Valaisia Brass Band found their contesting 'Eden' at the Stravinski Auditorium in Montreux to round off a memorable contesting year with an imposing victory at the Swiss National Championships.
Stunning renditions of John Pickard's allegorical set-work and their own-choice, the algorithmically inspired 'The Turing Test' by Simon Dobson, also saw Arsene Duc's band claim a historic hat-trick of Excellence Division wins and in the process secure their place at the European Championship in Utrecht next May.
It was a victory that brokered few doubts, despite the audience's surprise that the final results were initially delayed (the weekend was run up to that point with the precision of a Swiss train time table). However, any conspiracy theorists soon found out that it was the more prosaic need for the judges to have food that just put matters back for a while.
When they were eventually revealed there were still a few disbelieving gasps: Solid performances from Fribourg ended sixth whilst a delighted Oberaargauer was fifth. However, supporters of the fancied Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern were left disappointed as the former European champion could only finish fourth.
By the time the impressive Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisan took third, it was a straight fight between the high-class consistency of Treize Etoiles and the inspired Valaisia — the latter becoming just the second band in the event's history to win three titles in a row.
Only talking point
It meant that the only talking point to be heard politely debated in the bars afterward arose from the decision of own-choice judges Garry Cutt, Michael Fowles and Rieks Van der Velde to place Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisan's superb premiere of 'Concerto' by Hungarian composer Roland Szentpali, just ahead of the stunning rendition of 'The Turing Test' from the defending champion.
It was the first time since their winning-streak started in 2015 that Valaisia had been topped in either discipline of the two-legged event. Even outstanding performances on substantive own-choice works from Treize Etoiles (their exceptional bass trombone player Lionel Fumeaux the star of their rendition of 'Old Licks Bluesed Up'), Luzern ('Destination Moon'), Fribourg and Oberaargauer (all giving the supportive audience plenty to cheer about) were left in the top two's wake.
That pyrrhic success for Francois Roh's band will perhaps give rivals some future crumbs of competitive comfort, as on the Saturday, Valaisia's fourth National title success was built on a quite brilliant rendition of 'Eden'.
It was an almost perfect literal interpretation of the poetic allegorical imagery of John Milton's 'Paradise Lost'; from the questioning beauty of the opening and the rapacious exploitative forces of the central section to the uplifting optimism of the finale.
The judges, David Childs, Ian Porthouse and Frans Matysiak later confirmed to 4BR that it was a clear margin ahead of even the best high-class rivals; the solo and ensemble work staggering in its precision and balance (their 'Special Prize' winning solo trombone player Damien Lagger was a Garden of Eden snake of venomous brilliance).
Less than 24 hours later it seemed to many to have been bettered, (especially with incredibly defined dynamic layers) on Simon Dobson's complex portrait of the tragic computing genius, Alan Turing (although the judge's felt there were some small, but noticeable errors).
In victory, MD Arsene Duc was humble and appreciative — especially towards his players and the composers of what he called 'exceptional' works. "They are fantastic," he said. "It's been an honour to perform these exceptional pieces. My players deserve the credit as they worked so hard once again."
Ominously though, and despite securing a victory that saw his band inhabit a new found contesting paradise, he almost seemed to paraphrase Milton's own words; '…the world was all before them, where to choose their place of rest and providence their guide…', when asked about future plans.
"It has been a very good year of course, but we also have so much to look forward to in 2018 with the European Championships and British Open," he said, before adding, "We want to keep improving all the time and to aim to win a fourth title here."
That attitude (much like that expressed by Eikanger in winning Brass in Concert) will have been heard with a sense of foreboding around Europe, as Arsene Duc revealed that as soon as the festive season was out of the way, they will start detailed preparations on their aim of winning a first European title.
They will head to the European Championship in Utrecht as one the undoubted favourites, whilst their odds on equaling Brass Band Berner Oberland's four successive victories between 1990 and 1993 will have also shortened considerably on this form.
Meanwhile, tickets for the British Open, if both Valaisia and Eikanger are confirmed in attendance, will be as valuable as a gold bar in a Montreux bank vault.
Almost as valuable was the huge trophy presented to Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia as they won the First Division with a hugely impressive performance of 'Blitz' under Michael Bach.
Not surprisingly for a nation that has enjoyed peace and prosperity of the vast majority of the past half a millennium, Derek Bourgeois's work did cause unfamiliar problems for the majority of the 21 competitors — although the podium finishers in particular gave accounts of character and security, aided by well chosen tempi and dynamics.
Playing late in the day, Euphonia was a clear winner; their rendition displaying the dichotomies of menace, ferocity and belligerence alongside melancholy, passion and absurd wit to claim the title for a fourth time under their charismatic MD.
And despite having to take to the stage once again the next day with Luzern in the Excellence Division, Michael Bach joined his players in their splendid celebrations, later telling 4BR. "We really had to work so hard on this piece. It's such a test at this level as it asks so many questions of style and approach.
We certainly enjoyed playing it, and to win a fourth time here is a great achievement for all the players."
There was also a clear winner in the Second Division, where Cedric Fuhrer's neatly constructed 'Mastermind 2.0' proved a compelling test of the technical as well as musical insight of the 11 competitors and their MDs.
Also inspired the tragic life of British computer genius Alan Turing, it saw a super performance from Brass Band Berner Oberland led by Jan Muller, take the honours for the first time since 2004 (aided by their prize winning tuba team) by a three-point margin from Brass Band Harmonie Rickenbach, with Brass Band Junior Valaisan in third.
There would have been few complaints about the decision of the judge's in the Third Section, as David Childs and Ian Porthouse (alongside Franz Matysiak) revealed that they lived right in the Welsh heartland of Philip Harper's enjoyable, 'The Kingdom of Dragons'.
Certainly not from the winners, Jugend Brass Band Michelsamt, who gave an outstanding performance that allied precision with passion to claim their third title in four years under Peter Stadelmann's direction.
The excellent overall standard also saw performances of merit from the top-six prize winners in particular, with the podium places going to fine accounts from Musik Frohsinn Oberburg and Musikgesellschaft Jenaz.
Sunday's Excellence Division musical aperitif came from six bands in the Fourth Division, who showed that grass roots competition in Switzerland is growing with encouraging substance.
David Chaulk's engaging 'Terra Nova' provided ample opportunity to showcase solid brass banding basics in a triptych framework also allowing freedom of stylistic expression, with all contenders giving performances of merit, led by the impressive winners Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band conducted by Luca Frischknecht.
And like Valaisia in the top section event, it also gave the band a hat-trick of titles as they managed to repel the keen challenge of podium finishers Jugend Brass Band Oberer Sempachersee and mgrr Junior Band.
24 carat gold
With its outstanding organisation led by Swiss Band Association President Ariane Brun, warm welcome, excellent facilities (although the 40 year old Montreux 2m2c Centre is to undergo major upgrading in the next couple of years) and huge, friendly competitive support (players do take the opportunity listen to rival bands) the Swiss Championships have become the 'gold standard' for other nations to emulate.
Little wonder EBBA recently took the decision to return here in 2019 for its European event, and little wonder it has now produced a hat-trick winning champion band of 24 carat brilliance in Valaisia Brass Band to spearhead its assault on reclaiming that particular title.
That really would make Switzerland a brass banding 'Eden' in any other name.
he (Arsene Duc) almost seemed to paraphrase Milton's own words; '...the world was all before them, where to choose their place of rest and providence their guide...', when asked about future plans4BR
Test Piece: Eden (John Pickard)
Set Work: David Childs, Ian Porthouse, Franz Matysiak
Own Choice: Garry Cutt, Michael Fowles, Rieks Van der Velde
Set Work/Own Choice = Total
1. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc): 1/2 = 3
2. Brass Band Treize Etoiles (Dr. James Gourlay): 2/3 = 5
3. Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisan (Francois Roh): 5/1 = 6
4. Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern (Michael Bach): 3/4 = 7
5. Oberaargauer Brass Band (Christoph Luchsinger): 4/6 = 10
6. Brass Band Fribourg A (Maurice Donnet-Monay): 8/5 = 13
7. Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia (Vincent Baroni): 6/8 = 14
8. Brass Band Berner Oberland (Corsin Tuor): 7/7 = 14
9. Liberty Brass Band Ostschweiz (Stefan Roth): 9/10 = 19
10. Constellation Brass Band A (Yvan Lagger): 11/9 = 20
11. Ensemble de Cuivres Jurassien (Blaise Heritier): 10/11 = 21
Special Prize: Best Trombone (Set Work): Valaisia Brass Band
Special Prize (Own Choice): Bass trombone (Treize Etoiles)
Test Piece: Blitz (Derek Bourgeois)
Adjudicators: Jean Claude Kolly, Ueli Kipfer, Frederic Theodoloz
1. Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia (Michael Bach) — 98
2. Brass Band Emmental (Jan Muller) — 96
3. Brass Band Eglisau (Andreas Buri) — 95
4. Brass Band MG Reiden (Roland Froscher) — 94
5. Brass Band Treize Etoiles B (Cedric Vergere) — 93
6. Brass Band Kirchmusik Fluhli (Armin Renggli) — 92
7= Brass Band Cazis (Enrico Calzaferri) — 91
7= Brass Band Fribourg B (Maurice Donnet-Monay) — 91
9= Regional Brass Band Bern (Jon Kowszun) — 90
9= Universal Brass Band Wil (Gian Stecher) — 90
11. Brass Band Rickenbach (Enrico Calzaferri) — 89
12. Brass Band Sursilvana (Roman Caprez) — 88
13. BML Talents (Patrick Ottiger) — 87
14. AEW Brass Band Fricktal (Tristan Uth) — 86
15. Brass Band Rosalp (David Bonvin) — 85
16= Feldmusik Knutwil (Gian Stecher) — 84
16= Brass Band Impertial Lenzburg A-Band (Rafael Camartin) — 84
18. Brass Band Schotz (Urs Bucher) — 83
19= Ensemble de Cuivres Ambitus (Francois Roh) — 82
19= Jurassic Brass (Maurice Periat) — 82
21. Oberwalliser Brass Band A (David Lochmatter) — 81
Test Piece: Mastermind 2.0 (Cedric Fuhrer)
Adjudicators: Garry Cutt, Mike Fowles, Rieks Van der Velde
1. Brass Band Berner Oberland Junior (Jan Muller) — 95
2. Brass Band Harmonie Rickenbach (Lukas Scherrer) — 92
3. Brass Band Junior Valaisan (Aurelien Darbellay) — 91
4. Brass Band Abinchvova (Gian Walker) — 89
5. Liberty Brass Band Junior (Christoph Luchsinger) — 88
6. Brass Band Feldmusik Escholzmatt (Roger Muller) — 87
7. Brass Band 43 (Olivier Neuhaus) — 86
8. Musikgesellschaft Konkordia Aedermannsdorf (Bernhard Wuthrich) — 85
9. Brass Band Lotschental (Aldo Werlen) — 84
10. Ensemble de Cuivres Jurassien B (Florian Lab) — 83
11. Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia B (Sebastien Pasche) — 82
Special Prize: Tubas (Brass Band Berner Oberland Junior)
Test Piece: Kingdom of Dragons (Philip Harper)
Adjudicators: David Childs, Ian Porthouse, Franz Matysiak
1. Jugend Brass Band Michelsamt (Peter Stadelmann) — 97
2. Musik Frohsinn Oberburg (Jan Muller) — 95
3. Musikgesellschaft Jenaz (Tristan Uth) — 93
4. Burgermusik Untereggen (Stfan Roth) — 92
5. Brass Band Frutigen (Pascal Andres) — 91
6. Brass Band Munsingen (Christoph Hertig) — 90
7. Thunerseebrass (Christoph Hertig) — 89
8. Musikverein Brass Band Henggart (Christian Bachmann) — 88
9. Constellation Brass Band B (Ivan Denis) — 87
10. Musikverein Rothrist (Cyrill Schaub) — 86
11. Brass Band Solothurn (Martin Butikofer) — 85
12. Brass Band l'Avenir Lignieres (Cyril Perrenoud) — 84
13. Brass Band Gurbetal (Urs Stahli) — 83
14. Brass Band Junior Vaudois (Simon Sulmoni) — 82
15. Brass Band Zurich (Werner Kubli) — 81
16. Jugend Brass Band Schwarzbubenland (Martin Schaad) — 80
17. Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg B (Stefan Aegerter) — 78
18. Musikgesellschaft Oberwil b. Buren (Hansueli Mollet) — 77
Special Prize: Euphonium (Musik Frohsinn Oberburg)
Test Piece: Terra Nova (David Chaulk)
Adjudicators: David Childs, Ian Porthouse, Franz Matysiak
1. Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band (Luca Frischknecht) — 94
2. Jugend Brass Band Oberer Sempachersee (Manuel Imhof) — 93
3. mgrr Junior Band (Matthias Kieffer) — 92
4. Musikgesellschaft Brunisned (Manfred Schaller) — 90
5. Entlebucher Jugend Brass Band (Mario Schubiger) — 89
6. Jugend Brass Band RML (Ivan Estermann) — 88
Special Prize: Euphonium (Jugend Brass Band Oberer Sempachersee)