After a long and at times frustrating wait since their last success in 2006, the British Open Championship title was won for a record thirtieth time by Black Dyke at Symphony Hall on Saturday.
In what proved to be a memorable contesting day that captured both the support and rapt attention of a sell out audience, the Queensbury band, led by Director of Music, Prof Nicholas Childs, delivered what was described by the adjudicators as a ‘classic’ contest winning performance of Ed de Boer’s elegant set work, ‘Vita Aeterna Variations’.
It also proved to be a clear winner in the opinion of the three judges — pipping a superb performance by National champions Cory into second place (aided by a mesmeric ‘Best Soprano’ contribution by Steve Stewart), with a brilliant ensemble rendition by Grand Shield winners Flowers in a deserved third.
With the podium finishers ‘standing out’ in the opinion of Paul Cosh, Stephen Roberts and John Berryman, a slightly inconsistent Foden’s eventually came fourth, whilst Desford’s finely structured account, which found a great deal of favour in the hall was fifth.
The final top six place went to a delighted Hammonds Saltaire who rounded off the contest day with a thoroughly engaging rendition under the baton of Morgan Griffiths.
It also meant that many pre-contest favourites had to be content with minor placings, as niggling errors and wayward intonation proved costly on a day when the very best bands delivered performances rich in lyricism as well as technical security — especially in the fiendishly difficult, lip sapping fugue and final apotheosis.
Brighouse & Rastrick, Grimethorpe (who drew the dreaded number 1 out of the velvet bag), Fairey and defending champion Tredegar all had their inspired moments, but could have little cause for complaint where they eventually ended up.
Elsewhere there were nervous glances at the final results with Virtuosi GUS and Hepworth falling through the relegation trap door to the Grand Shield.
Leyland managed to avoid the drop by virtue of their higher placing (11th to Hepworth’s 14th), whilst Milnrow once again showed that they are more than capable of of battling it out at the very highest level with a solid performance on what was Marieka Gray's last contest outing with the band.
It was not a good day for Scottish banding either as both Co-operative Funeralcare and Kirkintilloch found themselves in the bottom three alongside Carlton Main Frickley.
With the overall standard of playing as high as many in the audience has enjoyed at the contest for some time, all three will know they will have to work hard to maintain their Open status in 2015.
Sounds of celebration
No such problems ahead for Black Dyke though as the sounds of their joyful celebrations were almost heard in Birmingham city centre prior to their MD finally making it to the stage with his third Mortimer Maestro Trophy as the winning conductor in his hand.
With the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ award going to the outstanding flugel horn star Zoe Hancock and the ‘Best Euphonium’ prize claimed by Gary Curtin (as well as the Roy Newsome prize to their hard working Band Manage Mike Shenton), it was not surprising Prof Childs paid fulsome tribute to his ‘amazing band’.
However, on a set work that drew inspiration from memories of loss, the victory drew a very personal dedication too.
"It would have been my father’s 82nd birthday today, so I was certainly thinking of him at the end," he said.
"He would have loved seeing both his son’s conducting today, so winning this British Open will always have special resonance for me."
It was his young band though that quickly returned to his thoughts though, as he joined the players on stage. "What an amazing band they are: So eager, committed, dedicated, and determined to win more major championships. They have so much potential too — so the next few years could be the most exciting yet for us."
For the present, it was hard to find fault in their contest winning rendition of ‘Vita Aeterna Variations’, with Stephen Roberts describing it in his written remarks as, ‘A classic performance that was intoxicating to listen to. Bravo!’, whilst Paul Cosh was equally fulsome in his praise as he wrote, ‘A very fine performance indeed. Bravo! Bravo!’
Meanwhile, John Berryman took time to praise the soloists — describing the flugel playing in the opening of Zoe Hancock as ‘spellbinding’ and the later euphonium lead by Gary Curtin who in his words, ‘plays beautifully’.
Speaking collectively after the results, the three judges were just as clear in their convictions as they had been so soon after listening to Black Dyke off the number 13 draw.
"It was classic performance — it was restrained, lyrical and noble. It had such sustained authority about it.
It was piece that tested all the bands, especially with their dynamic range and quiet playing. We rewarded the best dynamic playing and the top three did stand out. Flowers were no surprise — they played brilliantly and Cory was superb, but Black Dyke simply had it all for us."
Although disappointed on just missing out on the title for a second successive year, Cory was also left to reflect on a memorable contest stage rendition rich in high emotion as well as excitement.
Their performance was dedicated to the memory of Cory stalwart John Trotman who died earlier in the year, whilst in the final fugue Philip Harper’s baton flew 10 meters from his hand over the cornet section as he implored his ensemble to give every last ounce in pursuit of victory!
It was only retrieved by the elated conductor as he was called back to the stage by the prolonged applause of the audience.
Stephen Roberts described Cory’s rendition as ‘truly great’ and one ‘that exuded quality from start to finish’ in his written remarks, whilst Paul Cosh added that he felt it was ‘marvellous’.
Once again John Berryman noted the quality of the soloists, describing them as ‘the icing on the cake’.
Whilst the names of Cory and Black Dyke were on the lips of most people as they discussed their potential winners opinions before the results, the official announcement of Flowers in third was not a surprise at all.
Their superb performance from the early number 5 draw was potent reminder to rivals of their substantive major championship credentials under MD Paul Holland.
There was certainly no happier band as they left the stage — something that was certainly added to later that night as they undoubtedly celebrated an immense achievement on a performance described by Stephen Roberts as ‘wonderful playing’.
Paul Cosh added that it was ‘fantastic’, and one that ‘just grew and grew in quality’, whilst John Berryman also paid tribute to MD Paul Holland in his direction of a band that ‘has been absolutely top class.’
With the Grand Shield winners showing that they will be a band to fear as they start their preparations for London, others left Birmingham with mixed emotions — especially the heavyweights contenders such as Foden’s, Brighouse & Rastrick, Grimethorpe, Fairey and Tredegar — all of whom were left in their wake.
No such grumbles from the likes Desford and Hammonds though, both of whom will have left for home more than satisfied with their engaging performances under two conductors in Tom Davoren and Morgan Griffiths, whose musical reputations grow with each contest outing.
And on a day when the British Open could once again proudly boast that it remains the most prestigious brass band contest in the world — with tickets, programmes and study scores all sold out, and the bands and audience enjoying a wonderful test piece — Black Dyke could also take all the plaudits too, as they deservedly became 2014 British Open Champions.
What an amazing band they are: So eager, committed, dedicated, and determined to win more major championships. They have so much potential too — so the next few years could be the most exciting yet for usProf Nicholas Childs
Saturday 6th September
Test Piece: 'Vita Aeterna Variations' — Alexander Comitas
Adjudicators: John Berryman, Paul Cosh, Stephen Roberts
1. Black Dyke (Prof. Nicholas Childs)
2. Cory (Philip Harper)
3. Flowers (Paul Holland)
4. Foden's (Allan Withington)
5. Desford Colliery (Tom Davoren)
6. Hammonds Saltaire (Morgan Griffiths)
7. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof. David King)
8. Grimethorpe Colliery (Dr Robert Childs)
9. Fairey (Garry Cutt)
10. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)
11. Leyland (Michael Bach)
12. Milnrow (Mareika Gray)
13. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke)
14. Hepworth (Mark Peacock)
15. Co-operative Funeralcare (Allan Ramsay)
16. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Phillip McCann)
17. Kirkintilloch (David Roberts)
Stanley Wainwright Memorial Trophy: Zoe Hancock (Flugel) — Black Dyke
Brian Evans Memorial Trophy: Steve Stewart (Soprano) — Cory
The Geoffrey Whitham Memorial Trophy: Gary Curtin (Euphonium) — Black Dyke
Virtuosi Gus and Hepworth