Brass Band Valaisia's hegemony of the Swiss National Championship continued in Montreux as they raised the Excellence Division trophy in triumph for a fourth consecutive year.
A brace of outstanding, but certainly not flawless performances of the set-work, 'Concerto Grosso' and their own-choice world premiere of Simon Dobson's 'Glass', secured the National title over rivals Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern, courtesy of finishing first to their third in the test-piece discipline.
And whilst the result appeared to be razor-edged in closeness, that was more to do with the aggregate way in which the twin discipline contest was decided. The reality was that it was a small, but significant margin.
In doing so they also became the first band to secure four wins in a row since Brass Band Berner Oberland between 1990 and 1993. They will now spearhead a dual Swiss challenge (with Luzern) when the European Championships return to the Montreux in under six months time.
Behind the top two on what was a weekend of intense high level competition came the last band to beat Valaisia at this event in 2014, Treize Etoile, with the remaining top-six places going to former champions in Brass Band Fribourg, Brass Band Berner Oberland and Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisian.
Hint of relief
Little wonder MD Arsene Duc wore a smile that mixed satisfaction with more than a hint of relief as he spoke to regional radio and then 4BR. Two hugely demanding, but immensely contrasting works had tested his band to the full — and it had shown, with occasional lapses and flaws pock marking both performances.
"I am very happy of course," he said. "We had to work so hard because the pieces asked so much of the band in their very different ways. I have admired 'Concerto Grosso' for such a long time, and Simon produced a work that took us in a new direction as a band.
After working so hard for this contest I think it is a result to be very proud of. Now we look towards coming back here for the European Championship, before we start thinking about next year and maybe five in a row."
Whether or not they return to the European to play either the ferociously imposing 40 year old Derek Bourgeois opus, which was delivered with brilliance if occasional brittleness, or Simon Dobson's beautifully textured work of atmospheric balances, tactile colours and questioning, pensive resonances remains to be seen — especially as the latter was certainly a very different work than many expected.
Saturday's 'Concerto' battle was enthralling — Valaisia's overall quality giving them what was to prove to be the crucial advantage over their rivals.
And although not perfect in terms of execution (Derek Bourgeois' 40 year old work still retaining its fearsome technical bite, dry wit and bluesy lyrical swagger), it was in the opinion of the judges (Ian Porthouse, Glyn Williams and Mark Wilkinson), a clear length or two ahead of a cultured interpretation from James Gourlay and Treize Etoiles with Luzern's vibrant almost frantic account in third.
It certainly set things up for the thrilling own-check showdown — with no less than five world premieres to savour.
It was here, according to the judges, that Valaisia's title defence was very nearly toppled.
Despite the wonderful appreciation of exact dynamic balance shown throughout Simon Dobson's 'Glass' — right from the exceptional opening), two of the own-choice judges Tom Davoren and Stephen Roberts (joined by Philip Harper) later told 4BR that in the box they felt that the rich, complex timbres sometimes failed to emerge clearly in the huge acoustic of the Stravinski auditorium.
There were no such worries for Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern under Michael Bach however. They followed their bravura 'Grosso' with a stunning world premiere of Paul McGhee's brilliantly surreal, 'King King on Rue Igor Stravinsky' — inspired not by the great cinematic beast of Skull Island, but by the ill fated concert appearance of Frank Zappa and his band at the Montreux casino in 1971.
Fair to say it would have made Zappa fans drool in pleasure — whilst the audience was simply knocked over like ten-pins by the audaciously inventive manner of the writing and the equally audacious playing of an inspired MD and band.
Treize Etoiles in third was as consistent as ever under James Gourlay in producing superbly mature interpretations of the test-piece and their own-choice of 'HorrorShow' by Simon Dobson — the latter played with such reflective melancholy.
They eventually tied on aggregate points with a purposeful Brass Band Fribourg, who followed their fine set-piece account with a super performance of an extraordinary work by conductor Maurice Donnet-Monay (writing under the pseudonym of Lar Nygard), entitled 'Midnight's Butterflies — inspired by the mysterious characteristics of the humble moth.
It was anything but.
Sixth went to the consistent Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisan, thanks to a brace of well-directed accounts of the Bourgeois and their own-choice of 'Myth Forest', whilst there could be few complaints about the placings of the remaining six bands in what was a high class, but well-defined contest of contesting qualities.
The overall feeling however was that this was perhaps the closest Valaisia has come to being toppled in the past few years, especially by a resurgent Luzern who have certainly returned to a level of competitiveness that not so long ago saw them crowned European Champion.
With Valaisia as the defending European title holders, Luzern will now join them back at the magnificent Montreux Convention Centre to provide a dual spearhead of excellence that should make for an incredibly potent home assault.
After the demands of 'Concerto Grosso', the surreal delights of monks playing an esoteric game of life in an utopian future and a homage to an infamous night of rock and roll conflagration, only performances from rivals equally inspired by brilliance and perhaps a touch of bonkerness could possibly tame them.
2018 saw the decision taken by the Swiss Brass Band Association to reorganise the competitive structure of the championships.
This saw a reduction in the number of bands from 19 to 10 in the new Elite Division — a much more manageable reflection of the overall quality of bands below Championship Section 'Excellence' level, but one which now allows for promotion and relegation between both.
The move certainly seems to have worked given the overall standard shown on Philip Harper's 'Destination Moon' — a work that not so long ago was providing the world's number 1 band with its own-choice selection at the European Championship.
No Tintin mystery
Having Philip Harper in the box was therefore an intriguing twist (alongside Tom Davoren and Stephen Roberts) — although the judges later revealed that there was no mystery to the quality to the overall performance characteristics from the winner, Brass Band Emmental directed by Jan Muller.
Their vibrant performance, full of rich primary colours, atmosphere and technical assuredness certainly brought the Tintin space exploration story to life in a way 'composer' Paul Raphael would surely have enjoyed to claim the title for the first time since 2002.
Just behind them came a fine performance from the defending champion Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia conducted by Michael Bach (to give him a brace of runner-up finishes on the weekend), whilst two points further back was a bold Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg.
The top-six was completed by well-constructed accounts from Brass Band Rickenbach, AEW Concert Brass and Brass Band Eglisau to emphasis the overall quality on show from a section of bands well matched in technique and ambition.
There was an equally bold choice of set-work in the First Division, which provided the Sunday morning aperitif ahead of the Excellence own-choice battles that followed.
The cinematic scope and somewhat surreal geographical reach of Jan Van der Roost's 'Excalibur' certainly raised an eyebrow or two with musical historians, but no one could argue with the way all 11 bands gave of their all.
In the end it was a very impressive Brass Band Fribourg B who claimed a first National title under MD Maurice Donnet-Money (who was certainly busy on the day). They ended two points clear of Brass Band Harmonie Neuenkirch with Brass Band RosAlp in third.
The remaining top-six places in a thoroughly enjoyable contest were claimed by BML Talents, Ensemble de Cuivres Ambitus and Brass Band Kirchenmusik Fluhi.
James Curnow's 'Masquerade' provided a stern test of musical character in the Second Division.
In the end it was Brass Band Lotschental that emerged victorious under MD Aldo Werlen off the early number 3 draw, after a hard fought battle from a series well directed rivals.
Their controlled performance aide by cracking soloist and a carefully calibrated ensemble sound gave them their first victory at the event and brought wonderful scenes of celebration in the Miles Davis Hall at the announcement of the results on Saturday evening.
Just a point behind was defending champion Brass Band Berner Oberland B, with neatly constructed performances from Brass Band 43, Brass Band Harmonie Rickenbach, Brass Band Feldmusik Escholzmatt and Liberty Brass Band Junior claiming hard fought top-six places.
Saturday morning's enjoyable Third Division contest saw nine bands tackle Gion Andrea Casanova's interesting set-work, 'Antruras' — one that resulted in a first National victory for Burgermusik Untereggen conducted by Stefan Roth.
Just a point behind them in a good quality battle came 2016 champion Musik Frohsinn Oberburg, with Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg B in third.
Defending champion, Brass Band Michelsant, who had won the contest three times in the last four years had to be content with fourth place on this occasion, just ahead of top-six finishers, Brass Band Gurbetal and Musikverein Buckten.
With the reorganisation of the various sections this year, it meant that only four bands competed in the Fourth Division (although it is hoped this will increase substantially over the next few years), where Jugend Brass Band Oberer Sempachersee claimed a deserved victory on Jan de Haan's delightful 'Purcellian Fantasia'.
It was also the band's first National victory and came ahead of a fine account from runner-up Entlebucher Jugend Brass Band, with Jugend Brass Band RML in third.
Once again the Swiss Brass Band Association ran an exemplary event over two wonderful days at the Montreux Convention Centre.
Led by their President, Ariane Brun and a team of highly professional helpers and Convention Centre staff, the event continues to develop along clearly defined organisational and musical lines — all with the common goal of ensuring that the overall quality of Swiss brass banding is both maintained and enhanced at all levels.
Given the standard of winning performances from Brass Band Valaisia and all the new divisional champions, that is something that other banding nations should be inspired to emulate.
As it happened
After working so hard for this contest I think it is a result to be very proud of. Now we look towards coming back here for the European Championship, before we start thinking about next year and maybe five in a rowValaisia MD, Arsene Duc.
Adjudicators: Ian Porthouse, Glyn Williams, Mark Wilkinson (Set Work)
Adjudicators: Philip Harper, Tom Davoren, Stephen Roberts (Own Choice)
Set Work + Own Choice = Total
1. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc): 1/3 = 4*
2. Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern (Michael Bach): 3/1 = 4
3. Brass Band Treize Etoiles (James Gourlay): 2/4 = 6*
4. Brass Band Fribourg A (Maurice Donnet-Monay): 4/2 = 6
5. Brass Band Berner Oberland (Corsin Tuor): 6/6 = 12
6. Ensemble de Cuivres Valaisan (Francois Roh): 5/8 = 13
7. Liberty Brass Band Ostschweiz (Stefan Roth): 8/7 = 15*
8. Ensemble de Cuivres Jurassien A (Blaise Heritier): 10/5 = 15
9. Oberaargauer Brass Band (Christoph Luchsinger): 7/12 = 19
10. Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia A (Vincent Baroni): 9/11 = 20
11. Musikgesellschaft Risch-Rotkreuz (Luca Frischknecht): 11/10 = 21*
12. Constellation Brass Band A (Yvan Lagger): 12/9 = 21
* Set Work placing takes precedent
As 2018 European Champion, Valaisia Brass Band will be joined at the 2019 European Championship by Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern
Best Soloist (Set Work): Flugel — Brass Band Treize Etoiles
Best Soloist (Own Choice): Trombone — Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern
Set Work: Destination Moon (Paul Raphael)
Adjudicators: Philip Harper, Tom Davoren, Stephen Roberts
1. Brass Band Emmental (Jan Muller) — 95
2. Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia (Michael Bach) — 94
3. Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg A (Rafael Camartin) — 92
4. Brass Band Rickenbach (Enrico Calzaferri) — 91
5. AEW Concert Brass Fricktal (Adrian Schneider) — 89
6= Brass Band Eglisau (Andreas Buri) — 87*
6= Brass Band Sursilvana (Roman Caprez) — 87
8. Brass Band Cazis (Herve Grelat) — 86
9. Brass Band MG Reiden (Roland Froscher) — 84
10. Brass Band Treize Etoiles B (Eric Fournier) -83
Best Baritone: Ensemble de Cuivres Euphonia
* 1 point deduction for percussion infringement
Adjudicators: Ian Porthouse, Glyn Williams, Mark Wilkinson
Set Work: Excalibur (Jan van der Roost)
1. Brass Band Fribourg B (Maurice Donnet-Monay) -94
2. Brass Band Harmonie Neuenkirch (Manuel Imhof) — 92
3. Brass Band RosAlp (David Bonvin) — 91
4. BML Talents (Patrick Ottiger) — 90
5. Ensemble de Cuivres Ambitus (Francois Roh) — 89
6. Brass Band Kirchenmusik Fluhli (Armin Renggli) — 88
7. Oberwalliser Brass Band A (David Lochmatter) — 86
8. Brass Band Konkordia Busserach (Christoph Bangerter) — 85
9. Regional Brass Band Bern (Manuel Renggli) — 84
10. Brass Band Schotz (Urs Bucher) — 82
11. Feldmusik Knutwil (Gian Walker) — 81
Best Euphonium: Brass Band Konkordia Busserach
Set Work: Masquerade for Brass (James Curnow)
Adjudicators: Simon Dobson, Jan de Haan, Oliver Waespi
1. Brass Band Lotschental (Aldo Werlen) — 94
2. Brass Band Berner Oberland Junior (Jan Muller) — 93
3. Brass Band 43 (Oliver Neuhas) — 92
4. Brass Band Harmonie Rickenbach (Lukas Scherrer) — 91
5. Brass Band Feldmusik Escholzmatt (Roger Muller) — 90
6. Liberty Brass Band Junior (Christoph Luschsinger) — 89
7. Constellation Brass Band B (Ivan Denis) — 88
8. Ensemble de Cuivres Jurassien B (Rainier Chetelat) — 87
9. Brass Band Abinchova (Gian Walker) — 86
10. Ensemble de Cuivres Melodia B (Sebastien Pasche) — 85
11= Brass Band Posaunenchor Flaach (Thomas Fischer) — 84
11= Brass Band Rapperswil-Wierezwil (Dominik Ziorjen) — 84
13= Brass Band Zurich (Werner Kubil) — 83
13= Brass Band Junior Valaisan (Aurelien Darbellay) — 83
Best Solo Horn: Brass Band Lotschental
Set Work: Antruras (Gion Andrea Casanova)
Adjudicators: Simon Dobson, Jan de Haan, Oliver Waespi
1. Burgermusik Untereggen (Stefan Roth) — 93
2. Musik Frohsinn Oberburg (Jan Muller) — 92
3. Brass Band Imperial Lenzburg B (Stefan Aegerter) — 90
4. Jugend Brass Band Michelsamt (Peter Staddelman) — 89
5. Brass Band Gurbetal (Urs Stahli) — 87
6. Musikverein Bucket (Cedric Fuhrer) — 86
7. Thunerseebrass (Christoph Hertig) — 85
8= Brass Band Munsingen (Nicholas Jaquet) — 84
8= Hinterlander Jugend Brass Band (Luca Frischknecht) — 84
Best Percussion: Musikkla Frohsinn Oberburg
Set Work: Purcellian Fantasia (Jan de Haan)
Adjudicators: Ian Porthouse, Glyn Williams, Mark Wilkinson
1. Jugend Brass Band Oberer Sempachersee (Manuel Imhof) — 92
2. Entlebucher Jugend Brass Band (Patrick Notter) — 91
3. JBB Regionale Musiktschule Liestal (Ivan Estermann) — 89
4. Musikgesellschaft Risch-Rotkreuz Junior Band (Mattias Kieffer) — 87
Best Principal Cornet: Entlebucher Jugend Brass Band