An impressive mix of the essential contesting attributes of excellent preparation, intelligent conducting and confident execution saw Hammonds Saltaire Band return to the British Open as 2018 Grand Shield Champion.
Directed by MD Morgan Griffiths, who has been the talismanic focal point of their musical regeneration since they lost their British Open status in 2016, the Yorkshire band gave a thoroughly cogent rendition of the imposing set-work, 'The Triumph of Time' to secure their place back at Symphony Hall.
That was certainly the opinion of the judges Nigel Boddice and Garry Cutt. "A performance capturing the magic, excitement and simplicity as appropriate," Nigel wrote in his remarks, whilst Garry added that they had provided the duo with; "A very convincing and enjoyable performance".
"I'm thrilled and still a little bit shocked," Morgan Griffiths told 4BR as his players enjoyed having their pictures taken raising the Shield on high outside the hall.
"It's such a hard contest to win. Even though I felt we had played really well, I still knew there was a little bit of luck needed to qualify. Once again, the players did everything I asked of them and so they deserve the success."
It's also the third time that Hammonds has claimed the famous trophy (with wins in 1989 and 1995), so little wonder he was hoping that this was one victory that won't need repeating for some considerable time to come.
He added: "We know what it takes to succeed at the highest level and we'll be working just as hard to make an impression at the British Open. With the greatest respect to this fantastic event, we don't want to be back again."
Great to be back
One person who also knows about the requirements of elite level success is Morgan's father Ted, the stalwart Band Manager who alongside his son enjoyed four Open wins under Hammond's former guise of YBS.
"It's great to get back to the British Open," he said. "The band is built on solid foundations with committed players, so this is another great step forward."
As is the case at this contest over the years, the joyful celebrations were not only confined to the winners, as Aldbourne conducted by David Thornton completed a 16 year qualification journey that started in the Senior Trophy in 2002 by securing their first ever British Open appearance.
The only headache for their Band Chairman Ian Keene was how to sort out a potential clash with their annual performance at the local Aldbourne Carnival.
"I think we may just have to turn that one down," he said with a smile. "This is a fantastic result for the band, but one we've been close to here in the past couple of years.
We've got a solid core of dedicated players, many of them who've played with us for over 40 years, so you can imagine the celebrations went on for a long while on the night.
Our thanks go to David and to Glyn Williams for all the work they have done with us for this contest."
The British Open organisers certainly ensured the 20 contenders were left in no doubt of the challenge they faced in getting to Birmingham in September, with Peter Graham's engaging work providing a stark reminder of the levels of technique as well as musicality that separates realistic, rather than hopeful, qualification ambitions.
The more obvious shortcomings in virtuosity (the lip trills in particular) were at times not as marked as the propensity to misjudge the tempos or the subtle dynamic and stylistic shadings that littered the composition.
"This is one of the most difficult contests to win, and that's why the standard has been so good over the years," Garry Cutt told the audience before the results. "Bands needed eight good soloists to perform on the day around the stands — and some didn't. The score also needed some sorting out by the MDs and that's what really separated them today."
That perhaps accounted for Virtuosi GUS, as for the third time in four years they couldn't quite do enough to secure a Symphony Hall return as frustrating errors cost dearly, whilst the event's well-known reputation for contrasting serendipity saw the much fancied Woodfalls come fourth after failing to impress in the box as much as they did with the Opera House audience.
Behind them, the other top-six places went to well-directed renditions from a vibrant NASUWT Riverside and a more considered Friary Guildford, whose solo trombonist Isobel Daws rounded of an incredible few weeks of personal achievement that also saw her reach the semi-final of the prestigious BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, by deservedly claiming the 'Best Instrumentalist' award.
Earlier in the day the start of the contest was delayed by 10 minutes as latecomers found themselves queuing for their tickets at the box office. It was later reported that the Spring Festival had attracted a record attendance since returning to the venue in 2001.
And whilst the first half performances of NASUWT Riverside, Friary Guildford and Reg Vardy seemed to tickle the fancy of the audience with their contrasting approaches, it was Aldbourne just before the half-way comfort break, and ultimately, Hammond's immediately after, that caught the ears of the experienced adjudicating duo.
Morgan Griffiths' notable appreciation of tempo and dynamic was aided by splendidly confident soloists, whilst David Thornton also used his considerable playing experience to gain a sense of measured clarity to the faster sections and a feeling of lyricism in the slower elements.
These considered attributes were just what Messrs Cutt and Boddice were looking for, rather than the obvious ensemble depth of sound but occasionally fragilities of Virtuoso GUS under Adam Cooke, and the dazzlingly bravura approach (especially some of the solo interventions) of Woodfalls led by Dr Robert Childs.
Meanwhile, technical limitations and ensemble cohesiveness clearly put pay to many chances, although an eye-brow or two may have been raised by supporters of the likes of Thoresby Colliery (12th), Filton Concert (13th) and Hepworth (17th) who had their fans in the hall if not quite in the box.
And whilst it was a difficult task to compare and contrast the variable inconsistencies of many performances that ended up in the midfield placings, few would have argued that the majority at the bottom end of the results table found 'The Triumph of Time' anything but.
City of Cardiff (Melingriffith), Llwydcoed, Ashton under Lyne and Hepworth eventually fell through the relegation trap-door on a day when a number of contenders (and particularly cornet, euphonium and trombone soloists) will have been relieved to have battled their way through a work that gave a clear and unmistakable indication of their true British Open aspirations.
Those though were certainly fulfilled by Hammonds Saltaire.
We know what it takes to succeed at the highest level and we'll be working just as hard to make an impression at the British Open. With the greatest respect to this fantastic event, we don't want to be back againMD, Morgan Griffiths
Set-test: The Triumph of Time (Peter Graham)
Adjudicators: Garry Cutt & Nigel Boddice
1. Hammonds Saltaire (Morgan Griffiths)*
2. Aldbourne (Dr David Thornton)*
3. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke)
4. Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs)
5. NASUWT Riverside (Prof Nicholas Childs)
6. Friary Guildford (Chris King)
7. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray)
8. Camborne Town (Kevin Mackenzie)
9. Pemberton Old Wigan DW (Ben Dixon)
10. East Yorkshire Motor Services (Stig Maersk)
11. Rainford (Gareth Brindle)
12. Thoresby Colliery (Ian McElligott)
13. Filton Concert Brass (Tom Davoren)
14. Milnrow (Mark Bentham)
15. Jaguar Land Rover (Dave Lea)
16. Tongwynlais Temperance (Andreas Kratz)
17. Hepworth (Leigh Baker)**
18. Ashton-under-Lyne (Philip Chalk) **
19. Llwydcoed (Christopher Turner)**
20. City of Cardiff (Mellingriffith) (Dewi Griffiths)* *
Best Instrumentalist: Isobel Daws (trombone) — Friary Guildford
*Promoted to the British Open
**Relegated to the Senior Cup