the band meant he spent a great swaths of the performance
making sure the basics from the ensemble were in the right place.
It left himself little opportunity to interact with the soloists
and so his was a rather stoical piece of direction – businesslike
as one observer accurately noted.
Finally, we personally enjoyed the performance and playing of the
band most under the direction of Herve Grelat who was meticulous,
neat and undemonstrative, but who had nuance and delicacy in his
clear beat and engaged the band throughout “Stonehenge”.
The only thing he lacked was a big enough “personality”
to win over the audience – but for us he was the best of the
three and could possibly count himself a tad unlucky to come runner
Prior to the results we were treated to a second half performance
from the European Youth Brass Band that was good entertainment value
and also benefited from a super bit of stick work from Helge Haukas,
which was top class directing in anyone’s book. Compact, accurate,
nothing overcooked – just clear, precise baton work allied
to delightful facial expressions that encouraged his young charges
t play with impressive quality. It was a little masterclass in itself.
And so to the results, which were announced in a very odd fashion
and seemed a bit unfair on Herve Grelat who came second and was
somewhat missed out as the organisers decided to announce third
place and then the winner. Still, that was the smallest quibble
on a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment. On the way back
to our hotel though we wondered if there were any young British
conductors who would have done well here. Maybe – but we will
have to wait until Amsterdam in 2005 to find out. This is a contest
that hopefully will continue as an integral part of the European
weekend, and we think this year has produced three young maestro’s
who we may hear more of in the future.