2010 Swiss National Championships - Postcard from Montreux

2-Dec-2010

The Swiss are ready for the Europeans - so take plenty of money and go and enjoy yourself.


Mountain
Swiss contesting backdrop

The Swiss are ready and waiting.

With their well earned reputation for discreet administrative excellence, the European Championships in Montreux next year are certain to be an organisational success.  

All they need is for the bands and their performers to be just as well prepared.

No doubt

The EBBA representative team that came to see how the Swiss Brass Band Association was making progress towards the championships in just over five months time, were left in no doubt either: the Montreux Music & Convention Centre providing a wonderfully practical venue to host a contest of stature. 

The Swiss were also warm and friendly hosts to their guests on the weekend – with a superb meal provided at the opulent Plaza Hotel on the Friday night. They don’t do things by half here, especially with the scenery.

Nabokov
Stern resident - Vladimir Nabokov

Backdrop

There cannot be another banding contest in the world with such a backdrop for visitors to enjoy; the Alps shimmering in all their blanketed glory across the vast expanse of Lake Leman. No wonder Deep Purple wrote ‘Smoke on the Water’ after spending a few weeks enjoying themselves here.

Meanwhile, those with more consumer led considerations will enjoy Montreux’s elegant, main shopping area and visitor attractions, which are just a few hundred metes away from the hall.

It’s horrendously expensive in places (there is a distinct bouquet of money whafting in the crisp air), but well worth a visit if your bank balance can take it.

Davis
Looking down on proceedings - Miles Davis

Beautiful

You can walk up into the town using the lovely lakeside pathway that runs adjacent to the hall, and past the small garden that contains statues of some of the great talents that have come to perform and live here over the years – from Freddie Mercury and Aretha Franklin to Vladimir Nabokov.

Inside the contest venue, things are just as impressive, if not quite as beautiful.

The main Stravinski auditorium is huge: Wood lined, it provides a clear acoustic, which is a touch on the lively side for the bands that sit on the cavernous stage. 

The organisers will be tinkering with it in time for the Europeans, but as was heard here, those who thought they could just blow their way to success tended to come a cropper.

Fontana
The man of the moment in Montreux - Lito Fontana

Atmosphere

The atmosphere at the 36th National Championships was one of keen, friendly competition, and whilst the main interest lay in the battle for the Championship title, and with it, the honour of representing the host nation next May, there was plenty to enjoy in the domestic battles in the lower sections.

These took place both in the main auditorium and the Miles Davis Hall, which sits on the ground floor of the Centre.  The old hell raiser’s portrait hangs on one of the walls, his hard edged face looking out over the competing bands in the Fourth and Second Sections.

He would have been pleased with what he heard for sure (especially with Lito Fontana jazzing brilliantly in the Gala Concert): seven cracking outfits enjoying Mario Burki’s wonderfully descriptive ‘Flight’ in the Fourth Section; many packed with talented youngsters, and with the winners Ste de Musique l’Avenir Lignieres B, producing a little gem of a performance to take the title.

Burki
Flight man - Mario Burki talks to 4BR

Grass roots

Grass roots banding is growing slowly but surely, something Bernhard Matter, the President of the Swiss Band Association is particularly pleased about. A total of 58 bands performed on the weekend, and despite a couple of withdrawals, the future of the movement is bright.

Bernhard and his delightful wife Cecille used to make annual trips to the UK with their young children to attend various brass band summer schools as well as take impromptu trips to the occasional whiskey distillery, and have great respect and understanding of the British banding scene.

Playing host to the European in 2011 will provide Bernard with a wonderful way to end his tenure as President, and he will leave Swiss banding (although both he and Cecille will continue to play in their local village band) in a position of growing musical strength.

Band
Action - Bands play on the cavernous Stravinski stage

Enjoyed

The Brits who were here on official and unofficial business certainly enjoyed themselves too, with the likes of Simon Dobson, Garry Cutt and Nigel Boddice employed as adjudicators in the top section, Paul McGhee, Peter Meechan and Martin Ellerby enjoying world premieres of their latest major works, and Phillip McCann making the trip just to listen to the competitors.

All left (with the exception of poor Paul who was laid up at home in the UK with a broken foot), enthused and impressed by the Montreux experience.

Musically, the Championship bands are perhaps just a step behind their counterparts in other areas of Europe in terms of strength in depth, but there is little doubt that Treize Etoiles will pose a considerable threat to Cory’s chances of making it four Euro wins in a row. James Gourlay led a very impressive title winner.

Fourth Division
The crowds pack in to hear the lower sections

Pyramid

With the pyramid structure of the various sections well proportioned, the bands in the First and Second Sections sound stronger than those found in the UK. With just ten in the Championship Section (two withdrew this year) they are therefore packed with competitive bands.

The standard of playing was excellent, with Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia under the exciting talent of Michael Bach, particularly impressive in winning the First Section, and BML Talents a highly competent winner of the Second. Reports of Jugend Brass Band Michelsamt’s victory in the Third Section was one of a fine band too.

The Swiss are ready and waiting then, and if the experience of these championships is anything to go by, then Montreux should be a destination that should be inked into any brass band lovers diary for 2011.

Iwan Fox

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