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Report & Result: 2019 Brass in Concert Championships

Cory are the Kings of the entertainment jungle as they claim the Brass in Concert title at Sage Gateshead

Brass in Concert
  The entertainment stakes have been high at Sage Gateshead today.

Explaining the critical acclaim enjoyed by 'The Jungle Book' to a fellow author in the late 1890s, Rudyard Kipling freely admitted that he had "cribbed" the episodic tales from original sources so that he could manufacture them into what he called "the necessities of the case".

And in leading Cory to a stunning victory at the 43rd Brass in Concert Championship, it seems Philip Harper was also inspired by the same thought processes in constructing his remarkable title-winning musical novella.

For it contained all the bare necessities for success...

However, where Kipling readily admitted to "promiscuously" helping himself to source material, the Cory MD used his intuitive expertise to create a highly original interpretation of the darker sub-text elements of 'The Jungle Book' than would at first come to mind.

Bewitched

The audience at Sage Gateshead was bewitched by his metaphorical storytelling; the narrative line clear and understandable, the music reflecting the episodic cameo tales in an arc of familiarity that spoke of abandonment, fear, trust and ultimate self awareness in a manner tailored almost to perfection (there were the merest of criticisms from the adjudicators).

A short introduction was followed by six self-contained chapters; non-linear or chronological, but each linked by a collective self-assuredness every bit as strong as the pachyderm patrol that formed the witty centre-point of the 23 minute set.

From the snaky oiliness of the Kaa inspired trombone solo from Disney's 1967 cartoon film to the more opaque trochaic text reference to accompany Verdi's 'Dies Irae', Philip Harper delved deep into the book's heart of darkness as well as light.

The clever reference to William Blake's 'Tyger Tyger, burning bright' through the medium of the music to the 'Rocky III' film, the Stan Kenton big band swagger of 'Fortune of Fools' and a dollop of 1960s Sammy Davis Jnr also drew the tale forward to its uplifting close.

Did not flatter

The result was arguably the most coherent title winning programme ever performed in the revamped multi-discipline score Sage Gateshead era. The margin of victory (four first places from the five judges) did not flatter Cory in the slightest.

"Congratulations — don't know what else to say really", wrote Ian Bousfield in his remarks, whilst his fellow Quality of Performance judge Nick Grace said it had been, "A real joy and privileged to hear this performance."

Programme Content judge Jeremy Wise felt the audience "...was taken on a journey and captivated throughout", whilst Entertainment & Presentation judges Chris Jeans and Mike Lovatt called it "engaging fun and vibrant"and "stunning all round."

It left Cory's rivals to pay homage to the undisputed King of the contesting jungle, as the world's number 1 band hoovered up £6,000 in cash and even more silverware to add to a groaning weight of their packed 2019 trophy cabinet (ten prizes in total — including 'Best Arrangement' for the MD).

How they can top this achievement here in 2020 remains to be seen, but on this type of imperious form few would bet against them also winning all six major titles they will compete for next year.

Future plans

That though is for the future as Philip Harper told 4BR. "We will plan for next year in plenty of time,"he said ominously.

"Each contest has it challenges and this one in particular. I thought long and hard about the inspiration behind the programme and started work on it in March to make sure I got it the way I wanted.

It worked out pretty much as I wished — having a clear context to the narrative arc of presentation mixed with music that reflected the episodes of the book I wanted to use."

He added: "The Disney film was an obvious reference point but I wanted to make it much more inter-generational.

That's why I used other musical sources to show some of the darker elements of the book, such as the fear the animals had of man's mastery of fire and the lawlessness of the jungle when norms break down. Those are clearly signalled by Kipling although not in the Disney film."

Philip also said he was delighted by the response the set had already gained with listeners both young and old. "I've received plenty of great messages since Sunday, especially from youngsters who were either at the contest or watching at home. They really identified with it as a self-contained story they could enjoy and relate to."

Fans hoping to enjoy the experience again will be delighted to know that Philip intends to use the set as often as possible on Cory's concert schedule over the next 12 months — starting in Bridgwater next weekend.

Rivals hoping to beat them here next year here will have to start coming up with their own ideas now.

Repeat for Carlton Main

For the second successive year the Welsh band's closest rival was Carlton Main Frickley Colliery, as David Thornton led a confident band in a 'Different Trains' set.

It encompassed the cool jazz inflections of Pat Metheny and Jimmy Forrest to the Victorian tear-jerking sentiments of the classic British film 'The Railway Children' — played quite beautifully by 'Best Soloist' award winner Kirsty Abbotts — the third time she has deservedly claimed the accolade.

The slightly chilling 'dream' approach to the finale 'Pacific 231' came as a neat final twist (their multi-media presentation was excellent) — one that added to their appeal with the judges who placed them as a clear runner-up (including first place for quality of performance from Nick Grace).

Consistent Flowers

Behind them Flowers won the mini-battle for the final podium place from Brighouse & Rastrick and Tredegar (the band's separated by one position in the quality of performance rankings).

It was a typically polished, well prepared programme under Paul Holland inspired by the seafaring escapades of Captain Nemo aboard his Victorian nuclear powered submarine. Bold and confident, its overall consistency in all elements proved crucial in repelling the contrasting musical challenges from their rivals.

They end the year on an impressive upward curve of top class contesting quality — with the promise of even more to come in 2020.

Brighouse's powerful 'Nordic Gods' set was certainly very well played under Russell Gray (winning awards for 'Best Tubas' and 'Euphonium'), if a little more difficult to understand in concept and content.

Meanwhile, Tredegar's lightweight 'Easy like (an early) Sunday Morning' programme under Ian Porthouse may just have needed an extra shot of musical espresso to have made more of a mark with the judges off its 9.00am start (although they did claim awards for 'Best Flugel', 'Best Baritone' and Youngest Player').

Contrasts

There was also a close battle for the final top-six place (resulting in an unfortunate administrative error) with Friary Brass initially placed sixth only to be relegated a spot after it was found that Brass Band Schoonhoven had rightly claimed it.

The musical contrasts between the two were marked though — the Dutch effectively retelling the dramatic tale of 'The Flying Dutchman' aided by the stunning sand portraits made by an artist as the story unfolded, whilst Friary went down a legendary route of a very different kind.

Theirs was more 'Carry-On' in inspiration (the double-entendres came thick and fast) which was good old fashioned fun for those who remembered Sid James and the gang (and there were plenty in the hall who voted them a clear 'Audience Entertainment Prize' winner), but also contained at its core a sublime piece of 'Best Trombone' playing from Isobel Daws.

Once again, the London & Southern Counties Area champion showed that they continue to make impressive elite level progress under Chris King.

Passionate

Behind them, Grand Shield champion NASUWT Riverside led the triptych north east challenge with a passionately played set that honoured the industrial, religious and cultural heritage of the region, to end just ahead of City of Hull's engaging celebration of the seafaring past, present and future of their home city.

Hammond's 'Atmosphere' programme never quite hung together to make the most of its inventive core elements from composer Daniel Hall (although Zoe Wright won the 'Best Horn' award with a sublime rendition of 'The Rowan Tree'), whilst Reg Vardy's colourful 'Four Temperaments of Human Nature' set just lost it way after an impressive opening.

Brass in Concert has had its difficulties this year — but with an obvious upturn in audience numbers (despite some confusion over the Sunday start time), and fine live stream coverage (just a few little gripes) bringing the action around the world, the organisers should be well pleased that the main event retains its broad appeal.

And that was also due in no small part to the remarkable entertainment title winning contribution made by the 2019 champion.

Iwan Fox

I thought long and hard about the inspiration behind the programme and started work on it in March to make sure I got it the way I wanted. It worked out pretty much as I wishedPhilip Harper

Results:

Adjudicators:

Ian Bousfield & Dr Nick Grace (Music-Quality of Performance)
Jeremy Wise (Programme Content)
Chris Jeans & Mike Lovatt (Entertainment & Presentation)
Les Neish (Soloist and Individual Awards)

Music/Music/Content/Entertainment = Total
Bousfield/Grace/Wise/Jeans/Lovatt = Total

1. Cory (Philip Harper): 60/57/40/20/20 = 197
2. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Dr David Thornton): 54/60/32/19/19 = 184
3. Flowers (Paul Holland): 45/54/38/14/17 = 168
4. Brighouse & Rastrick (Russell Gray): 57/51/28/18/13 = 167
5. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse): 51/45/36/17/16 = 165
6. Brass Band Schoonhoven (Robbert Vos): 39/48/30/16/15 = 148*
7. Friary (Chris King): 42/39/34/15/18 = 148*
8. NASUWT Riverside (David Roberts): 48/33/20/13/12 = 126*
9. City of Hull (Stig Maersk): 36/42/24/10/14 = 126*
10. Hammonds (Morgan Griffiths): 33/36/22/12/10 = 113
11. Reg Vardy (John Roberts): 33/30/26/11/11 = 108

* denotes Quality of Performance points take precedence in order of tied placings (SEE BELOW)

The Brass in Concert management team has stated that there was an error in the original announced placings of Friary Band and Brass Band Schoonhoven and that their 6th and 7th placings respectively should be reversed.

The results above have now been amended accordingly to the order above.

Both bands scored 148 points, and while the combined Quality of Performance points should have been used to break the tie, in this case the placings of Judge A only (Ian Bousfield) were used in error.

A spokesperson for the event commented: "This was a clerical error for which we accept full responsibility.

Although the results are checked prior to posting, mistakes do unfortunately happen sometimes when working under the pressure of time."

They added: "We apologise sincerely to the members and supporters of both Friary and Schoonhoven for the error and are currently putting into place a system that eliminates the possibility of any such mistakes in the future.

Both bands gave excellent and well-received performances and we congratulate them and the other 16 competing bands over the weekend on their wonderful efforts in creating a very successful event."

Individual Awards:

Don Lusher Trombone Award: Isobel Daws (Friary)
Harry Mortimer Best Principal Cornet Award: Tom Hutchinson (Cory)
The Fesa Trophy for Best Flugel Award: Danny Winder (Tredegar)
The Gateshead MBC Trophy for Best Soprano Award: Steve Stewart (Cory)
The Louis and Colin Johnson Trophy for Best Percussion Section: Cory
Best Euphonium: Chris Robertson (Brighouse & Rastrick)
Best Baritone: Ben Stratford (Tredegar)
Best Horn: Zoe Wright (Hammonds)
John Fletcher Best Basses Award: Brighouse & Rastrick
Best Entertainment and Presentation: Cory
Audience Entertainment Prize: Friary
Best Programme Content: Cory
Quality of Performance: Cory
Best Soloist: Kirsty Abbotts (cornet) Carlton Main
New Composition/Arrangement Award : Philip Harper (La Surrey de los Tontes)
Winning MD: Philip Harper
Youngest Player: Harry Porthouse of Tredegar (aged 15)

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