2007 Norwegian National Championships - Introduction and Preview

6-Feb-2007

4BR will be in Bergen this weekend to bring you a flavour of one of the most exciting brass band contests in the world - the Norwegian Nationals.


GeighallenThe very best bands in Norway will be lining up in the superb Greig Hall in Bergen on the weekend to see who will take the top honours.

For the fifth successive year 4BR will be packing the thermal underwear and taking a short break to head for the 29th running of the Norwegian National Brass Band Championships. Who would have thought that when the contest first started in 1979 it would blossom into an event of this magnitude.

The Norwegians at first copied what they had seen and heard at the Royal Albert Hall, but instead of letting the contest become gentrified they made amendments to the way in which they wanted it to be run, and more importantly to the way in which they thought it should develop successfully. Since that time it has become a cracking event, producing truly memorable performances, compositions and individual displays of brilliance from a whole Viking longboat full of players – at all levels.

First signs of cynicism?

Last year there may have been the first signs that some world weary cynicism may have been starting to creep into what was once such an optimistic, and at times naïve contest – there were rumours of some bands taking advantage of certain situations they found themselves in and using the unwritten rule book to their own benefit.

In the UK that would be seen as being ‘not cricket' – but then again, given the rubbish nature of our cricket team in the Antipodean outback who are the Brits to cry foul? Be that as it may, let's hope that the swapping of instruments for solos, possible fake illness and work commitments to get a better draw and the Pavlovian response triggers have been put to rest.

The Norwegian Nationals still retain a fantastic amount of good sportsmanship and genuine, friendly rivalry between the bands, whilst it is always refreshing to see large audiences getting involved in the contest with genuine appreciation for the efforts of all the performers – regardless where they come from. The naïve nature is still there too – especially in the lower sections where there is a sense of fun allied to the competitive element. Bands take to the stage in various guises and colours whilst the excellent compere's take the opportunity to introduce each band with a little 5 minute vignette that invariably gets the crowd in the mood – although as yet we haven't understood a word of it!  

Progressive

The good news for the progressive Norwegians is that open adjudication has been rolled out to just about the final frontier this year. All the sections with the exception of the Elite Division will be judged in the open – something which is seen here as being a natural progression in making the contest much more audience friendly and transparent. Oh how we could learn from this in the UK!!

If there is still a cloud over the contest though it continues to be reliance of the Elite bands on imported conducting talent. Norway is producing a whole host of great performers, but there seems to be a dearth of high class baton men (and women) that the bands can call on to take them on the contest stage.

That may be a little unfair as Eikanger recently showed at the RNMC Festival of Brass with the immensely impressive Bjarte Engeset at the helm. Perhaps Mr Engeset wasn't asked or doesn't even want to do it, but surely there are other conductors in the country more than capable of directing bands at the top level? Do the Norwegian bands lack confidence in picking one of their own, or is it that they just don't have any decent conductors at this level?

Pushing boundaries

The answer is the former we think, but it would be nice to be able to report a first Norwegian winner since Karl Ole Midtbo in 1990 – yes, 1990. This year there are six Brits (two admittedly based in Norway) and a Belgian on show in the Elite Division (out of 10 bands), whilst there are 3 overseas conductors in the First Division, 1 in the Second, 2 in the Third and none on the Fourth. It does tell you something.

The music to be played will also satisfy any brass band lover too. The top bands really do push the boundaries with their selections and in recent years we have witnessed some truly fantastic performances here from the jaw dropping brilliance of Martin Winter with Eikanger's ‘Angels' in 2003 to some equally brilliant bass trombone led virtuosity with Camilla Tveit with Manger on ‘Cantigus' last year.

There are some mouth watering choices this year too, but for the seasoned observer it will be more interesting to hear how the bands approach ‘Cloudcatcher Fells' – especially bearing in mind the awful problems they all got into a few years ago with Eric Ball's seemingly innocuous ‘Kensington Concerto'. The top Norwegian bands do have difficulty with some of the classic repertoire.

Aladdin's Cave

The lower sections though will be an Aladdin's cave of ambition and kaleidoscopic choice – full of seemingly extravagant musical riches that sometimes don't translate into musical gold and prize winning pearls. Some bands and their MDs over stretch themselves so much you wonder why they didn't get a part in the film ‘The Incredibles'. It's all great fun in the trying though and more than a good few really do make you sit up and wonder – this year we have everything from Vinter's ‘John O' Gaunt' and Gregson's ‘Connotations' in the Third Section to ‘Revelations' in the First and ‘A Breathless Gnu Kiss' in the Fourth. Happy days!

Whatever the outcome 4BR will be on hand to enjoy it all in our customary way. We will bring the Elite Section live and will be doing a podcast too with hopefully snippets of the winning performances as well as interviews and a few comments on how we thought it all went. We may even venture out for a few snorters before the sun sets over the fjords too. You never know…

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