The final title of the 2017 European Championships in Oostende was won for the third year in succession by Young Brass Band Willebroek directed by Frans Violet.
The quality of the top two of the four bands in the Premier Section was remarkable; the eventual winner giving performances of the set-work, 'Dimensions' by Peter Graham, 'Enter the Galaxies', 'Sing, Sing, Sing' and the cornet solo 'Pictures from Wartime' — a world premiere played by Lode Violet, that would have easily graced the Challenge Section.
It was the same with runner-up Youth Brass 2000 , led by Chris Jeans; pipped by a single point after delivering an equally outstanding programme that included the set-work, 'Amazonia' from 'Windows of the World', Abide with Me', the cornet solo 'Jubilance' played by Thomas Fountain, and the 'Finale' from 'Dances & Arias' by Edward Gregson.
It was the third year in a row that these two exceptional bands had fought it out for the honours, and the third year that the result ended the same. The prospect of them locking horns again in Utrecht in a year's time is already something to look forward to.
Both are conducted by inspirational musicians — the Belgians by the remarkable Frans Violet, who 24 hours earlier led the senior Brass Band Willebroek to fourth place in the Championship Section event — helped by some of his youth players, including his son Lode who played principal cornet.
Lode told 4BR that the simple secret to success for both bands was hard work; with his father taking the responsibility to teach every young musician and instil in them the ambition to one day go on and play for the senior band. "All the players want to do that. Some will and some can't because there may not be places, but the aim is always to produce our own players."
Frans himself confirmed the approach. "We produce new players each year as we lose others. That is why I am very happy for both bands when we are successful."
Although there was title disappointment for British National Champion, Youth Brass 2000, they can be very proud of their efforts at what was their fifth major contest appearance of 2017.
The band from Corby in Northamptonshire once again gave their all under Chris Jeans, with Thomas Fountain displaying the talents that have already made the Virtuosi GUS principal cornet one of the UK's brightest young brass stars. His 'Best Instrumentalist' award was thoroughly deserved.
Behind them came a pair of maturing contenders, with Swiss representatives Brass Band Berner Oberland Junior returning to the contest this year.
Like Young Brass Band Willebroek, they are also linked directly to their senior counterparts (the top flight BBO) with a regular number of players going on to play with them. Here they gave a fine account of themselves under Jan Muller, with cornet soloist Nadja Gerber playing 'Prelude and Capriccio' before closing with 'Shine as the Light'.
Also making a solid impression was the Swedish Youth Brass Band; a national ensemble that meets about four time a year and which is made up of players from various parts of the country — including some of the most remote areas. Their spirited set included 'Till Matilda', 'The Irish Blessing', 'Keighley Moor' and the cornet solo 'Rusalka's Song to the Moon' played by Daniel Bjornell.
Although EBBA will be happy that the youth contests this year attracted 14 bands from eight different countries, they could well reflect that the Premier Section remains something of a competitive anomaly — tempered by the fact that players up to the age of 23 can take part.
As more than one person noted, there were quite a lot of young men and women, let alone youths, taking to the stage.
And although EBBA indicated that there were currently no plans to look at the various age limits, it is interesting to note that the 'age of majority' (the legal threshold for adulthood) in the countries taking part in the Premier Section this year — England, Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden — was 18.
We produce new players each year as we lose others. That is why I am very happy for both bands when we are successfulYoung Brass Band Willebroek MD, Frans Violet
Test Piece: 'Dimensions' (Peter Graham) & Own Choice Programme
Adjudicators: Kevin Houben, Dr David Thornton
1. Young Brass Band Willebroek (Frans Violet) — 94
2. Youth Brass 2000 (Chris Jeans) — 93
3. Berner Oberland Junior (Jan Muller) — 89
4. Swedish Youth (Berit Palmquist) — 87
Best Instrumentalist: Thomas Fountain (cornet) — Youth Brass 2000