2008 European Brass Band Championships - European future?

7-May-2008

After a successful championships in Norway, what does the future hold for the Europeans?


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Future standing? What do the next few years hold for the championships?

After the unqualified success of the European Championship in Norway this year, the question will undoubtedly now arise to how the competition (or ‘Festival as it is referred to many) develops over the next few years. 

After listening to the representatives of Ostend in 2009, Linz in 2010 and Montreux in 2011, you also wonder whether or not the competition can ever be successfully delivered here again in the UK.

Desire

There seems to be a desire from these European organisations to deliver something special, and crucially all seem to have managed to gain co-operation and support from local, regional and national government to do so.

There were rumours flying around Stavanger that England may well want to try and host the 2012 event, in conjunction with the Olympics in London – most probably at the Barbican once more. But after the problems that so scarred the Birmingham 2007 event, does the European really need to take a potential step backwards?  If England is to host a truly successful European again, will it be done under the banner of someone other than the British Federation of Brass Bands?

B Section

As for the immediate future of the B Section contest, EBBA readily admitted that Ostend could well prove to be a cross roads for the contest. 

The dominance of first, Brass Band Oberosterreich, and now Brass Band Pfeffersberg from Italy could make the contest a redundant prospect in future.

The current rules mean that the Italians could well win the contest in perpetuity if they cannot organise themselves into a National body which is recognised by EBBA. Only then could they be considered for entry into the Elite Section – an anomaly that could well jeopardise the future of the B Section as a viable contest for emerging nations. 

Given the experience of the Austrians was this year, you do wonder why they would want to. Better coming along, enjoying the weekend, playing a 30 minute programme of music they enjoy and shooting off back to the Tyrol with a brand new Besson cornet worth 3,000 in the hand luggage.

The EBBA aim to use the section to develop new brass band outposts seems to be falling foul of meeting it’s own organisational criteria – and as a result the music making will surely suffer.  It cannot go on like this, despite the continued excellence of the winners.

Adjudication

So too the question of adjudication. EBBA has a patchy record at best with regards to the selection of its judges in recent years, and this was the second time that a judge had to be moved from one section to another to stop any accusation of conflict of interest.  

If EBBA is truly keen to promote this festival as one that has the highest competitive standards then surely the time has come to ask musicians of the very highest quality to judge us. There still seems a somewhat insular approach to the giving out of these jobs at times, with little transparent criteria to the choices made or the time frame involved.

Side events

EBBA also needs to look at the relevance too of its major ancillary events. What is EBBA trying to do with the Conductors Competition for instance?

The answer seems to lie in the fact that they see it not as a brass band conductor’s competition (winning that wouldn’t be as impressive on the CV would it now) but as a general conductors competition – open to those with extensive wind band, and orchestral experience. 

All well and good, but not much use to the general brass band movement when the European Solo Competition is not open to other wind band and orchestral instruments and the European Composers Competition is not open to works written for any other medium other than the brass band.

EBBA must surely concentrate on the development of the brass band medium and leave the rest up to others – the European Youth Brass Band in particular has been a shining example that.

Player registration

Finally, the question of player registration. This year we had the faintly ludicrous situation of an Italian band fielding players from English and Welsh bands in their ranks, whilst others in the Elite Section had performers of their own domestic rivals playing for them at the contest.

Does registration mean anything anymore, when for this contest all you have to do is wave the promise of a free trip and some cash to players to perform under a national flag of convenience? What started as a bit of a British disease is fast becoming a European epidemic as bands bring in star players to help out for a single contest. It may not be against the rules, but it fast becoming a shabby ‘win at all costs’ attitude that reflects badly not only on the bands themselves, but EBBA too.

Let’s be open about it – cap the number of players to 25 brass plus 4 percussion in the Elite Section but get the bands to pay an additional fee to EBBA if they wish to use a player who is not genuinely registered with their band – up to a maximum of say, 3. All open and above board, with the bands paying for the privilege.

Self indulgence

Finally, a quiet word in the shell like ears of the national organisers in the years to come - to keep the presentations and speeches at opening and closing ceremonies and the Gala concert in particular, to a more acceptable level of self indulgence.

Being proud to host the event is one thing, having to endure endless backslapping is another –not even the immensely patient Norwegians could hide their boredom at times.

The 2008 Europeans were a fantastic event, let’s hope  that the same can be said in the years to come.

Iwan Fox 

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