2005 Norwegian Brass Band Championships - Retrospective: Second Division

16-Feb-2005

The Second Division proved to be eyecatching as well as pretty good on the old ears as well, with the emergance of some exciting talent on the conductor's rostrums.


The Second Division Championships took place on the Friday in Bergen and provided the appreciative audience with an enjoyable appetiser ahead of the very serious business of the Elite Section set work section that followed it later in the evening.

As with the other lower sections here, some of the choices of pieces the bands performed raised a few eyebrows, and proved that once more that there is no shortage of confidence amongst the bands and their MDs. As with the other sections, there seemed to be a premium on technique rather than just musical input as well, with the three top prize winners choosing pieces that would put the frighteners up bands in higher sections anywhere in the world.

That said, it proved to be a very enjoyable contest – you couldn't half admire the ambition, and a lot of the playing was very good indeed. In addition the standard of conducting was excellent, and this may well be a real bonus for Norwegian banding in the future.

Norwegian banding has lacked a new generation of top class conductors for some time now. There are plenty of excellent musicians conducting at the top level, but the bands themselves seem rather reluctant to feature them in front of the bands at this contest in particular. It is now 15 years since the Elite Section saw a homegrown talent conduct the winners, whilst in the First Section, (until this year) the last three had seen the winner's laurels worn by Englishmen.  The talent has always been there, but the opportunities haven't always been.

Why this is so is a bit of a mystery, as the likes of Helge Haukas, Morten E Hansen, Reid Gilje, Selmer Simonsen, Bjorn Sagstad to name but a few are as good as any around, but if Norwegian banding is to continue to grow and prosper there is a real need for new talent to emerge. On the Friday, there were signs that the new generation had possibly arrived.

10 of the 12 on show were homegrown talent, and nearly all of them (although we didn't ask personally) were all the right side of 40?  They were all technically excellent, possessed the ability to mould the performances of their bands as the pieces unfolded, and all had fine stage presence. Not quite the finished articles, but showing plenty of promise. 

We sat back and heard all the bands, and we couldn't really disagree with the choices of the adjudicators, Jan Roger Oren and Knut Riser. Again, the choices of  some of the bands were very ambitious – and the judges did reward the bands who tended to extend themselves to the full - (and beyond if truth be told), but they also rewarded performances that were intelligently shaped by the men at the helm. It was a little more style over substance in too many places, but then, the style was very good indeed.

The winners, Haukas Musikklag put in a well constructed performance of ‘Connotations', that showed that nearly thirty years after it was hailed as a such a breakthrough piece, it still has the ability to stir the blood. Thor-Arne Pedersen cleverly managed his resources throughout (the percussion were excellent) and even made the brave decision to utilise other members of the cornet section (something a lot of bands here tend to do, and something more British bands should consider) when he wanted a different approach. Therefore the second man down played the famous cornet cadenza – and played it very well, whilst the Principal Cornet had a bit of a rest. Intelligent conducting and something that paid off in fine style.

Tromso Band: Soprano player with yellow cap
Tromso Band: Soprano player with yellow cap

The same went for second placed Tromso Brass who gave ‘Blitz' a good going over. Again it was the quiet stuff that caught them out – the lyrical reflective playing wasn't really captured, but the MD, Robert Skoglund Jensen kept a tight grip of the piece from start to finish with a economical technique and understated yet effective presence.  He also managed to keep his concentration during the performance when visually he had a group of players in front of him dressed in a wacky selection of black and yellow that included baseball caps, ties, shoes, and tee shirts. It takes a class act to keep things so well controlled under these circumstances!

Bergen Brass Band: Margaret the horn player
Bergen Brass Band: Margaret the horn player

Bergen Brass Band under the equally fine direction of Stian E. Svendsen came in third after giving a powerful performance of Philip Sparke's ‘Land of the Long White Cloud' that featured some excellent ensemble playing. The MD here also shined with clear and precise directions (especially in the complicated opening and closing sections) and third place was well deserved. They also had the best looking horn section we have seen for many a year.

There were also excellent performances from the MDs of Trondheim Politis Brass with Odd Steiner Morkved and Tormod Flaten with Tertnes Amatorkorps. Both had lovely stylish techniques and brought two well constructed performances out of their bands as a result. Joint fourth was well deserved.

Morten E Hansen showed that the (slightly) older generation can still do the business with a finely balanced ‘Tallis Variations' to come sixth, whilst the other very experienced conductor in the field, Yngve Nikolaisen also brought a touch of class to his direction of seventh placed Flesland Musikklag. Top marks also to the likes of Jan Arne Pupe with Folleso, Geir Karlson with Hornorkesteret Stavanger and Jens Kritian Mordal with Fraena Musikkorps. All were fine exponents of the conductors art.

And before we forget the Brits –  Gary MacPhee brought a broad and sonorous account from Skodje on ‘Music for the Common Man' by Kenneth Downie, whilst Michael Fowles was his usual excellent self. However, both he and the band had a great deal of misfortune in playing off the number 1 spot when the air conditioning in the hall was still going full blast and had the unfortunate effect of blowing the music off the stands of many of his players throughout the performance as well as the band having to wait on the stage during the over long preamble from the compere. Some bands have the luck, other don't. Sagvag had none what so ever.  

Iwan Fox

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