The London-based Connaught Brass quintet won the inaugural Philip Jones International Brass Ensemble Competition at the RNCM in Manchester on the weekend.
Formed in 2016 and comprising five final year students from the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, they claimed the £10,000 Philip Jones Prize by the narrowest of margins according to the international panel of jurors, after a titanic three-hour showcase of performances by a trio of outstanding finalists.
RET Chamber Brass from Austria eventually came runner-up to secure the £7,500 Marah Mahlowe Prize, with London Metropolitan Brass taking the £5,000 Founder's Prize.
The panel of Jury Chairman Reinhold Friedrich, Barbara Butler, Roger Harvey, Oren Marshall and Froydis Ree Wekre, as well as the knowledgeable audience in the RNCM Concert Hall were certainly treated to ensemble playing of the highest quality.
The Chairman later told 4BR that the decision had been "extremely difficult"in not just in picking a winner, as the trio of 40-minute programmes demonstrated a wide variety of style, technique and artistic maturity.
Connaught Brass, comprising trumpets, Aaron Akugbo and Harry Plant, horn, Robyn Blair, trombone, Chris Brewster and tuba, Aled Meredith-Barrett, opened their set with the bubbling liquidity of Sven-David Sandstrom's 'Heavy Metal'.
It was followed by James Macmillan's three-part 'Adam's Rib', inspired by the reflective wonderment of creativity found within the Biblical text, before closing with a 'pick & mix' selection from 'Porgy & Bess', played with polished precision and a fair amount of Gershwin inspired panache.
Speaking to 4BR following a heady night of celebration, trumpeter Harry Plant said that winning such a prestigious award had been "an incredible feeling".
"We originally formed the ensemble in 2016, but the current line-up has been together now for just over a year and a half.
We are all about to enter our final year of study at either the Royal Academy or Guildhall and we entered the competition because we wanted to challenge ourselves on demanding repertoire against the best in the world.
We thoroughly enjoyed this experience and had one mindset throughout to make music in every performance — which is harder to do under the pressure of competition."
Brass band experience
Harry also revealed that both he and tuba player Aled Meredith-Barrett have brass band experience through their connections to Eastbourne Brass and Goodwick Brass respectively.
"We have, so it came in handy,"he added. "To win this competition is an incredible feeling for us all though, and one that will bring us even closer as a group and take us forward as a chamber ensemble."
And as for how the prize money will be spent, Harry laughed. "We've not really thought about it yet but we will be looking to invest it into the development of the group. We may have spent a bit of it last night in celebration though!"
Connaught Brass will now enjoy a busy summer with a performance spot at the Ferrandou Music Festival in France to look forward to, whilst the individual members are booked to play at the BBC Proms, various session work and a number of music courses across Europe.
To win this competition is an incredible feeling for us all though, and one that will bring us even closer as a group and take us forward as a chamber ensembleHarry Plant
As the Chairman of the Jury, Reinhold Friedrich admitted, the quality of the playing on show meant that it had been a very difficult decision to make.
RET Chamber Brass certainly provided a high-bar marker with a programme that included Victor Ewald's 'Brass Quintet No. 3 in D-flat Major Op. 7' performed on cornets and euphonium instead of trumpets and horn alongside the trombone and tuba, as well as Eino Tamberg's 'Music for five: Irrequieto e dolce' and Anders Hillborg's 'Brass Quintet'.
London Metropolitan Brass also included 'Adam's Rib' and Hillborg's 'Brass Quintet' in their set, alongside Bo Nilsson's 'Wendepunkt' and Eugene Bozza's 'Sonatine'.
The inaugural competition had attracted worldwide interest, with 13 ensembles making it through to the RNCM, where they were whittled down to six semi-finalists and then three finalists.
Throughout the week the ensembles had also benefited from a series of masterclasses, guidance and tuition from members of the jury — part of the inclusive concept inspired by Ursula Jones in memory of her husband.
1. Connaught Brass
2. RET Chamber Brass
3. London Metropolitan Brass