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ARTICLES

 

 2003 European Championships

 26 April-4 May 2003
 Bergen

First Section and Conductors Competition - Retrospective


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 present form.

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 contest.

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.


Conductors Competition

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 gas.

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 up.

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.

© 4BarsRest

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