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Report & Results: 2017 European Championships: Championship Section

Eikanger Bjorsvik end almost 30 years of waiting as they are once again proclaimed Champions of Europe.

Eikanger-Cheer
  Eikanger ended almost 30 years of waiting with victory in Oostende


The reception that greeted Eikanger Bjorsvik Musikklag on their return from the 40th European Championships in Oostende as the newly crowned Champion Band of Europe summed up the significance of their long awaited achievement.

A communal sense of Nordic pride poured onto the arrivals hall concourse at Flesland airport — one that gushed with almost enough force of emotion to upstage the remarkable sight of a pair of fire engines spraying a celebratory arch of water over the band's plane as it taxied to its landing gate after touchdown.

Rusty exasperation

In the almost 30 years since they last tasted success at the banding world's premier contest with their 1989 win in their home city of Bergen, Eikanger had come close (including five second place finishes), but never close enough. The nozzles of those fire engines were almost starting to rust in exasperation.

That though ended in stunning fashion under conductor Ingar Bergby in Belgium. The only disappointment was that they were not now able to spray champagne.

Imperious

It was a victory based on imperious music making — especially on their own-choice of Thierry Deleruyelle's emotive 'Fraternity', with a performance that it would be hard to imagine could be bettered on a contest stage. It sealed a victory that ultimately left a field of outstanding rivals in their wake. The margin of two points may have been small, but it was unbridgeable.

That was certainly hallmarked in the adjudicator's written remarks: 'An outstanding performance'; '...a stunning show'; 'A really great performance!' were the words used to sum up their set-work rendition of 'Where Angels Fly', by Ben Haemhouts, Roger Webster and Torgny Hanson on the Friday.

The following day the admiration from Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen, Philippe Bach and Jan van der Roost for their own-choice was even greater:

'Fantastic performance! No safety approach (you take risks). I love it!'; 'Thanks for a real great moment. What a band, what a conductor. Bravo, extremely well done'; 'Thank you so much for a fantastic performance. Great in all aspects of the word. Almost perfect. Superb percussion, super soloists and a MAESTRO in front!'

The decades of disappointment, frustration and agonising were finally at an end.

Couldn't catch them

It meant that not even two bands as exceptional as Valaisia and Cory could catch them. The Swiss strained every musical sinew in their attempt: A superb rendition of the dynamically imposing set-work topped the first day's action, but one which ultimately saw them exhaust their reserves of inspiration on 'Goldberg 2012'.

Meanwhile, Cory's intoxicating mix of angelic flight and Tintin space-age capers almost, but not quite came off: Ever inventive, colourful and even a touch theatrical, even they couldn't conjure up the same amount of intuitive heft of musicality that was displayed over the twin disciplines by their Norwegians counterparts, despite a superb 'Best Instrumentalist' contribution from euphonium star Glyn Williams.

Substantial top-six

In the distance came the rest of the high-class thoroughbreds — led by an immensely impressive Willebroek. A little further back was Tredegar, whose inventive risk-taking led home a closely matched trio containing Concord Brass and Paris Brass Band to round off a musically contrasting top-six of substantial quality.

Behind them, Brighouse seemed a spent force after an excellent rendition on the set-work, with Schoonhoven, Oberosterreich, Buizingen and 3BA Concert (the latter two having no luck with the draw) giving performances that were perhaps much closer to their top-six rivals than the mathematics of the results showed.

For the majority of people who enjoyed the action at the acoustically challenging Kursaal venue (those watching the excellent live-streaming would have been unaware that much of the sound was soaked up before it left the stage), will now surely try to book their tickets for the 2018 contest in Utrecht early if this excellently organised event was anything to go by.

Superb performances

Friday saw a series of superb performances on Kevin Houben's engaging, if curiously structured 'Where Angels Fly' — one that asked searching questions of stamina perhaps more than anything else.

Valaisia's formidable precision-led musicality eventually led the way, with the other pre-contest favourites neatly tucked into line behind them in Eikanger, Cory, Brighouse, Willebroek and Tredegar.

Blockbuster time

24 hours later it was blockbuster time: And it was here that Eikanger simply stunned the audience and their rivals.

Cory certainly tickled the national fancy with their Tintin inspired storytelling on 'Destination Moon' (or should that have been their MD, under the yet to be revealed non-de-plume of composer Paul Rapheal?), before Valaisia almost, but not quite, ran out of steam on the Bach inspired 'Goldberg 2012'.

Then, Tredegar once again raised question marks in the minds with their vividly contemporary choice, 'Prophecies', before Paris failed to find favour in the box with their emotive 'HorrorShow' and Brighouse fell away with an error strewn 'Visitations from Beyond'.

Blessed

Then came Eikanger.

Those lucky enough to have heard the band play the piece under their MD at the Norwegian Nationals earlier this year could consider themselves fortunate. Those here can now consider themselves blessed.

As the final chord rang out like the sound of a nuclear powered Wurlitzer organ, the hall rose to its feet in communal acclamation. It wouldn't have come as a surprise if the same things had happened in the box.

It was a performance that will live for a very long time in the memory banks; the layered tonality of the ensemble and clarity and precision of its detail; the subtle phrasing of elongated liner lines and contrasts of tension and release — and above all, the sheer, all-consuming emotive musicality.

At its core was their MD — a man of unassuming, but quite remarkable empowering musical authority. It was like a performance inspired by Henrik Ibsen.

Immense credit

Both Concord and Willebroek that followed with excellent renditions of 'Journey of the Lone Wolf' and 'The Turing Test' deserved immense credit for rousing an audience that seemed spent of emotional lifeblood after what they had heard.

Oddly, the announcement of Eikanger's victory came with a touch of anti-climax. The long wait for a third European title perhaps explained why, when it came, it was left to joint Band Chairman Stig Ryland to accept the trophy in almost joyous bewilderment in front of a packed Kursaal auditorium.

Too many near misses had left players nervous of tempting fate again: They nervously watched the live stream broadcast from an adjacent hotel. However, a few minutes later they arrived on mass to take it in turns to lift the iconic trophy amid tears of both joy and relief — although missing from their ranks was their inspirational MD.

Just as emotional

"I can tell you Ingar is just as emotional as the rest of us," Band Chairman Viggo Bjorge explained to 4BR. "He is a very reserved and modest man who wanted the players to enjoy this moment rather than have the spotlight placed on himself. He said they deserved it for the years of musical dedication and commitment to Eikanger Band."

He added: "He is a truly remarkable musician and a wonderful man. He has been the inspiration behind this success in every possible way."

At last

One player who revelled in the celebrations was trombonist Solvi Ones, who also played on the twin successes in 1988 and 1989. "At last!" she said. "This is for all those who have played with us ever since those victories, and for all the friends they have now become.

It's an odd feeling finally winning a third title so long after those first two. It feels like the first all over again!"

For such a young band, it may also become the first of many more — and with it coming with an invitation to compete at the British Open Championship in 2018, it could also herald yet more major title success away from their Hordaland homeland for a band that has long been regarded as one of the world's finest.

You wonder what type of reception would await them at Flesland airport if they return home from Symphony Hall in Birmingham with that trophy in their grasp?

Iwan Fox

He is a very reserved and modest man who wanted the players to enjoy this moment rather than have the spotlight placed on himself. He said they deserved it for the years of musical dedication and commitment to Eikanger BandViggo Bjorge

Results:

Championship Section:

Adjudicators:
Set Work: Torgny Hansen, Jan Van der Roost, Dr Roger Webster
Own Choice: Philippe Bach, Ben Haemhouts, Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen

Test Piece: Where Angels Fly (Kevin Houben)
(Draw): Set Work/Own Choice = Total

1. Eikanger-Bjorsvik (Ingar Bergby) (10/9): 95/98 = 193
Fraternity (Thierry Deleruyelle)

2. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc) (7/5): 96/95 = 191*
Goldberg 2012 (Sven H Giske)

3. Cory (Philip Harper) (6/3): 94/97 = 191
Destination Moon (Paul Raphael)

4. Brass Band Willebroek (Frans Violet) (11/11): 92/96 = 188
The Turing Test (Simon Dobson)

5. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)(9/6): 91/92 = 183*
Prophecies (Gavin Higgins)

6. Concord (Jesper Juul Windahl) (8/10): 90/93 = 183
Journey of the Lone Wolf (Simon Dobson)

7. Paris Brass Band (Florient Didier) (3/7): 89/94 = 183
HorrowShow (Simon Dobson)

8. Brighouse & Rastrick (Professor David King) (4/8): 93/89 = 182
Visitations from Beyond (Thomas Doss)

9. Brass Band Schoonhoven (Ivan Meylemans) (12/4): 88/90 = 178
Journey of the Lone Wolf (Simon Dobson)

10. Brass Band Oberosterreich (Erik Janssen) (5/12): 86/91 = 177
A Brussels Requiem (Bert Appermont)

11. Brass Band Buizingen (Luc Vertommen) (1/1): 87/87 = 174
Dial 'H' for Hitchcock (Nigel Clarke)

12. 3BA Concert (Thomas Ludescher) (2/2): 85/88 = 173
The Triumph of Time (Peter Graham)

Best Instrumentalist: Glyn Williams (euphonium) — Cory

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