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2014 Norwegian National Championship — Elite Section Retrospective

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks back at how Eikanger retained its domestic supremacy in Bergen yet still seemed ultimately unfulfilled....

Victory
Eyes fixed on the horizon: Eikanger's Viggo Bjorge with domestic trophies

Eikanger Bjorsvik Musikklag remains a brooding presence lurking on the contesting horizon of European banding, despite a record 15th victory at the Norwegian National Championship in Bergen.

Now their gimlet Hordaland eyes have an even narrower field of focus; the appetite for greater glory unable to be sated until a very specific title success is gained on foreign soil: Scottish soil in Perth. 

No longer enough

Domestic supremacy, following a fourth consecutive win is no longer enough: Until they hold the iconic treble clef trophy in their grasp as Champion of Europe, they remain, like Ibsen’s Master Builder, Halvard Solness - unfulfilled by their homeland triumphs. 

All the talk from players and supporters alike following their latest victory at the Grieghallen was geared towards the future; Scotland in May, Germany in 2015.

Even if they go on to record a fifth win in a row here next year, it would be a consequence, rather than the accomplished objective of their desire to achieve their ultimate goal.

Eikanger in action
A trio of Eikanger Beserkers...

Beserkers

Whether or not they will be crowned 2014 European champion is open to question, but on the form shown on the twin disciplines of Torstein Aargaard-Nilsen’s ‘Mutant Sonorities’ and their own-choice selection of ‘Goldberg 2012’, they will make the trip bristling with destructive intent towards their rivals.

There is something glorious about Eikanger in full flow; a band with the potency to flay opponents with a combination of emotional power and technical precision - like being sliced to pieces by a Beserker wielding a scalpel. 

Self doubt

However, what makes them truly unique is that despite the slow on-stage walk, immense tuba foundation and slightly arrogant air of superiority, there unquestionably remains an element of self doubt that occasionally creeps into their contesting psyche - even when led by an inspired David King.

On this occasion it was revealed fleetingly on the ‘Goldberg’, when fragile ensemble and solo fissures appeared like tiny cracks on the perfect shell of a hard-boiled egg - the expertly tempered musical albumin seeping dangerously out of the MDs control. 

In contrast, on the Friday, his eloquent interpretation of the set work drew a truly stunning performance - playing as good as you could wish to hear anywhere in the banding world.

However, there was denying, that for those descendible moments or two the following day, noticeable flaws in ensemble precision and solo delivery almost undermined them.  


Colour
Colour, texture and balance in Mutant Sonorities for Eikanger's euphs

Engrossing test

‘Mutant Sonorities’ proved to be an engrossing set test: Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen’s composition being singular of pulse, multi layered in balance, kaleidoscopic in texture.  

It took a little while to fully appreciate the intellectual rigour behind its construction, with its quarter and half toned voices and subtle use of percussion colour.

The finest performances revealed each level of strata with the care of an archaeologist brushing away eons of accumulated dust from a delicate masterpiece: David King was like Howard Carter. 

Much like the 2013 European set work ‘Myth Forest’, which was given three reprises (two in the Elite and one in the First Division) it is a work that evokes a sense of foreboding atmosphere - the opaque  writing engaging the listener’s heart as a well as mind.  It will surely be heard again and again.  

David King
The Howard Carter of Norwegian banding: David King back stage

Fortunate

Despite Eikanger’s mutant mastery, the band will also know they will not be afforded the same leeway against the cream of European talent in Perth as was shown by their domestic rivals, if they lose concentration on their own choice selection as they did here.

They were perhaps fortunate that Manger Musikklag conducted by Philip Harper, also suffered enough small anxieties, despite their obvious determination, to beat them. 

They are also a heavyweight band of remarkable facets - most notably lower brass that could repel a charging rhino - but as with their close rivals, their teak hard carapace of cultured confidence is also prone to occasional uncomfortable moments of uncertainty.

Manger
Manger's five in a row...


Veneer

It surfaced on their own-choice selection of ‘Concerto Grosso’; the brilliance of the solo interventions (notably ‘Best Soloist’ Randi Holm on flugel and Birthe Carlsen on euphonium) and throbbing excitement of the ‘Tico Tico’ showcase, balanced by noticeable minor ensemble errors that just tarnished the polished Bourgeois veneer.

Although there is little to choose between the two superbly conditioned leviathans of Norwegian banding, it was enough to see the band finish runner-up for a fourth consecutive year.

Philip Harper himself will also now know Cory have one heck of a task to repel the one Nordic challenger in Perth. If it’s a brace come Freiburg then God help us all. 

Randi Holm
Best Soloist winner Randi Holm of Manger

Anger management

With Stavanger also showing that they are once again a major contesting force under Allan Withington, producing an evocative performance of ‘Myth Forest’ that sent an icy chill of fear into the listener’s marrow on the Saturday,  Europe’s finest may well have to learn ‘Anger’ management courses in future.

It is faintly ludicrous that only Eikanger at present can represent the Nordic challenge away from the fjords (although that may be doubled if they win in Perth) as these three bands would substantially strengthen the quality of competition at the British Open (and could just as easily win it) - with others such as Bjorsvik Brass in particular, arguably better than any UK band that will qualify from the Grand Shield. 

Bjorsvik Brass
Bjorsvik alumni - led by Tormod Flaten

Alumni

They are some ‘ad hoc’ outfit - predominately made up former Eikanger alumni who set out to display their musical excellence under the equally impressive baton of Andreas Hanson. 

The result was playing of such high class on both days – not without its ensemble weaknesses and a touch of showboating on ‘The Essence of Time’ which was delivered with the type of relaxed brilliance you see with Brazilian footballers playing a game of five aside.

These four bands were a class part (although those that came behind were very impressive in themselves) – with both sets of judges (Ian Porthouse, Ian Meylemans and Stig Nordhagen on the Friday, Thomas Beiganz, Bryan Allen and Yngve Slettholm the following day) placing them in the same order.

Quality finishers

Behind them came the quality top six finishers of a consistent Krohnengen and youthful Jaren, conducted splendidly by Howard Evans back to welcome full fitness, with Oslo perhaps unlucky not to have finished higher under Dr Robert Childs after he led his band in a thoughtful, lyrical reading of the set work.

Sola and Tertnes may have propped up the results table, but both revealed enough elite qualities to ensure they could not be considered also-rans in any way shape or form.

Respectful
All eyes and nerves - the reps of Stavanger, Eikanger and Manger...

Repressed emotions

The results ceremony was a mini masterclass of repressed Norwegian emotions: the trio of remaining band representatives nervously clutching single red roses as they awaited the announcement of the destination of the title; each standing a slight distance apart, eyes focussed everywhere but on their rivals...  

When it did come, Viggo Bjorge of Eikanger, respectful but relieved, shook hands with his rivals and looked out into the auditorium, already seemingly peering towards a musical horizon somewhere across the North Sea.

Eikanger Bjorsvik’s gaze is now fixed on the European title. Nothing else will satisfy them. 

Iwan Fox



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