A thrilling combination of stunning technique and considered musicality saw Valaisia Brass Band claim the 2015 Swiss National Championship title in Montreux.
And on a weekend when bands at all competitive levels showed that they are fast becoming highly accomplished contest performers, the win sent a chilling message to elite rivals across the continent that under MD Arsene Duc they will be a force to fear at the European Championship in Lille in less than six months time.
The twin sets of adjudicators were certainly in no doubt about the quality of what was their second national success since 2011 — with the set-work judges Ray Farr, Erik Janssen and Richard Marshall later telling 4BR that they considered their performance of Peter Graham's 'Triumph of Time' as a 'masterclass' of ensemble and solo playing.
Meanwhile, an appropriately mesmerising rendition of 'Trance', saw the trio of own-choice judges also award first place to their 'superb' interpretation of Thomas Doss's darkly disturbing work, to seal a memorable National victory — aided by an equally superb 'Best Instrumentalist' contribution from flugel horn player Claude Romailler.
Clear cut on paper
On paper it was a clear cut success — with a delighted Ensemble Cuivres Valaisan coming second courtesy of a fourth and third place finish over the two disciplines to pip (thanks to their higher placing on the set-work) a rejuvenated Brass Band Berner Oberland.
However, the margin of victory did not tell the whole story of what was an engrossing contest.
After the more predictable set-work outcome on the Saturday — where Valaisia led from Treize Etoiles and Luzern (with their flugel player Lukas Scherrer taking the 'Best Instrumentalist' prize), the own-choice judges of Philip McCann, Frank Renton and David Thornton were certainly not swayed by the almost feral acclaim many performances received in the packed Stravinski auditorium the next day.
4BR was later informed that there were robust differences of opinion in the box, with a great deal of informed argument both for and against accounts where it was felt that levels of excitement at times camouflaged inherent faults.
As a result there was to be no successful title defence for Brass Band Treize Etoiles, as their vibrant 'Lone Wolf' life story of composer Bela Bartok did not overly impress the British trio, whilst Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern's engrossing premiere of Philip Wilby's latest opus, 'Ascension', also failed to find unanimity. The final top six place went to a very happy top section debutant Liberty Brass Band Ostschweiz.
Such was the standard (although at times the volume levels touched the incomprehensible) that there were persuasive arguments to be made for and against a host of bands — including Berner Oberland's colourful 'Lone Wolf', Valaisans's considered 'Goldberg 2012' and the brace of innovative news works from Melodia ('The Fallen Bride') and Jurassien ('Cycles — 'Birth').
And whilst passions and opinions did run high on social media and in the packed bar of the Montreux Convention Centre as the results were digested alongside numerous glasses of beer late into the Sunday night, there could not have been too many who disagreed that come the announcement of the results Valaisia was the most deserving champion.
Brass Band Eglisau, directed by Andreas Buri won the marathon power battle that developed in the First Division as the vast majority of the 20 competitors locked horns and placed their hopes in horsepower to try and claim the title on Bertrand Moren's clamorous 'Swiss Colors' set-work.
It certainly made for a difficult contest for the trio of judges to compare and contrast in the box as time and time again the excellent technique and ensemble detail was rather needlessly boosted by turbo charged levels of volume (some bands taking to the stage with six tubas and four trombones).
In the end Eglisau's supremely confident approach (which included the 'Best Soprano' contribution of Stefan Altermatt) saw them lift the massive winner's trophy for the first time since 1992, as they beat off the strong challenge of runner-up, Brass Band MG, Reiden, with AEW Brass Band Fricktal in third.
The final top six places in a contest that showed on this evidence that there may be a host of ambitious bands waiting to make the step up to the elite level, but few with the subtlety to really do so successfully, went to Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia who set the early marker off the number 1 draw, ahead of Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg A and Brass Band Sursilvana.
There was certainly more dynamic contrast to enjoy in the Second Section where Oliver Waespi's 'The Raid' produced a fine contest between 14 well led bands.
The work was inspired by a 14th century domestic battle between two villages over land rights in the Swiss canton of Lucerne — one which started over grazing cattle but soon escalated into more serious conflict until the two warring communities saw sense and reconciled with each other.
Thankfully there was no bloodshed on the contest stage in the Miles Davis Hall as a purposeful account from Brass Band Abinchova took the honours closely followed by Brass Band 43 with Brass Band Posaunenchor Flach in third. Their flugel horn player took the 'Best Flugel' prize for their excellent solo and cadenza playing in the middle section of the work.
It was Abinchova's third National success in four years, following victories in the Third Division in 2012 and 2013, as the rapidly rising band continues to make a huge impact under the direction of their inspirational MD, Gian Walker.
The remaining to six places went to BML Talents,Brass Band Junior Valaisan and Brass Band Berner Oberland Junior in a contest that brought the best out of a host of well matched bands.
The Sunday morning prelude to the Championship Section own-choice blockbusters was provided by the intriguing choice of 'Turris Fortissima' to test the 10 Third Section contenders.
Ray Farr, Erik Janssen and Richard Marshall were given a difficult task of separating out the very best bands as Steven Ponsford's ostensibly concert inspired work was well within the technical and musical skill sets of the competitors.
In the end it was a vibrant account from defending champion Jugend Brass Band Michelsamt led by Lukas Scherrer that claimed a clear two point winning margin over a spirited Brass Band Zurich with a very solid Ensembe de Cuivres Jurassien B two points further back in third.
The victory marked yet another significant achievement for what is essentially a youth band from a school in Michelsamt which 4BR was later told has three different ensembles providing amazing musical opportunities for its youngsters — many of whom (including their award winning tuba section) were in brilliantly celebratory mood when they got their hands on the winner's trophy for a second successive year.
In a contest that showcased performances from all the bands of great merit, the remaining top six places went to Musikgesellschaft Full, Brass Band Solothurn and Brass Band Gurbetal.
Although the entry level of competitive Swiss banding currently remains small, the six bands performing 'Parnassus' by Jan Van der Roost certainly showed that quantity means quality as they provided a supportive audience and the trio of judges in the Miles Davis Hall with a wonderful opening contest to the weekend.
In the end it was a cracking rendition by Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band led by Luca Frischknecht that claimed a deserved clear-cut victory over their rivals (their first National title success), thanks in part to the exquisite playing of their 'Best Flugel Horn'.
Ray Farr, who was joined by Richard Marshall and Erik Janssen in the box later told 4BR that the winners were 'outstanding' and that the general level of performances was 'excellent' — something that few who listened would disagree about.
The podium places went to well delivered renditions from Brass Band Junior Vaudois and Thunersee-Brass with the remaining places taken by performances of merit from Entelbucher Jugend Brass Band, defending champion Jugend Brass Band Neuenkirch and Jugendmusik Jenaz.
Once again the warm welcome and excellent organisational work of the Swiss Brass Band Association made for a memorable event at the magnificent Montreux Convention Centre.
In addition, with over 60 bands once again taking part in the Championship, and with increasing participation reported in community brass band playing throughout the country, the future of the Swiss banding movement certainly looks progressive and healthy.
All that and the lasting impression of the 2015 event was of the overall quality of the playing — with the new National champion Valaisia in particular every bit as imposing as the Swiss Alps that form the back drop to this superb event on the banks of Lake Geneva.
After the more predictable set-work outcome, the own-choice judges were certainly not swayed by the almost feral acclaim many performances received in the packed Stravinski auditorium the next day4BR
Set Work: The Triumph of Time (Peter Graham)
(Set Work): Ray Farr, Erik Jannsen, Richard Marshall
(Own Choice): Phillip McCann, Frank Renton, David Thornton
Set Work placing + Own Choice placing = Total
1. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc): 1 + 1 = 2 *
2. Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisan (Francois Roh): 4 + 3 = 7
3. Brass Band Berner Oberland (Corsin Tuor): 5 + 2 = 7
4. Brass Band Treize Etoiles (James Gourlay): 2 + 6 = 8
5. Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern (Michael Bach): 3 + 7 = 10
6. Liberty Brass Band Ostschweiz (Andreas Koller): 9 + 4 = 13
7. Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia (Stephane Duboux): 10 + 5 = 15
8. Brass Band Fribourg (Frederic Theodoloz): 6 + 10 = 16
9. Constellation Brass Band (Yvan Lagger): 7 + 9 = 16
10. Oberaargauer Brass Band (Russell Gray): 8 + 11 = 19
11. Ensemble de Cuivres Jurassien A (Blaise Heritier): 12 + 8 = 20
12. Musikgesellschaft Risch-Rotkreuz (Rino Chiappori): 11 + 12 = 23
* Qualified to represent Switzerland at 2016 European Championship in Lille, France
Best Instrumentalist on Set Work: Lukas Scherrer (flugel) — Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern
Best Instrumentalist on Own Choice: Claude Romailler (flugel) — Valaisia Brass Band
Test Piece: Swiss Colors (Bertrand Moren)
Adjudicators: Thomas Ludescher, Ludovic Neurohr, Philip Wilby
1. Brass Band Eglisau (Andreas Buri) — 97
2. Brass Band MG Reiden (Roland Froscher) — 96
3. AEW Brass Band Fricktal (Tristan Uth) — 94
4. Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia (Michael Bach) — 93
5. Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg A (Rafael Camartin) — 92
6. Brass Band Sursilvana (Roman Caprez) — 91
7. Brass Band Treize Etoiles B (Cedric Verges) — 90
8= Brass Band Emmental (Luca Frischknecht) — 89
8= Brass Band Harmonie Neuenkirch (Manuel Imhof) — 89
10= Brass Band Cazis (Enrico Calzaferri) — 88
10= Brass Band Rickenbach (Enrico Calzaferri) — 88
10= Brass Band Schotz (Urs Bucher) — 88
13. Brass Band Fribourg B (Maurice Donnet-Monay) — 87
14. Brass Band Kirchenmusik Fluhli (Armin Renggli) — 86
15= Feldmusik Knutwil (Gian Stecher) — 85
15= Regional Brass Band Bern (Jon Kowszun) — 85
17= Brass Band Konkordia Busserach (Tristan Uth) — 84
17= Ensemble de Cuivres Ambitus (Francois Roh) — 84
17= Oberwalliser Brass Band A (David Lochmatter) — 84
17= Rosalp Brass Band (David Bonvin) — 84
Best Soprano: Brass Band MG Reiden
Test Piece: The Raid (Oliver Waespi)
Adjudicators: Phillip McCann, Frank Renton, David Thornton
1. Brass Band Abinchova (Gian Walker) — 95
2. Brass Band 43 (Jacques Rossier) — 94
3. Brass Band Posaunenchor Flach (Thomas Fischer) — 93
4. BML Talents (Patrick Ottiger) — 92
5. Brass Band Junior Valaisan (Mauric Donnet-Monay) — 91
6. Brass Band Berner Oberland Junior (Jan Muller) — 89
7. Liberty Brass Band Junior (Christoph Luchsinger) — 88
8. Brass Band Feldmusik Escholzmat (Roger Muller) — 87
9. Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia B (Vincent Maurer) — 86
10. MG Konkordia Aedermannsdorf (Bernhard Wuthrich) — 85
11. Brass Band Rapperswil-Wierezwil (Matthias Siegenthaler) — 84
12. Musikgesellschaft Sorenberg (Sigi Bieri) — 83
13. Brass Band Harmonie Rickenbach (Lukas Scherrer) — 82
14. Ste.de musique Brass Band L`Avenir de Lignieres (Pascal Eicher) — 81
Best Flugel Horn: Brass Band Posaunenchor Flach
Test Piece: Turris Fortissima (Steven Ponsford)
Adjudicators: Ray Farr, Erik Janssen, Richard Marshall
1. Jugend Brass Band Michelsamt (Lukas Scherrer) — 97
2. Brass Band Zurich (Werner Kubli) — 95
3. Ensembe de Cuivres Jurassien B (Florian Lab) — 93
4. Musikgesellschaft Full (Markus Haunstein) — 92
5. Brass Band Solothurn (Martin Butikofer) — 91
6. Brass Band Gurbetal (Urs Stahli) — 90
7. Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg B (Stefan Aegerter) — 89
8. Oberwalliser Brass Band Junior (David Lochmatter) — 88
9. Musik Frohsinn Oberburg (Jan Muller) — 87
10. Musikgesellschaft Jenaz (Andrea Nold) — 86
Best Tuba Section: Jugend Brass Band Michelsamt
Test Piece: Parnassus (Jan Van der Roost)
Adjudicators: Ray Farr, Erik Janssen, Richard Marshall
1. Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band (Luca Frischknecht) — 94
2. Brass Band Junior Vaudois (Simon Sulmoni) — 91
3. Thunersee-Brass (Christoph Hertig) — 90
4. Entelbucher Jugend Brass Band (Mario J. Schubiger) — 89
5. Jugend Brass Band Neuenkirch (Manuel Imhof) — 88
6. Jugendmusik Jenaz (Simon Buhler) — 87
Best Flugel Horn: Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band