An elegantly conceived seduction of the musical senses saw Brighouse & Rastrick deservedly claim the 45th Brass in Concert Championship title.
Led by Russell Gray and inspired by the 'neuvo tango' of the acclaimed Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, the West Riding band brought the sultry dance atmosphere of the barrios neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires to the stage of Sage Gateshead to stunning effect.
Intuitively arranged by resident MD Ian McElligott, 'The Art of Seduction' was further enhanced by professional tango dancers Jenny & Ricardo Oria, whose interpretive skills — passionate and mesmeric in its entwinned sensual authenticity, brought both delight as well as a dangerous increase in heart rates to an engrossed audience.
And at a contest where bands can be guilty of trying to tick every variety box possible in their 23 minute sets, Brighouse's focused appreciation on a musical genre demanding strict adherence to both technical precision as well as interpretative nuance in retaining its enticing liquidity, was as brave as it was inspiring.
The post result celebrations of the players that followed were every bit as passionate as if Argentina had just won another World Cup.
"This was a real treat for me," Russell Gray later told 4BR. "It's such wonderfully passionate music, but it also requires control and consideration not to boil over. The dancers told me that was the secret to tango — keeping the emotions just in check. It's music of the heart but must also be so clear headed to be precise and accurate to work perfectly."
He added: "Ian did a remarkable job in his arrangements — and the dancers were simply incredible. I'm really looking forward to watching it back on WobPlay as I had my back to them all the time and so missed their stunning performance. The band was brilliant too — and I think they really enjoyed doing something a bit different."
That included seeing Brighouse take to the stage in formal attire rather than traditional contest uniform, whilst the MD summoned up his inner Geraldo, to direct in tails. It was a touch of clever, sophisticated thinking that added to the thoughtfulness of a programme that certainly made its mark on the judges.
"The band sound and refinement was excellent with extremely expressive shaping and colour", wrote Performance Adjudicator Howard Evans, whilst his colleague Martin Winter, added that it was, "an intoxicating performance".
The subtleties of stylistic change were also noted by Programme Contest judge Frode Rydland who wrote: "I was thinking maybe this will be too much of kind of the same all the way. But, oh you proved me totally wrong! Great programme, great music. You kept the interest up all the way."
Elegance and polish
The entertainment judges also enjoyed things: Anne Crookston (who was a late dep due to the illness of Jo Towler) said its "elegance and polish were visually mesmerising", whilst Kevin Hathway added that it was "a very stimulating package".
Few in the hall or at home would have disagreed.
4th & 1st on Performance; 1st on Programme Content (winning the prize) and 5th & 2nd on Presentation & Entertainment — as well as claiming awards for 'Best Basses' and 'Best New Composition or Arrangement' for 'Adios Nonino'.
It was more than enough to give them their third BiC title, their first since 2007, to round off a memorable year in memorable style. Little wonder the players danced long into the Gateshead night.
Runner-up Tredegar sought their musical inspiration even further south in latitude, as they bypassed the Rio de la Plata and even Cape Horn and headed to the frozen wastelands of Antarctica for their 'Ice Bird' suite, written by composer Paul Saggers.
The clear narrative focus on the humble penguin — the iconic if somewhat comedic custodian of the desolate, dangerous land, was brought to life with a light touch of humour balanced by cleverly informed stylistic variance.
Sense of focus
Much like Brighouse, the music had an obvious sense of focussed substance and natural flow.
Nothing was therefore shoehorned to fit in, with the presentation in synch and with purpose — from nods to Vaughan Williams to open to Stravinsky to close.
It underpinned a serious message of environmental concern delivered with a cute smile; a demanding set played with high class ensemble quality (Ben Stratford picking up the 'Best Baritone' award) that left the music to do the penguin's bidding for the title.
1st & 3rd from Howard Evans and Martin Winter deservedly gave then the 'Quality of Performance' prize, backed by 2nd on Programme Content and 7th & 6th on Entertainment & Presentation.
For the defending champion, even the earth saving talents of Dr Who wasn't enough to see them retain their title (although he did defeat the Daleks again).
Like its inspiration, it was music to accompany early Saturday night family sofa television — certainly not watching Sigourney Weaver in 'Alien' through your fingers.
Light and polished
It was therefore light, polished and fun (heading the Entertainment & Presentation marks and picking up the on-line Audience Prize), although Cory's usual surefootedness in combining narrative plot with musical content was for once surprisingly tenuous.
The lovely 'Rings of Saturn' was a musical highlight (Helen Williams picking up a fourth 'Best Flugel' award with Tom Hutchinson a fourth 'Best Principal Cornet') — but even Philip Harper's talent in mixing Holst's 'Mars', 'Dies Irae' and the famous Ron Grainer theme music (complete with theremin) to close couldn't quite bring the TARDIS home to Treorchy laden with the title silverware.
Much like Cory, Foden's 'Robin Hood' set had garnered a great deal of social media interest before the double National champion took to the stage.
It trod a careful line between style (no fancy dress), comedy (a great scene stealing Alan Rickman baddie turn by 'Best Euph' Gary Curtin) and substance (Richard Poole on superb from to take his third major 'Best Sop' prize of the year with Jonny Bates also winning 'Best Horn' and the percussion team also claiming their section award).
The familiarity of the storyline however meant that the rather long-winded intros to the items could have been snipped a bit.
Not quite as rousing as peak Errol Flynn and Eric Korngold then, but way better than Kevin Costner and Bryan Adams; 2nd & 5th for Performance; 7th for Content and 2nd & 4th for Entertainment & Presentation was about right from the critics.
Marlene Dietrich and Hobbits
Once again Carlton Main Frickley Colliery and Allan Withington brought a thought-provoking programme to the contest.
'Just A German Girl' shone the spotlight on the complex life of Marlene Dietrich — one of the most enigmatic artistic icons of the 20th century.
Accompanied by a dancer throughout it told a troubling tale of a humane yet contradictory character with deep seated sincerity and understanding — even if others found it slightly less comfortable to their early morning tastes (perhaps something reflected in the scoring in how it resonated both with judges and audience alike).
The final top-six place went to Grimethorpe's colourful exploration of the fantasy world of J.R.R Tolkien's 'Legends of Middle Earth'.
Directed by debutant Ben Palmer, it just about packed in all the essential elements of the tale, although unsurprisingly given the book's gargantuan length (as well as the films and Johan de Meij's 'symphony') it become a bit like a 'Lord of the Rings' 'Top Trumps'.
It nearly came off (the mischievous mining dwarves — complete with a few old UK Coal mining helmets was a clever touch of the crepuscular) with Christopher Binns a classy 'Best Trombone' winner.
With a near sell out audience this year, there was a supportive atmosphere in the hall for every band — and as a result quite a few different opinions aired when people were asked for their viewpoints.
There were certainly no weak performances, with thought going into both the content and execution in terms of performance and presentation.
Welcome visitors Krohnengen gave a flavour of the heritage, atmosphere, people and character of the area of Bergen from which they hail in coming a solid seventh, whilst Friary once again showed their defined approach to the entertainment genre with another engaging set — this time on the life of composer George Gershwin.
Meanwhile, Flowers will have felt the journey home was as long as Odysseys' return to Ithaca, let alone back to Gloucester, as their usually well laid BiC plans failed to find the same result as the Greeks at Troy despite plenty of solid battled hardened delivery.
Hammonds 'Cinematic Sounds', which featured Kirsty Abbot's sublime cornet solo 'Ladies in Lavender' to deservedly take the 'Best Soloist' award — her 10th award at the contest, and GUS Band's 'Planet Earth', which featured a cracking bit of percussion recycling work by conductor Leigh Baker, ended 10th and 11th.
NASUWT Riverside's 'War of the Worlds' set both balanced excitement, colour and style, but up against these high class entertainment rivals there were few causes for complaint at their final placing.
Excellent long term marketing initiatives, clear correspondence and communication links to bands and a Saturday date that finds favour with competitors and audience alike (topped by a thumping post contest party), has given the Brass in Concert Championships a sense of revitalisation.
So too you suspect has the seductive victory of Brighouse & Rastrick Band.
The dancers told me that was the secret to tango — keeping the emotions just in check. It's music of the heart but must also be so clear headed to be precise and accurate to work perfectlyRussell Gray
Howard Evans & Martin Winter (Quality of Performance)/(Quality of Performance)
Frode Rydland (Programme Content)
Kevin Hathway & Anne Crookston (Entertainment & Presentation)/(Entertainment & Presentation)
James Fountain (Soloist and Individual Awards)
Music/Music/Content/Entertainment/Entertainment = Total
Evans/Winter/Rydland/Hathway/Crookston = Total
1. Brighouse & Rastrick (Russell Gray): 51/60/40/16/19 = 186
2. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse): 60/54/38/14/15 = 181
3. Cory (Philip Harper): 54/51/34/20/20 = 179
4. Foden's (Michael Fowles): 57/48/28/19/17 = 169
5. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Allan Withington): 33/57/36/12/18 = 156
6. Grimethorpe Colliery (Ben Palmer): 36/45/30/18/14 = 143
7. Krohnengen Brass Band (Dr Ray Farr): 39/42/24/11/16 = 132*
8. Friary (Chris King): 45/27/32/17/11 = 132
9. Flowers (Paul Holland): 48/39/20/10/13 = 130
10. Hammonds (Morgan Griffiths): 42/33/18/15/12 = 120
11. GUS Band (Leigh Baker):27/36/26/13/9 = 111
12. NASUWT Riverside (Prof Nicholas J Childs): 30/30/22/9/10 = 101
* Denotes Quality of Performance points take precedence in order of tied placings
Quality of Performance: Tredegar
Best Programme Content: Brighouse & Rastrick
Best Entertainment & Presentation: Cory
Winning MD: Russell Gray
Audience Entertainment Prize: Cory
New Composition/Arrangement Award : Adios Nonino (Piazzolla arr. McElligott) — Brighouse & Rastrick
Best Soloist: Kirsty Abbotts (cornet) — Hammonds
Don Lusher Trombone Award: Chris Binns (Grimethorpe Colliery)
Harry Mortimer Best Principal Cornet Award: Tom Hutchinson (Cory)
The Fesa Trophy for Best Flugel Award: Helen Williams (Cory)
The Gateshead MBC Trophy for Best Soprano Award: Richard Poole (Fodens)
The Louis and Colin Johnson Trophy for Best Percussion Section: Foden's
Best Euphonium: Gary Curtin (Foden's)
Best Baritone: Ben Stratford (Tredegar)
Best Horn: Jonathan Bates (Foden's)
John Fletcher Best Basses Award: Brighouse & Rastrick
Youngest Player: Ewan Rigby of GUS (aged 16)