2010 European Brass Band Championships - A tale of two contests?

8-May-2010

It was a game of two halves in Linz - from the basis of Cory's victory to the battle for personal glory by possible future contenders.


In many ways the 2010 European Championships in Linz showed that the contest has now become a tale of two contests in one – at both ends of the competitive spectrum.

How to win

First, the question of how to win it.

Much is made of the fact that the European Championships is a contest that can never be won by a band on a single performance (although many people remember memorable ones over the years)

However well a band plays on the set work on the Friday, it becomes almost irrelevant by the time they perform their own choice selection the next day.

Cory’s 2010 victory came courtesy of a superb performance of the immensely difficult ‘Spiriti’ on the Friday, followed by an equally impressive rendition of ‘A Tale as Yet Untold’ on Saturday afternoon.

They may have had one hand on the famous European Trophy on Friday night (not that they knew it of course), but it wasn’t safely in their grasp until the very last band played 24 hours later.

Experience

Experience had told them as much before.

In 1989 in Bergen they led the field after the first discipline of the contest only to come 4th the next day to finish 3rd overall, whilst in 2001 they also led the event only to come 3rd on the own choice and end up as runner up.

In Birmingham in 2007, they led going into the own choice section only to finish in 5th place to come 3rd overall, although they claimed victory 2008 by coming 1st in the set work and 3rd in the own choice section. Since then they have left nothing to chance – winning four consecutive individual disciplines.  

The great Yorkshire Building Society Band under David King also knew that the title was won by a game of two halves.

Of their eight victories, no less than five came after they had secured the lead on the set work, whilst only two bands, (Willebroek in 1993 and YBS in 1999) has won the contest after ending the first day out of the top three.

In eight out of the last ten years, the band leading at the end of the first round has gone onto win the title.

It may not be a cast iron guarantee of success (YBS came 8th on their own choice at the 1998 contest after leading after the first day to end up 4th overall), but being in the lead (or second at worst) does help.

Contest of two halves


The event has also become a contest of two halves in another way too.

Outside the usual cabal of heavyweight challengers, the rest of the field battle for their own personal European glory.

Youth

Here in Linz, Valaisia Brass Band from Switzerland won that secondary tier of competition.

Formed less than two years ago by Arsene Duc, the vast majority of the performers were under the age of 25 – many of them in their early teens. Their wonderful soprano cornet player Marielle Rey had just been playing the instrument for six months prior to the contest.

The band gave it their all on the set work on the Friday, with Marielle one of the undoubted star performers of the day. Understandably they sounded a somewhat spent force on ‘Vienna Nights’ less than 24 hours later, but they should take a huge amount of confidence back to Switzerland after coming sixth overall. They will return for sure.

Opportunity lost

De Waldsang on the other hand may well think of this contest as an opportunity lost.

Much more mature and experienced than their Swiss rivals, they seemed to have set themselves up nicely to challenge for a top six finish after producing a solid world premiere of the test piece on Friday afternoon.

The choice of Peter Graham’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ however seemed an over cautious, conservative selection that didn’t fully exploit their warm ensemble sound or technical prowess to the full.

They had more to give than the piece could provide, and as a result they could only end in 7th place overall.

Marseilles

As for the French of Nord Pas de Calais; Russell Gray had obviously worked them hard (as well as reinforcing the ranks with the addition of the well travelled Iain Culross on solo cornet), so that they produced a set work performance of slightly uneven quality allied to a bravura account of ‘Harmony Music’ to come 8th – the best ever return for a French band at the Championships.

They may not have been signing the ‘Marseilles’ in the bar at the Brucknerhaus, but they will certainly head back home in good spirits after a highly encouraging result.  

For Concord Brass Band from Denmark, a weekend when they will have realised that they are now a competitive outfit at the elite level.

Michael Howley’s young band worked their socks off on a set work that tested their reserves of stamina as well as technique to the limit of the Friday. They also showed that they still had something left in the tank to produce a quality rendition of ‘Music of the Spheres’ the following day too – helped in no small part by the excellent direction given by the man in the middle.

Talent

That left John Maines and Bon Accord – another young, up and coming band, who will certainly take huge encouragement from their performances over the two days in Linz.

The test piece was just beyond their current capabilities, but as they showed with a bravura account of ‘St Magnus’, there is more than enough talent in the ranks to tackle a Grade A corker of a test piece and emerge with heads held very high by its conclusion.

If they can use the experience gained here to their benefit in the coming years, we may well see more of this band at these championships in future. 10th may well be the foundation stone on which an impressive contesting outfit is built.

Record books

Two halves of two contests then – from Cory making sure that their rivals couldn’t peel their grasp off the trophy, to Valaisia claiming the bragging rights of the next generation of potential victors.

There is much more to the European Championships than just the black and white entry of the final placings in the record books.

Iwan Fox

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