Virtuosi GUS reinforced their major title winning credentials with an emphatic victory at the Midlands Regional Championships.
Their fourth consecutive success under the direction of Adam Cooke was delivered with a sense of musical elan that has increasingly become a hallmark of their performances over the past year. The Butlins Champion secured their place at the Royal Albert Hall with a rendition of 'Pageantry' that oozed regal splendour.
Behind them came a dozen well beaten rivals who must have known after the defending champion had played off the number 4 draw that they were to be engaged in a battle for the runner-up spot. In the end it even that was denied them, as Thoresby Colliery, who produced a substantive account led by Ian McElligott as the first band to play, returned to Kensington for the second year in a row.
Intriguingly, the final result was almost a mirror image of 2016 — with the top seven bands gaining the same spots. It also meant that former champion Desford Colliery missed out again in third place under the baton of Thomas Wyss, with the remaining top-six places going to Ratby Co-operative, Derwent Brass and Jaguar Land Rover.
"All winning performances are great, but I think this was the best we've produced together at the Area," Virtuosi GUS MD Adam Cooke told 4BR. "The maturity of the sound, the security of the soloists and the confidence of the ensemble on stage was amazing.
You hear conductor's saying that they couldn't have asked for anything more — but that was the certainly the case with this one."
Adam also revealed that his band had worked harder than ever to ensure a somewhat unfamiliar piece to many of the younger players in particular, was ready for the contest.
"I've known the piece as a player, but I studied the orchestral score in depth. The music speaks for itself and links to Holst, Vaughan Williams and Bantock for me. I didn't want to create anything from it that wasn't in the score.
My players under stood this. It's been a great musical experience for us all — and we will now be performing 'Pageantry' in concerts throughout the year. "
Adam's interpretative approach certainly found favour in the box, where Leigh Baker and Cory MD, Philip Harper later revealed that they had been looking for performances that 'respected' the composer's intentions and detailed scoring.
In his pre-results analysis Philip emphasised the need for 'refinement' and 'reverence', of 'tonal balance' and the ability to show incremental 'dynamic contrast' — all elements that were displayed in full by the winners.
"That was so good to hear — and was further pinpointed in the written remarks," Adam said. "This was a great team effort, but a special mention must go to our principal cornet Thomas Fountain and George Bruce on solo euphonium. Both were simply outstanding.
We've already met two of our contest objectives for the year, but those are now behind us. Our primary focus over the next few weeks is working hard on 'Reflections on Swan Lake' for the Grand Shield, as we all want to get the band back to the British Open where we believe we belong."
Few would argue that Virtuosi GUS will now be one of the favourites for that contest after such a commanding victory, whilst Thoresby Colliery will also be looking forward to that Blackpool challenge buoyed by a performance that also owed much to Ian McElligott's considered musical approach.
Desford meanwhile could consider themselves a little unlucky that the contest gods didn't find in their favour on this occasion (they were drawn immediately after Virtuosi GUS), although some noticeable minor errors in an account full of spirited brio may just have cost them their place at Kensington Gore.
Meanwhile, Ratby, Derwent and Jaguar Land Rover all offered substantial evidence of their growing top flight credentials in performances that only occasionally fell below podium place expectations. Behind them, for the judges in particular, it was a question of consistency of execution and perhaps some interpretative individuality that didn't resonate in the box as much as it did in the hall. Only towards the bottom end of the results did the more obvious struggles make themselves apparent.
And although no band (the winners included) emerged completely unscathed by this timely test of musicality, it was noticeable that with the top-six or so, the approach to Howell's score was one of musical consideration — testament to the experienced MDs appreciation of its immense stylistic substance.
None though appreciated it better than Adam Cooke and Virtuosi GUS, with a victory that not only gave them a 25th Midland Regional Championship title, but could well herald further major successes in the coming months.
You hear conductor's saying that they couldn't have asked for anything more — but that was the certainly the case with this oneMD, Adam Cooke
Test Piece: 'Pageantry' (Herbert Howells)
Adjudicators: Leigh Baker and Philip Harper
1. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke)*
2. Thoresby Colliery (Ian McElligott)*
3. Desford Colliery LCIWTF (Thomas Wyss)
4. Ratby Co-operative (Mareika Gray)
5. Derwent Brass (Keith Leonard)
6. Jaguar Land Rover (Dave Lea)
7. Spal Sovereign Brass (Trevor Jones)
8. Blidworth Welfare (Martin Heartfield)
9. Staffordshire (Steven Walsh)
10. Newstead Brass (Philip Goodwin)
11. Bilton Silver (Rugby) (David Stowell)
12. Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) Simon Platford)
13. Bedworth Brass (David Maplestone)
*Top two bands qualify for National Final at The Royal Albert Hall