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Report & Result: 2018 Brass in Concert

All the world's a stage for Cory as their Shakespearean take on the tale of Verona's famous star crossed lovers claims the Brass in Concert title in imposing style.

Sage
  A terrific days entertainment at Brass in Concert

William Shakespeare's tale of the doomed love tryst between Romeo and Juliet has provided many composers with the fertile text on which to seed their own musical imaginations: From Tchaikovsky to Bernstein, Prokofiev to Rota, Gounod, Berlioz and many others in between.

At Sage Gateshead this year it was the turn of Philip Harper.

Dominant will

In winning the Brass in Concert title for the fifth time in seven years, Cory once again hallmarked not just their outstanding level of performance quality, but also their imposing superiority over rivals in an entertainment format that they now can seemingly manipulate to their dominant will like no other.

Since the judging system changed at the event they have increasingly focussed their ability to bring to the stage their MDs thematic musical thought processes aided by excellent presentation skills and a strong narrative line of understanding — most recently with 'Elements of the Universe', 'Roald Dahl' and The Beatles 'Sergeant Pepper' album.

Poster boy and girl

This year it was the tale of the 'star crossed lovers' of Verona — the tragic poetic romance between the teenage poster boy and girl of the feuding Montagues and Capulets.

For Philip Harper the inspiration was what he called 'a slow burner' — an idea he first had over a decade ago, but which he was reluctant until now to bring to fruition.

"The idea has been with me for some time — around ten years in fact," he told 4BR. "But I couldn't quite get all my ideas in line until now.

The 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birth was the missing link I was looking for, and the music from other sources such as Tchaikovsky and Michael Camillo enabled me to reflect on six episodes of the story by combining different musical genres. It was basically the retelling to the story, with my twist on it."

With such a familiar tale to tell, the MD was able to clearly communicate it to the audience (who showed their appreciation by voting it as their winner) — utilising his own 'star crossed' soloists such as Glyn and Helen Williams (even if you did have to suspend a little bit of historical belief given their ages), backed by superb cameo, ensemble and percussion playing.

Prize winning stage

As a result, Cory returned to Wales with a prize pot of £6,500, a car boot full of silverware and the satisfaction that came with a commanding victory that saw them top both elements of the Quality of Performance category and come first or second in either Programme Content and Entertainment & Presentation.

The only disappointment was that they received the news of their victory not with a deserved Shakespearian curtain call at Sage Gateshead, but with a cheer at a rather prosaic McDonalds 'drive-thru' off the M5 near Quedgeley in Gloucester as the band bus dropped off their MD to get his car home.

The moment was caught for posterity however by the Twofour television production camera crew for the forthcoming Sky Arts series, whilst their winning programme will be recorded this week for a CD release in the New Year.

"It was a bit surreal," Philip added. "We had to leave to make it back home in time for people with work commitments, but to get the news where we did was quite funny. Someone suggested a Blue Plaque to be placed on the site to let brass band lovers know what happened here in years to come, but I think we may give that one a miss."

What they won't miss out on though will be the numerous plaudits and messages of congratulations that will surely flood their way over the coming weeks, not just for this victory but on a year that the MD said was second only to the Grand Slam of 2016.

"It's been a pretty good year — the best since 2016," he said. "It's given us the incentive to keep improving though that's for sure."

What that means for their rivals at Brass in Concert in particular we will have to wait and see.

Although many have tried their luck with the same type of basic thematic ideas, with the exception of Eikanger last year, no one else seems to have worked out the way (in the opinion of the judges at least) in which you can turn them into prize-winning tick-box points under the current adjudication system quite like Philip Harper and his band.

They will need to work it out pretty fast if they are to break Cory's hegemony at this event.

Carlton get away with murder

This year it was Carlton Main who came closest, with a cleverly put together murder theme programme — one which although dark and at times rather chilling, still retained a sense of wit and invention that never quite made it too bleak. It was like watching the unfolding complexities of Jessica Fletcher in an episode of 'Murder She Wrote' directed by Paul Holland in best Alfred Hitchcock mode.

Not only did it go on to end runner-up, but it gave the Yorkshire band a prize pot of £2,000 and well deserved accolades for the peerless Kirsty Abbotts (Best Principal Cornet) and Paul Haigh (Best Baritone).

Little wonder the band celebrated their best ever result at the event long into the Gateshead night. Many will have had murderously sore heads in the morning.

Artistic restriction?

Behind them came the two bands that took the 'free from artistic restriction' contest ethos at its literal word (and that is something the contest organisers must surely now try to align with its rather Byzantine scoring system).

Brighouse & Rastrick and David Thornton impressed many with the inventive 'Our Hidden Language' presentation on different forms of 'dance' — although, as the marks revealed, it somewhat spilt opinions with the judges.

Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see the band embrace composer Jacob Vilhelm Larsen's resourceful ideas with playing and presentation that was vibrant and accomplished (with a touch of slapstick wit). The awards of 'Best Programme Content' and 'Best New Composition' for the 'Fire Dance and Finale' emphasised the point.

Taking the 'free from artistic restriction' ethos even further, the anticipation on hearing Manger Musikklag's ingenious 'Cubism' programme ultimately proved to be both its strength and weakness.

Those who enjoy the use of clever musical segues and nods of compositional appreciation loved it — those who didn't, found it a touch baffling. Having a rag time xylophone solo based on 'The Rite of Spring' was inspired for some, too clever by half for others.

The judges seemed to find it a well played curiosity — neither loving nor hating it. That it didn't win a single prize of any description given that contest ethos also remained an enigma though.

Showtime

One band that certainly gave an old fashioned entertainment extravaganza was Fountain City, who many felt deserved to come higher in the eventual results table — perhaps even in with a title shout.

This was showtime razzmatazz; Broadway levels of choreography backed by Hollywood blockbuster playing with their set entitled, 'Las Calles de Vida' (Streets of Life). That it ended fifth was perhaps down to the lack of dynamic contrast and warmth of tonality, but to head home with just the 'Best Soprano' and 'Best Percussion' prizes was a slightly meagre return for a memorable piece of musical theatre.

Fans of Foden's will also take few crumbs of comfort from sixth place after delivering a high class performance off the number 1 draw.

Their 'Kings & Queens' set was a bit tenuous in places (on reflection the appearance of Richard Evans to sing 'Send in the Clowns' didn't quite work as hoped), but Gary Curtin (Best Euphonium) was on regal form for sure. After their memorable exertions the night before, perhaps there wasn't quite enough left in the tank to reach the same heights again at 9.30am the following morning.

The idea has been with me for some time — around ten years in fact. But I couldn't quite get all my ideas in line until nowCory MD, Philip Harper

Gap in quality

Behind them came a distinct gap in overall quality; Flowers being the 'best of the rest' in seventh with a 'Freedom' set courtesy of the pen of Jonathan Bates.

There were some excellent excerpts to enjoy — especially from the superb Paul Richards in winning the 'Best Soloist' award (the band also won 'Best Horn' and 'Best Percussion'), but overall the engaging concept never quite stirred the inner 'William Wallace' in the judges hearts or minds.

It was much the same with Whitburn, who tried something different but needed more musical light to compliment the rather cloying darkness of much of their set, whilst Hammonds (who accepted a late invitation to replace Grimethorpe) delivered an engaging 'Myths & Legends' that in the understandable circumstances just lacked a little originality.

The same applied to workmanlike efforts from Reg Vardy and Atlantic Brass Band, which lacked the same degree of musical inventiveness and presentation of higher placed rivals in rather predictable sets.

Presentation

What wasn't predicted however was the lovely presentation to Frank Renton on notching up his 25th Brass in Concert appearance. Never short of a word of four, on this occasion he was left a little mute by the standing ovation reception he received. That was a collector's item in itself after a quarter of a century of wonderful work.

For those in the loyal non-partisan audience who had enjoyed a fine day of entertainment (and that remains the contest's greatest strength), there was a something of a predictable outcome with the announcement of the results (and that perhaps explains why so many don't stay around too long after it has ended).

The vast majority would have been pleased, and certainly not biting their thumbs in Shakespearian anger that Cory once again reigned supreme.

For the bands however it is another matter.

They really do need to find a way to try and beat them at what is very much becoming their own game before they run out of fingernails.

Results:

Nick Grace & Rieks van der Velde (Music Quality of Performance)
Chris King (Programme Content)
Jeremy Wise & Terry Carter (Entertainment & Presentation)
Owen Farr (Soloist and Individual Awards)

Music/Music/Content/Entertainment = Total
Grace/van der Velde /King/Wise/Carter= Total

1. Cory (Philip Harper): 60/60/38/19/20: 197
2. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Paul Holland): 57/54/36/18/16:181
3. Brighouse & Rastrick (Dr David Thornton): 48/57/40/13/18:176
4. Manger Musikklag (Martin Philip Winter): 54/51/34/16/19:174
5. Fountain City (Dr Joseph Parisi): 51/45/26/20/17:159
6. Foden's (Michael Fowles): 45/48/32/17/15:157
7. Flowers (Lee Skipsey): 42/39/28/15/14:138
8. Whitburn (Leigh Baker): 36/42/30/14/13:135
9. Hammonds (Morgan Griffiths): 39/36/24/12/10:121
10. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray): 30/33/22/11/11:107
11. Atlantic Brass Band (Salvatore Scarpa): 33/30/20/10/12:105

Individual Awards:

Best Soloist: Paul Richards (soprano) Flowers
Best Trombone: Chris Thomas (Cory)
Best Principal Cornet: Kirsty Abbotts (Carlton Main Frickley Colliery)
Best Flugel: Helen Williams (Cory)
Best Soprano: Ryan Sharp (Fountain City)
Best Percussion Section: Fountain City
Best Euphonium: Gary Curtin (Foden's)
Best Baritone: Paul Haigh (Carlton Main Frickley Colliery)
Best Horn: Emily Evans (Flowers)
Best Basses Award: Flowers

Best Entertainment and Presentation: Cory
Audience Entertainment Prize: Cory
Best Programme Content: Brighouse & Rastrick
Quality of Performance: Cory

New Composition/Arrangement Award: Jacob Vilhelm Larsen

Winning MD: Philip Harper
Youngest Player: Keir Evans Brown (Hammonds) aged 17

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