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Full package Matsukawa claims BBCA Conducting title

Japanese musician So Matsukawa is the highly impressive winner of the 2024 Brass Band Conductors' Association conducting prize.

wINNERS
  So Matsukawa claimed the title in Eccles

"A very accomplished musician — the full package in fact", was the description given by the judges in proclaiming So Matsukawa the winner of 2024 Brass Band Conductors' Association competition in Eccles on the weekend.

The 31-year-old Japanese born conductor lives and works in Germany where he has served as assistant to Music Director Robin Ticciati at the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.

No formal experience

Although he has no formal brass band experience (he initially studied architecture before conducting at Kyoto City University of Arts), the inspiration to enter the event came from his youth when he said he "fell in love" with the British brass band sound by listening to the YBS Band of David King on CDs in the late 1990s.

He later found out about the competition, sponsored by Yamaha and supported by Brass Bands England online, and fitted it into a busy schedule that just a few days earlier had seen him come runner-up at the prestigious Constantin Silvestri opera conducting competition in Bucharest.

It was appropriate then that one of the judges for the intensive day-long event was Morgan Griffiths, who was an integral part of that hugely successful European contesting band.

He was joined by conductor Sarah Groarke-Booth, who later described So's conducting on Liz Lane's 'Rhythm of Light' and 'Blue Rondo a la Turk' in glowing fashion.

Natural charisma

Victory brought him the Roy Newsome Shield, £200 in prize money and membership of the Association, plus the opportunity to conduct Foden's Band at Regent Hall prior the National Final alongside, Russell Gray.

"All the entrants brought something engaging and interesting to the day — displaying style, understanding and talent in abundance," Sarah told 4BR. "The winner though was outstanding — a very accomplished musician — the full package in fact."

They added: "We were immensely impressed by his musical communication with Hammonds and then Eccles later in the day. There was a great sense of transparent communication and natural charisma, of understanding and immersion in the music and what he wanted from the players.

It was a delight to see him conduct — and especially on 'Blue Rondo a la Turk' which captured a perfect groove."

Encore

So perfect in fact that following the announcement of his victory he modestly asked permission to see if he could conduct it again. It was a request gratefully accepted much to the delight of the band and the audience at Eccles Town Hall who had been transfixed by his brilliance.

Reflecting on his win through his Facebook page, So Matsukawa said: "I am really honoured to have won first prize.

In the semi-finals, I had the opportunity to conduct Hammonds Band — a band that I have admired since I was in junior high school, and in the final, I conducted the wonderful Eccles Borough Band. I was so overwhelmed!!!"

Congratulations

He added: "Congratulations to my super colleagues, Gary Perrin and Neil Brownless. My thanks also to the organisers, adjudicators Sarah Groarke-Booth and Morgan Griffiths, to Russell Gray and the bands.

I thoroughly enjoyed this competition. My musical journey has just begun! I will continue to do my best!!!"

Finalists

Earlier in the day So Matsukawa joined fellow competitors in the semi-final stage, which led to the judges picking five finalists.

So was joined by podium finishers Garry Perrin, who conducts Blidworth Band (and was presented with the Highest UK based Conductor award) and Neil Brownless, MD at Towcester Studio (who made the final for a third time), as well as Craig Sanders from the Royal Marines Band Service and Christopher Ward from Five Lakes Silver Band in the USA.

Earlier, the semi-finalists worked through excerpts of Eric Ball's 'Resurgam' and Liz Lane's 'Rhythm of Light', with Hammonds Band.

Whilst Rita Arendz, Joshua Parkhill (who'll work with Prof. David King and the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain on their Summer Course in August), Isabella Gonzalez Diaz, Eduardo, Polimeni and Craig Ratcliffe didn't make it through to the final, they each received detailed appraisals from Sarah and Morgan in what was a high-quality battle for the final places.

I thoroughly enjoyed this competition. My musical journey has just begun! I will continue to do my best!!!So Matsukawa

Intense focus

Each worked with intense focus with Hammonds Band for 15 minutes earlier in the day (with the traditional banding 'draw' to determine the order) whilst the five finalists then had the opportunity to work with Eccles Borough Band in preparation for the final itself.

Neil Brownless directed the tricky Derek Bourgeois's 'Serenade', with Craig Sanders leading on the colourful 'Legends of Cyfartha' by Matthew Hall. Garry Perrin took Philip Sparke's 'Barn Dance and Cowboy Hymn' with Christopher Ward tackling 'Riverdance' — each a work with complex rhythmic patterns to overcome.

Prior to the results BBCA President, Russell Gray led Eccles through an excellent concert programme with the finalists interspersed throughout the Gala Concert in the presence of an appreciative audience.

Thanks

Russell thanked Yamaha and Brass Bands England for their support for an event that now in its eighth year attracts conducting talent from across the globe.

The sentiments were echoed by BBCA Chair, James Holt who added: "This has been a great event and certainly the highest, and most consistent, standard we have had.

Each conductor has done themselves proud and I'm sure they have taken away a lot from the day. This is a very rewarding day for the BBCA and I hope we are able to continue this fantastic competition to provide opportunities to many more conductors."

Malcolm Wood

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