2008 European Brass Band Championships - Postcard from Stavanger

7-May-2008

Stavanger maybe a city rich on oil - but it still rolled out the barrel for the brass bands on the weekend...


Stavanger
Obscure stuff? Stavanger likes its public art...

This is a city that has got rich on oil – very rich on oil in fact. 

Where once the area scraped economic survival on herring fishing, now it displays that sense of boom time smugness that comes with the knowledge that the good times are here to stay for a very long time indeed.

Stavanger may not be the prettiest city you have ever travelled too, but it is one that has made the most of its opportunity – and with a barrel of black gold now over $130, you can literally see why.

Standard of living

The oil has meant that that the standard of living here is very high indeed – £6.00 a pint tells you one of two things. Either the Norwegians are trying to keep a lid on an emerging booze culture (and with 97 arrests on the Friday night due to teenage excesses around the May Day celebrations you can see why) or they just know they have enough Krone in their pockets to afford it.

What is left seems to have gone on a series of slightly obscure public statues (they even have some of those Anthony Gormley standing figures dotted about here and there) and a couple of cracking museums (the oil museum is a great place to visit).

Invested

The oil money has also meant that the city has invested a great deal in its infrastructure and in a few years time they will be opening a brand new Concert Hall to house both its professional orchestra and to provide a venue for its other cultural activities – especially its vibrant rock and pop scene.

Meanwhile, the current hall in the small park adjoining the local university provided an ideal venue for the 2008 European Brass Band Championship. Although smaller than many of the venues of recent years to host the event, the Norwegian Federation made sure it did not suffer by comparison by not being full for the main events – unlike too many of its larger predecessors.   

High praise

There cannot be praise enough for the organisation – from the excellent signage, banners and promotional adverts to the slick back stage work of crew and staff at the Norwegian Band Federation that made sure that just about everything ran to schedule.  

From the time you got off the plane (which even had adverts in the airline brochures) to the time you entered the main Stavanger Hall and the secondary Atlantic venue, there was someone or something on hand to help you along your way.

Added bonus

There was also the added bonus of being able to follow the action as it happened through the live streaming of the event on the internet. It proved to be a great innovation, delivered in a highly professional manner through the cooperation of a number of sources, including the national broadcasters.

It proved to be a huge hit – and crucially didn’t mean that the hall itself was emptied as people sought refuge in the nearest bar. Nothing ever beats being able to say, ‘I wuz there!’

Side events

The side events this year were also well run too – from an interesting opening Conductor’s Competition in the Atlantic Hall (packed to the rafters) to the European Party on the Saturday night, the intimate atmosphere of the Alexander Bar next to the hotel and the Farewell Concert on the Sunday afternoon.

In between EBBA opened its doors to questions at the Press Conference, there were two amusing pre contest talks from the composers with the aid of Frank Renton (who was on top form all weekend – and was ‘knighted’ for his efforts) all linked to an overwhelming friendliness from all concerned. 

Misplaced smugness

That said, any sense of misplaced smugness was wiped off the faces somewhat by a couple of events.

First was the rather comedic moment of the Championship draw – which descended into the type of farce the Norwegians couldn’t quite see the funny side of (a bit like the two local comedy actors whose oil worker sketch at the opening ceremony went a long way to show that the universal language of humour sometimes gets completely lost in translation). 

Cut

The Opening Ceremony rather provided the blueprint for what happened later on in the week too: Some great moments, food and ideas (such as the video introduction and European Youth Band) linked to some rather less well though out ones (the misplaced use of trombonist Runar Vaernes and the humour element) making for something that should have been judiciously cut.

The second was the interminable Grand Gala Concert, which despite some great musical contributions, just went on far too long for anyone to really enjoy  - the Norwegians can make speeches last longer and less interesting than William Gladstone on the Mid Lothian question.

Pulled out the stops

Overall though, the Norwegians knew they had pulled out all the stops this year to provide EBBA with a Championship to be proud of  - and they can be justifiably proud too of their efforts.

EBBA President Ulf Rosenberg (a local lad himself) wore the smile of a slightly relieved man at its conclusion, but one that spoke volumes about his pride in what had been achieved.

Once again the Norwegians are showing the rest of the banding world the way ahead – and EBBA must be truly grateful for that.   

Iwan Fox

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