2009 European Brass Band Championships - Postcard from Ostend

5-May-2009

There was plenty to enjoy in Ostend on the weekend - from the fantastic playing of the bands to the beer and the waffles for the locals...



One of the many attractions in Ostend...

More pictures at:
http://www.pbase.com/troonly/2009_ebba

After the slick, almost corporate feel, to the European Championships in Stavanger last year, there was a return to a much less formal event in Ostend in 2009.

Wish list

The city itself may not be on everyone’s wish list of exotic locations to visit before you die (but then again - Stavanger?) but it turned out to be a rather inspired choice, centered around the impressive facilities on offer at the Kursaal Convention Hall complex right on the seafront.

Less than 50 yards from where Cory where defending their title, families strolled along the Albert I Promenade, enjoying cholesterol busting waffles and ice cream all washed own with a bottle or two of the local brew. The weather was nice, the locals friendly, the organizers VLAMO pulled all the stops out in terms of organisation, and there was a sense that Ostend itself was proud to be hosting the 32nd event.

Financial assistance

As in Stavanger the Belgians had benefited from substantial financial assistance from local and national government – somewhere around the 80,000 Euro mark we were told at the EBBA press conference.

It was money well spent too – banners and flyers were a visible presence in and around the streets of the Kursaal, the local authority hosted a swish welcoming party at the Town Hall, and put on a series of open air concerts from local bands in the lead up to the contest weekend. There were a lot of paid and unpaid helpers on hand, and the local banding population came out in force to offer vocal support to all the competing bands.


Breaking the code: Jan Van der Roost explain the mysteries of his Ancient Times...

Delirious

The resultant atmosphere in the main auditorium verged on the delirious at times (especially for the efforts of the Dutch and Belgian competitors), but there was also warm support (including numerous standing ovations) for the efforts of all the bands.  Both test pieces were excellent, and deserve another airing soon too.

The hall was two thirds full (and it had a capacity of well over 2000 people) for the set work contest on Friday afternoon and evening, very nearly sold out for the Own Choice and Gala Concert, and about a third full for the B Section.  There was even a decent crowd in for the Composer’s Competition too.

Deal of credit

VLAMO deserves a great deal of credit for their efforts in what turned into a most enjoyable weekend, although it would have been nice to have seen a Belgian Band competing in the B Section.

For EBBA, the contest offered further confirmation that its immediate future lies in it taking place in countries with a formalized, government backed approach to the funding of amateur music making.

The UK cannot offer that at present, so the slim hopes that some people had of trying to tie in the 2012 Olympics to a World Championship in London in 2012 were discreetly shelved.

Current model

EBBA also revealed that in these financially stringent times, the current model they use to encourage bids for the championships (getting host countries to underwrite to the tune of around 40,000 Euro, the ‘expenses’ incurred in holding the event) might also be amended in future too.

It therefore came as little surprise that the Dutch had offered some sort of compromise bid for 2012 between Kerkrade and Rotterdam. Despite the success of the 2009 event, the European’s long term future still only really stretches to 2011.

G7A_0944.JPG
Cory put on the style in the Gala Concert

Topics

There are also a number of other topics that need long term resolution – questions that were partly, if not wholly answered at the EBBA Press Conference on the Friday afternoon.

The feasibility of the three ‘add on’ European contests – the composer, conductors and soloist tri-annual events came under scrutiny. This year just 13 composer’s from around Europe entered, with the eventual victor, Bertand Moren and third placed Kevin Houben both former winners.  

Under whelming

Given the rather unspecified nature of the entry requirements the contest proved to be an under whelming experience on the Thursday night: Four short works of varying quality, all of which you would be hard pressed to hear a performance of again in your entire life.  

The prize money of 2,500 Euro to the winner, 2,000 to second, 1,500 to third and an extra 1,000 up for grabs as an audience and band prize, also seemed ludicrous too, given that the champion band of Europe was only to be paid 2,500 and an euphonium they didn’t want.

Surely more resources should be targeted in making the overall financial package for the main championships much more attractive if bands are to be encouraged to continue to make ever more expensive trips to compete.

Soldiers of fortune

The inevitable question of ‘mercenary’ players was also raised too – there were enough ‘soldiers of fortune’ on stage this year to make up a well paid band of their own.

Some clarity in the rules to cover the differing registries around Europe is needed quickly before the whole things gets out of control. Rumours Wynton Marsalis may make an appearance with a band next year may not be too far off the mark.

Judges

The appointment of judges also came under the microscope:  the appointment process, especially for the eclectic variety of own choice pieces set to continue on it peculiar path for the foreseeable future. Having high class musicians in the box is one thing, having high class musicians with a knowledge of brass band repertoire at this level, quite another.

The B Section was very encouraging this year, with all six bands providing ample evidence that there is a continuing need for a second tier ‘European’ event for the so called ‘developing nations’.

Long term

What long term development in those countries it actually provides is debatable, but the contest itself has a sense of musical purpose, even if the winners are some considerable way off contemplating competing at the ‘developed’ higher level.   

Disappointments

There were in fact just a few disappointments this year.

The European Youth Band was one of them – way below the standard shown on their last two outings, and playing repertoire that was neither challenging nor progressive.  Their Gala Concert contribution was very disappointing.

The other was the length of time of both Gala Concerts.

These were way too long (2 and half hours plus), filled with worthy, but boring features (the Cosy Quartet were great on the period instruments, but did we have to hear them play just about every piece ever written before 1880? The little excerpt from the theme tune to Fawlty Towers was neat, but somehow inadvertently summed up the entire proceedings).
  
Compere

Add to that a compere who bordered on the embarrassing and you could see why the likes of Bob Childs ensured he made a quick entry to the stage before Cory played their own choice item to ensure that he would not drop another faux pas, like his introduction to ‘Vienna Nights’ as music inspired by Venus. He made Frank Renton sound like Richard Dimbleby at Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Still, these were the smallest of gripes on what was a highly enjoyable weekend of European banding.

All in all, it made you want to book a return ticket to Ostend too.

Iwan Fox

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