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Report & Result: 2023 European Championships: Championship Section

Brass Band Treize Etoile claims the 44th European honours in Malmo as the title returns to Switzerland for the first time since 2018.

Sweden
  Treize Etoiles has been crowned Champion Band of Europe

The epicentre of elite level banding shifted significantly to the cantons of Switzerland after Brass Band Treize Etoile was crowned European Champion in Malmo.

It followed a memorable battle of stunning finesse and virtuosity over two days of absorbing competition. In the end the Swiss won by the narrowest of margins after the higher mark gained on their rendition of the set-work, 'Aurora' saw them claim victory from thirteen-time champion Black Dyke.

Potent mix

The photo-finish was completed by prize-winners Eikanger Bjorsvik, defending champion Cory and Tredegar — each in turn adding to a potent mix of distilled musical brilliance enjoyed by a sell-out audience at the wonderful Malmo-Live auditorium as well those on-line across the globe.

That the top five had to perform so well on the weekend to claim the main prizes said a great deal about the exceptional quality displayed by a field of competitors of the highest calibre. There were no also-rans.

It also saw a photo-finish for sixth place between Festival Brass, RET Brass Band and Hauts-de-France, with the Belgian's higher placing on the set-work also deciding things. Elsewhere, home favourites Gota Brass was ninth, ahead of Whitburn, Lyngby-Taarbaek, 3BA Concert, Soli Brass and Italian Brass Band.

Swiss celebrations

The celebrations that greeted the announcement of a new champion were a mix of joyful exuberance and emotional incomprehension as Treize Etoiles players raced to the stage to grab a hold of the iconic trophy and sing their National Anthem.

Having made their debut at the event in 1979, it had been a long time coming. 15 previous appearances had seen them finish runner-up in 2009 and third three times, but they also had to watch as first Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern in 2014 and then Valaisia in 2018 had claimed Swiss success.

Now they were to return to home to wonderful scenes of community celebrations in the municipality they have proudly represented for the past 50 years — welcomed by representatives from the numerous village bands in the Valais area that feed the band with their talented performers.

Dream come true

"It's fantastic — it's a dream come true. It is absolutely amazing — I am speechless, it was incredible," Musical Director Frederic Theodoloz told 4BR, although he still found heartfelt words to thank his players. "They are such a fantastic team, young players so talented and the atmosphere so great."

With Treize Etoile setting the pace of set-work action with their intense performance of Joel Thoor Engstrom's deceptively tricky set-work, 'Aurora', they set the seal on victory with a roof raising rendition of Thierry Deleruyelle's 'Sand and Stars'.

This was specifically written for them as they claimed the Swiss National Championship in Montreux in November last year, and which will be used at the forthcoming British Open Championship in September.

Palanga and British Open

Victory now means the band will now not only head to Palanga next year as defending European Champion but also to Symphony Hall and the British Open in 2024.

Speaking about their performance of 'Sand and Stars', composer Thierry Deleruyelle added: "Incredible. I saw the band in Montreux, but this was marvellous — a great group, a great conductor with a lot of creativity and lot of humanity too. It was very well-deserved and my congratulations go to them."

The final word though went to the winning conductor. "We will now celebrate and have a lot of fun together, but for now I will have to just take time to think about what we have done."

The next morning at the hotel he was still almost speechless — his breakfast interrupted by well-wishers as well as many players and conductors of rival bands who took time to congratulate him further.

Stunning levels

The thoughts of those fortunate to have enjoyed their exceptional performances will surely endorse the opinions of the two groups of adjudicators who had a hugely difficult task of separating bands who displayed stunning levels of musicianship over the weekend.

Allan Withington, Ivan Meylemans and Phillipe Bach were certainly presented with numerous outstanding renditions of 'Aurora' — with one later telling 4BR that the differences between the best were "tiny" and that minor errors counts were not a specific consideration.

It was the same the own-choice selections, with Michael Bach, Bert van Thienen and Sheona Wade faced with a series blockbuster performances described as "incredible" in scope, inspiration and delivery.

First day

At the end of the first day it was Treize Etoiles that held what was to be the vital single point lead.

They delivered a superb but not error free rendition of 'Aurora' that like the goddess heralding a new day on her chariot, broke through its mysteriously hazy opening to pulsate with radiant energy. As the musical mists evaporated through brightly piercing technical accuracy and clearly calibrated ensemble tempo drive, they then changed to a purposeful punchy joyfulness to close.

Elsewhere there were also moments of discomfort in all the performance from the leading contenders, although the striking feature was the difference in interpretive approach that came from the MDs.

Cory eventually ended second with Black Dyke, Eikanger and Tredegar behind — although any suggestion that the ultimate destination of the title had been emphatically sealed was confirmed by the varying opinions to be heard from people in the bar later in the night.

Many favoured Eikanger's sumptuously glowing ensemble whilst others Cory's multi-layered characterisation. Black Dyke's dynamically considered take also found favour, as did Tredegar's more piercing brightness.

24 hours later

What followed less than 24 hours later endorsed those opinions further: Eikanger setting an incredible marker off the number 1 draw with an electrifying performance of 'HorrorShow' by Simon Dobson that punched a hole in the senses.

The band's superb trombonist Vidar Nordli took the 'Best Soloist' award on a day when a host of individual accolades for exceptional artistry would not have gone amiss.

Cory immediately followed with a coruscating rendition of 'Other Lives' that left the auditorium panting in breathless acclaim. They could have done no more in defence of their title.

19 consecutive appearances at the event may have come to a temporary end, but as they have shown since 2003, they remain a standard bearer of unique competitiveness. Their musical fingers were only prised off the trophy by a Swiss inspired blow torch.

Although the musical maelstrom abated slightly with RET Brass Band ('No Man's Land'), Festival Brass ('A Gabrieli Fantasy'), and Lyngby-Taarbaek ('Fraternity'), each gave performances embossed by artistic nuance and technical brilliance.

Something else

What followed though was something else.

The reception that greeted Treize Etoile after a performance of 'Sand and Stars' packed with visceral characterisation, colour, sublime virtuosity and nuclear powered energy was almost enough to raise the roof off the Malmo-Live hall. It was audaciously brilliant — although it had to be against rivals playing to the very top of their form.

That is came third told you everything about that — but that it did, also enabled them to claim the European title.

An incredibly young band had given everything and more under the wonderfully calm and assured direction of their MD. Victory — although they didn't know it at the time, was in their grasp.

Final assault

Before the final assault from Tredegar and Black Dyke came the impressive fusillades from the emerging Italian Brass Band ('Breath of Souls'), Hauts-de-France (with a brilliantly surreal 'Diary of a Madman' written by composer Nigel Clarke under the pseudonym Christian Brandt) and the engrossing pairing of 'Catharsis' by Gota Brass and 'Astralis' (written by Philip Wilby), performed by Whitburn. All were outstanding.

Tredegar then gave a staggering rendition of 'Are We Dark Inside?' by Ludovic Neurohr that poleaxed the audience with its sheer virtuosic exuberance, before Black Dyke offered a diametric musical counterbalance with Oliver Waespi's 'Antiphones'.

Based on a theme by renaissance composer William Byrd, its elegant explorations centred on small ensemble features and multiple choreographed solo showcase spotlights.

Waespi's musical intellect maintained the historical connection to its source material, and despite the sometimes-distracting visual elements, the music flowed through it variant forms with a subtle refinement.

It was delivered superbly; clean, considered and cultured — an epee attack on Treize Etoile's defences rather than the broadsword used by rivals to top the own-choice discipline.

Tantalisingly close

It also came tantalisingly close to delivering a fatal blow to Swiss title aspirations, but crucially not close enough.

The performance though certainly endorsed the opinion that Black Dyke are renewed and rejuvenated once more in perhaps the most exciting and intriguing way possible under their MD's recent tenure.

It was left to Soli Brass to round off the contest in fine style with Edward Gregson's 'The World Rejoicing', before the audience finally staggered out of the auditorium to regain their musical senses.

Champion

A few hours later the results were announced, and Switzerland, a nation that has seen its brass band movement develop exponentially in excellence over much the same time frame as this event, could celebrate the crowning of its third European Champion since 2014.

Treize Etoile's triumph was richly deserved. It could well be the first of many more Swiss victories to come.

Iwan Fox

We will now celebrate and have a lot of fun together, but for now I will have to just take time to think about what we have doneFrederic Theodoloz

Championship Section:

Adjudicators:
Set Work: Philippe Bach, Ivan Meylemans, Allan Withington
Own Choice: Michael Bach, Bert van Thienen, Sheona Wade

Set Work: Aurora (Joel Thoor Engstrom)
Set Work/Own Choice = Total

1. Brass Band Treize Etoile (Frederic Theodoloz): 98/96 = 194*
Sand and Stars (Thierry Deleruyelle)

2. Black Dyke Band (Prof Nicholas Childs): 96/98 = 194
Antiphones on Themes by William Byrd (Oliver Waespi)

3. Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag (Florent Didier): 95/97 = 192
HorrorShow for Brass Band and Percussion (Simon Dobson)

4. Cory Band (Philip Harper): 97/94 = 191
Other Lives (Oliver Waespi)

5. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse): 94/95 = 189
Are We Dark Inside (Ludovic Neurohr)

6. Festival Brass Band (Steven Verhaert): 93/90 = 183*
A Gabrieli Fantasy (Bert Appermont)

7. R.E.T. Brass Band (Andreas Lackner): 92/91 = 183
No Man's Land (Thierry Deleruyelle)

8. Hauts-de-France Brass Band (Luc Vertommen): 91/92 = 183
Diary of a Madman (Christian Brandt)

9. Gota Brass Band (Michael Thomsen)
Catharsis (Kjetil Djonne): 87/93 = 180

10. Whitburn Band (Paul Holland): 90/88 = 178
Astralis (Philip Wilby)

11. Lyngby-Taarbaek Brass Band (Glenn Van Looy): 88/89 = 177
Fraternity (Thierry Deleruyelle)

12. 3BA Concert Band (Corsin Tuor): 89/86 = 175
A Gabrieli Fantasy (Bert Appermont)

13. Soli Brass (Anne van den Berg): 85/87 = 172
The World Rejoicing — Symphonic Variations on a Lutheran Chorale (Edward Gregson)

14. Italian Brass Band (Giuseppe Saggio): 86/85 = 171
Breath of Souls (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)

Best Soloist: Vidar Nordli (trombone) — Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag

*Set Work placing takes precedence in event of a tie

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