2009 National Youth Championships - Premier Section retrospective

8-Apr-2009

There was no stopping the amazing Camborne Youth Band - six times champions!


Camborne
Six of the best: Camborne and Alan Pope head for victory
Picture: John Stirzaker


The final section in the Co-operative National Youth Brass Bands Championships of Great Britain was the Premier section, which started at around mid afternoon on Sunday.

The format was for the bands to play a 25 minute own choice selection which included the test piece, ‘Quintessence’ by Robert Redhead.

Great choice

This proved to be a great choice, as it included enough musical and technical challenges to keep the bands on their toes, but also enough popular appeal so the audience would not tire of listening to it repeatedly. Six bands came to Manchester, and it must be said that the standard was excellent.

Credit must be given to the MDs on the day, as each one of them added their own personal touch to their band’s reading of the test piece, making for extremely interesting listening and comparison.

Convincing

Even though there were varying standards of technical ability between the bands, each ensemble gave a convincing performance of the work, and it was then down to their conductors to fashion a programme that would show them off in their best light.

The near-capacity audience (which remained for the whole event) certainly enjoyed what they heard, and this contest format is one that works well.

Kicked off

Hampshire County Youth Band
kicked off in fine fashion with Darrol Barry’s ‘Jubilate’.

Defined trombone playing and some broad sounds were hallmarks of the performance, and the cornet section managed to overcome the technical challenges with ease. Hampshire had an excellent percussion team, but there were a few tuning issues in some quarters that did detract from the overall excellence.

The band followed this with Goff Richards’ ‘Silver Mountain’, where the opening faltered slightly, but the cornet and euphonium soloists soon got things back on track with some lovely duet work, and the band made a wonderful sound that contained not even a hint of overblowing.

‘Quintessence’ was left until last, and once again the band played extremely well. Some excellent percussion playing (again!) helped things along, and the rhythmic passages, especially the 7/8 sections, were all negotiated with a minimum of fuss. The tuning problems did appear in a few places, and this was a shame as it detracted from an otherwise good showing to take third place. 

Lighter texture

Chris Jeans’ Youth Brass 2000 played a programme that was slightly lighter in texture, but still showed off their great range of ability.

A crisp opening fanfare led into Sandy Smith’s ‘Valero’, which showcased a great cornet soloist and a brilliant kit drummer, who kept things driving along. The test piece was up next, and from the broad and expansive opening passages the listener could just sit back and enjoy as everything was kept in its proper place, with lovely contributions from baritone and flugel horn especially.

The kit player in ‘Caravan’ impressed again, as did the sleazy sounding trombone player – great stuff! Euphonium soloist Sarah Lenton then wowed the crowd with a lovely performance of ‘A Little Prayer’, showing great control and a lovely sense of phrasing, finishing on a piano top Eb at the end – something many players in the best bands in the country would shy away from.

This performance gave Sarah the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ award - well deserved as her contribution in every piece added an extra bit of sparkle.

The band finished with an up-tempo performance of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, with the MD taking a seat in the audience and letting the percussion drive the band forward.

The marimba player played a great solo lick, and this brought down the curtain on what was a very impressive showing from the band. 4BR had Youth Brass 2000 slightly higher than their eventual 4th, but playing a more ‘serious’ programme could have possibly benefited them more.

Cracking playing

The eventual winners were Camborne Youth, who took a well deserved first place courtesy of a cracking bit of playing that included Kenneth Downie’s ‘Purcell Variations’.

From the very beginning Camborne looked like they meant business, and this certainly transferred to their playing. Their reading of ‘Quintessance’ started with a driven opening with marcato themes being brought to the fore.

The band had a balanced sound at the quiet dynamics, and the soprano player soared above the band, giving everything that extra edge. The flugel, euphonium and baritone players were all very stylish, and even some loose percussion towards the end did not hamper what was a very fine performance.

‘Purcell Variations’ was much the same standard, with some wonderful work from the solo Eb bass player throughout. MD Alan Pope brought out all the important detail from the score, and the soloists once again excelled.

The army of screaming fans at the end of Camborne’s performance were justified in their vocal efforts, as this was a fine performance well worthy of first place.  6 wins in 6 years is no mean feat, and the band’s first Premier Section victory is sure to be the first of many more to come.

Pioneers

Rochdale Borough Youth Band
have become famous as pioneers in the entertainment field under their inspirational leader Eric Landon, so it was interesting to watch the band in a more test-piece oriented contest.

Beginning with the piece ‘Fieldhouse’, the band showed off some of their excellent soloists, in particular the flugel and euphonium. There were some very nice shapes being created, and this was an exciting and substantial opener.

Quintessence’ followed, and although there was a lot of good playing throughout, with excellent percussion the driving force, some of the technical sections sounded a touch scrappy and not as secure as the bands that were awarded Gold awards (Rochdale were awarded a Silver). 

This was a shame, as the final section of the piece was taken at a very sensible tempo and sounded wonderfully majestic, but Rochdale will come back here a stronger band in 2010.

Set of players

Second place was awarded to Northamptonshire Youth Band under MD Brad Turnbull, who started off their programme with a performance of the test piece, then continued with ‘Hymn for Diana’ and Peter Graham’s ‘Ad Optimum’.

A few lines were slightly shaky at the beginning of ‘Quintessence’, but things settled down quickly, allowing the band to show what a great set of players it has.

In the first quick cornet section the front row players were easily the best of the day, and the flugel and euphonium soloists shone, as did the band’s principal cornet later on. This was a very solid show with excellent balance between the sections.

‘Hymn for Diana’ had nice phrasing throughout and excellent tuning even at the lower end of the dynamic scale, augmented by some lovely touches from soprano and some nice muted cornet work. The ending had a few scrappy sounds, but this did not detract from a controlled bit of playing.

‘Ad Optimum’ again showed the cornet and euphonium soloists’ prowess to great effect, and everything was now sounding ever so classy. A big-sounding end rounded off a great show to take second place – on another day it could have been first, given the quality on display.

Some style

St Helens Youth Band
finished off the contest in some style, and this young band’s efforts were rewarded with a Silver award.

Great playing in the test piece was heard from all the players, and MD Mark Bousie produced the most complete reading of the score on the day.

Mark had the band playing with some very broad sounds, and the soloists all did really well in their respective passages. It was just a shame there were a few rough edges that resulted in the band not sounding quite as polished as some others.

St Helens followed ‘Quintessence’ with Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s popular ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’. An atmospheric opening featured a lot of musical detail that so many bands that play this piece simply choose to ignore.

The band’s percussion section gave the faster sections rhythmic drive, and both flugel and trombone gave very impressive solo contributions. St Helens finished the day with a romp to the end that featured some very powerful and impressive tenor horn sectional playing.

The band will return here next year with more experience under their belts and a higher placing will undoubtedly be on the cards for 2010.

Cream of talent

The Premier Section is designed to showcase the cream of Britain’s youth brass playing talent, and it certainly did that.

The playing from all the bands was very enjoyable, and those who finished at the top of the table are filled with players who are currently playing with some fine Championship Section bands. Hopefully the number of bands in this section can be expanded in years to come, but the BFBB have done a great job choosing a fine test piece and inviting these excellent youth ensembles to compete.

The joy of the winners was obvious and well deserved – but everyone left as champions.

Robert Richardson

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