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Report & Result: 2018 European Championships: Championship Section

Valaisia Brass Band ascends to the summit of world banding following their victory at the European Championships.

Valaisia Win
  Valaisia Band has added the European title to their Swiss and British Open accolades

The tripartite power struggle at the summit of elite banding took its third notable shift of direction in as many years at the TivoliVredenburg Hall in Utrecht, as Valaisia Brass Band claimed the European title.

Whereas 2016 belonged to a totally dominant Cory and last year to an unstoppable Eikanger Bjorsvik, 2018 has now seen the remarkable Swiss ensemble under Arsene Duc ascend to the apex of the contesting globe. There is little doubt that at present they are the best band in the world.

Stunning performances

Valaisia is now European, Swiss National and British Open champion. No one will want to miss them when they defend the latter title at Symphony Hall in Birmingham in September, especially as they will once again lock horns with their Welsh and Norwegian rivals. Tickets go on sale on May 18th. You will need to be quick.

"This is still a great shock," Arsene Duc said humbly as he somehow managed to break free of yet another congratulatory hug from one of his emotional players, the famous European trophy safely in his grasp, the Swiss flag proudly draped over his shoulders.

He added: "I cannot ask for anything more. I am so proud of the players who gave me everything and more. I am so happy for them."

Happy indeed, after a brace of stunning performances of the set-work, 'Time for Outrage!' and their own-choice 'The Turing Test' gave the narrowest of victories over Cory. A little further back came a resurgent Stavanger, themselves two points ahead of the tied trio of Brass Band Willebroek, defending champion Eikanger Bjorsvik and Hauts-de-France.

Whitburn's splendid efforts over the two days of intense competition saw them latch on to the coat tails of the top-six to end seventh, whilst the rest made up the minor placings in rather predictable, if high class fashion.

Mathematical nature

And whilst the authenticity of Valaisia's victory was never in question, the mathematical nature of it possibly was.

Many who heard them perform the enjoyable if limited set-test felt they were a clear margin ahead of the field on the Friday evening.

However, the general consensus around the TivoliVredenburg bars (and the great venue had plenty) before the announcement of the results though was that they had perhaps left a faint glimmer of hope to rivals after their Saturday performance of the Dobson work (some noticeable individual fragility catching the ear).

However, in the opinion of the adjudication panel it was the opposite. And to be fair to Jan de Haan, Dr Joseph Parisi and Ian Porthouse, it was nigh on impossible to disagree with their set-test decision, as due to the oversight of the publishers not to produce a study score, 99% of the audience had no foundation reference point to basis their own views on 'Time for Outrage!'.

Oddly though, even without a score, few listeners really disagreed with Eikanger's seventh place off the number 1 draw, as the defending champion certainly took time to settle in the unique acoustic of the 1717 seat Great Hall.

Misplaced

Later, the judges also told 4BR that they felt some bands took misplaced interpretive liberties that were not written or necessary with the score, whilst tuning issues also marred tonal balance and texture.

One of the main reasons why they placed Cory clearly ahead of Valaisia and Stavanger, with Whitburn, Willebroek and de Waldsang behind was just that — the first six or so minutes of the piece played with scrupulous attention to detail, dynamic balance and pacing.

Marco Putz's work certainly did its job (and was skilfully adapted by Paul McGhee), but you were left with the undeniable impression that it was a hybrid concoction that could never rid itself of its original DNA. The lack of texture and some rather uncompromising high pitched tonality never gave the MDs the scope to explore more subtle balances or inventiveness.

As a result much of the work passed you by like the landscape view of the Netherlands from the train window from Amsterdam airport to Utrecht Central — flat and faintly uninteresting.

Given that 'Time for Outrage!' spoke of modern day angst, anxiety and crises aversion it rarely raised the hackles of the most hardened of revolutionary spirits.

It was rather like listening to one of those old letters that used to come from 'Disgruntled of Chipping Sodbury' about the decline in moral standards on the BBC. You would like to hear more from Marco Putz — but only in writing specifically for the medium.

Less bombast overkill

The following day came the blockbusters — or rather, the decidedly less 3D multiplex bombast overkill that has usually been the popcorn norm of late at the event.

Challenge after deeply impressive challenge was laid down like a gauntlet from a well-honed Knight Templar — from the contrasting Nordic brilliance of Stavanger's riveting 'Goldberg 2012' and the deep emotional intensity of Eikanger's 'Partita', to Cory's kaleidoscopic 'Jazz', Haut-de-France's scorching 'Perihelion' and Willebroek's multi-dimensional 'Destination Moon'.

And whilst Whitburn once again gave it their all on 'Metropolis 1927', there was some bemusement at the effectiveness of Fairey's brave choice of Andy Scott's 'Defiance'.

It failed to resonate against rivals, whilst other bands couldn't quite help themselves falling into the adrenaline fuelled trap of resorting to pounding out high volume ordinance.

In a hall with the judge's box less than 10 meters from the front of the stage that approach was an exercise in dynamic futility.

Perfectly set

The stage seemed perfectly set then for the Swiss as the last band to perform — and for 99% of the time they delivered a stunning rendition of the intricacies of 'The Turing Test' in a manner that brokered no argument.

Just the momentary binary coding outage in some solo lines opened the narrowest of margins of doubt in people's minds, but speaking later to 4BR, the judges, Russell Gray, Blaise Heritier and Erik Janssen were clear in their opinion that it was their rich sense of musicality, brilliant ensemble balance and subtle dynamic contrasts that made it a very special performance.

That 1% of flickering imperfection was all they could penalise them for.

Pantomime gasp

It all made for an impatient wait for the results — one that came after a thoroughly entertaining Gala Concert.

The pantomime gasp of surprise that emanated from the audience with the announcement of Eikanger in fifth was soon added to with sounds of disbelief as the narrowness of the margin between the top two bands was revealed.

The communal realisation that it was the 99 points given to Valaisia for their own-choice effort that had won them the title by a single point from Cory went through the audience like a shock wave of incredulous incomprehension.

By then though it didn't matter as the excellent compere Stein Skorpholm announced the identity of the new champion, heralded by an emotional rendition of the Swiss National Anthem.

Marginal gains

However, just in case anyone still feels the band may have been lucky, a little tale of 'marginal gains' will highlight just why they are the most deserving of European champions.

It came to light when speaking to Martin Winter at breakfast the following day.

Prior to the contest he had been asked by Arsene Duc to visit (not once but three times) to give his opinion on the band's ongoing progress and development and to highlight areas that could be improved upon.

Just take a moment to really think of that: The conductor of one of the very finest bands in the world willingly asking for advice on how to improve even further.

No wonder you were left with the words of the great English essayist Joseph Addison in your mind; "A just and reasonable modesty does not only recommend eloquence, but sets off a great talent which a man can be possessed of."

And Arsene Duc has certainly shown that. So too has his truly remarkable band.

I cannot ask for anything more. I am so proud of the players who gave me everything and more. I am so happy for themArsene Duc

Results:

Championship Section:

Adjudicators:
Set Work: Jan de Haan, Dr Joseph Parisi, Ian Porthouse
Own Choice: Russell Gray, Blaise Heritier, Erik Janssen

Test Piece: Time for Outrage (Marco Putz adapted by Paul McGhee)
(Draw): Set Work/Own Choice = Total

1. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc) (4/12) 96/99 = 195
The Turing Test (Simon Dobson)

2. Cory (Philip Harper) (5/4) 98/96 = 194
Symphonic Study for Brass Band: Jazz (Philip Wilby)

3. Stavanger (Allan Withington) (9/1) 95/94 = 189
Goldberg 2012 (Svein H. Giske)

4. Brass Band Willebroek (Frans Violet) (6/8) 92/95 = 187*
Destination Moon (Paul Raphael)

5. Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag (Ingar Bergby)(1/2) 90/97 = 187*
Partita for Band (Wilfred Heaton)

6. Hauts-de-France (Luc Vertommen) (8/7) 89/98 = 187*
Perihelion Closer to the Sun (Philip Sparke)

7. Whitburn (Professor Nicholas Childs) (12/10) 94/92 = 186
Metropolis 1927 (Peter Graham)

8. Brass Band De Waldsang (Rieks der Velde) (3/6) 91/90 = 180
Fraternity (Thierry Deleruylle)

9. Fairey (Garry Cutt) (7/3) 87/88 = 175*
Defiance (Andy Scott

10. 3BA Concert (Thomas Ludescher) (11/9) 86/89 = 175*
Fraternity (Thierry Deleruylle)

11. Brass Band Froschl Hall (Corsin Tuor) (10/11) 88/86 = 174
Hypercube (Oliver Waespi)

12. Concord (Jesper Juul Windahl) (2/5) 85/87 =172
Actaeon (Gareth Wood)

Best Soloist: Lilian Meurin (euphonium) — Hauts-de-France

*Points awarded for the set-test takes precedence in case of equal overall marks

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