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4BR 2018 Band of the Year

Never mind the New Year's Honours List — the conductors and players who make it into the 2018 4BR Band of the Year have been announced.

Band of the Year
  The players and conductors who make it into the 2018 4BR Band of the Year have been announced.

As always, the criterion for inclusion is simple: It's not just a question of who are the best conductors or players in the world; more, who has performed at the very top of their form during the past twelve months and has made a lasting impression on us by doing so.

Final decision

We (the 4BR Editor makes the final decision after a bit of consultation) think we have made a fair selection, and although not everyone will agree with our choices (that's for sure) we believe they make a pretty formidable line up.

As always we could have made up two or three bands without any problems.

Conductors: Philip Harper and Allan Withington

Two of the most inventive and successful MDs of the era lead our band in one half each of our concert — after a year in which they once again showed that there is much, much more to conducting a brass band than simply trying to appeal to three men in a test-piece box.

Cornets:

Principal Cornet: Thomas Nielsen (International Staff Band)

Kirsty Abbotts (Carlton Main Frickley)
Chris Bradley (Whitburn)
Holly Clark (Longridge Band)
Tom Hutchinson (Cory)
Cedric Ritler (Brass Band Lotschental/Valaisia Brass Band)
Kyle Lawson (Brighouse & Rastrick)
Nick Walkley (Manger Musikklag)
Mark Wilkinson (Foden's)

We could have picked another nine cornet players to take over in the second half of a concert without any problem — but these were the ones that stood out most for us during the past year.

Some usual suspects as always — but class, as they say, is permanent — and you don't stay at the top for as long as some of these players have without having it by the bucketful.

A couple of special mentions however: Thomas Nielsen gets the honour of the end chair as he was a beacon of mature excellence — way beyond his years on every occasion we heard him — from winning the BBC2 Young Brass Award to solo spots at the Cheltenham National Finals and as principal cornet with the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.

We also try to include at least one future star, so keep an eye out for 17 year old Holly Clark who was the outstanding solo performer at the Bolsover Festival of Brass contest with playing that caught the imagination with its style and security, and the phenomenal young Swiss solo champion Cedric Ritler — who we are sure we will hear much, much more of in the future.

Soprano:

Jaime Rolfe (Brisbane Excelsior)

There were a host of stunning soprano players to choose from this year — but here was a player that shone the brightest.

Her band playing was outstanding — adding a cultured topping to the boldest ensemble dynamics, but also able to mix vibrant dabs and dashes of colour and texture too. When the solo spotlight was on her she was exceptional — especially in winning the prestigious Champion of Champions title at the New Zealand National Championships.

Flugel:

Mike Eccles (Brighouse & Rastrick)

Again — so hard to pick just one player amid a field of wonderful exponents, but Mike Eccles was such a class act this year — and such a calming influence in the centre of a band that can occasionally overdose on the red-blooded excitement.

So secure and cultured in everything that he played — from solo spots to linking passages and middle band leadership.

Horns:

Anne Barras (Valaisia)
Arfon Owen (Stavanger)
Murray Borthwick (Desford/North Shore Brass)

A trio of outstanding performers — each showcasing their talents in their own particular way.

Once again Anne Barras performed with rare combination of elegance and steely nerve (the opening to the band's own-choice performance at the Swiss Nationals was incredible), whilst Arfon Owen was a sumptuous middle band voice of refinement with Stavanger.

He won't mind us saying this we're sure, but age has not diminished the skills of Murray Borthwick either — and we heard him a number of times this year playing with such joyful musicality — especially at the New Zealand Champions of Champions event.

Baritones:

Felix Geroldinger (Brass Band Oberosterreich)
Helen Harrelson (Fountain City)

A brace of supremely talented and inspirational players.

We heard Felix Geroldinger claim the European Solo Championship title in Utrecht in thrilling fashion, and then again as a featured soloist and a band performer at the Austrian Nationals — and on each occasion he was nothing short of startlingly superb.

Helen Harrelson is the heartbeat of Fountain City Band — a player of superb all round talents who sets the musical marker for all others to follow — from youngsters to seasoned pros. And the standard she set this year enabled her band to reach new heights.

Euphoniums:

Daniel Thomas (Black Dyke)
Glenn Van Looy (Valaisia)

Two incredible talents fill the euph bench — but each so identifiably different as performers.

This year they were in a class of their own as band players and soloists — providing their lucky conductors with almost limitless options of lyrical beauty to unbelievable technical brilliance.

Hearing them play this year took the breath away on occasions.

Trombones:

Chris Thomas (Cory)
John Barber (Foden's)
Lionel Fumeaux (Treize Etoiles)

Three wonderful performers make up the trombone section — led by Cory's Chris Thomas, who was deservedly voted 4BR Player of the Year. In 2018 he was stunning on every platform he took to.

John Barber is also getting better with age — and in 2018 he also showcased his jazz talents to the full with the likes of Mike Lovatt and Matt Ford. Hard to think of a player with such a complete all-round skill set as him in the banding world at present.

Monsieur Fumeaux is the remarkable bass trombonist with Treize Etoiles, who not only displayed his depth charge talents on the contest stage, but also displayed his stunning technique in coming runner-up at the European Solo Championships in Utrecht.

Tubas:

Joseph Cook (Manger Musikklag)
Gavin Saynor (Fairey)

Urs Scherrer (Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern)
Martin Aregger (Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern)

Four brilliant tuba players who can wake the dead as well as tickle the tastebuds with their artistic delicacy.

Joseph Cook and Gavin Saynor already have bags of top flight experience under their belts, but still strive to improve and impress as musicians. In 2018 they provided their bands with low brass stanchion points that enabled their MDs to build their performances on.

When the solo spotlight fell on them they were also stars in their own right too.

As for the Swiss lads — hells bells.

Their performances in providing a foundation made out of polished granite on some of the most demanding test-pieces of recent times took the breath away. Their playing on Paul McGhee's 'King Kong' composition at the Swiss Nationals made the Stravinsky Auditorium in Montreux shake in fear...

Percussion:

Siguard Olsen (Manger Musikklag)
Sophie Stevenson (Youth Brass 2000)
Steve Jones (Cory)
Mark Landon (Foden's)
Anna Kinkade, Joshua Knight, Theodore Musick, Jeffey Seba, Jennifer Wagner (Fountain City)

You can never have enough percussionists in a modern day brass band, and these are a team that in 2018 showed that they could play anything and everything.

Mr Olsen and Miss Stevenson showcased their stylish musicianship on tuned percussion when the spotlight fell on them, whilst Steve 'Weenie' Jones and Mark Landon went about their business with an air of professionalism that wouldn't have been out of place in any top pro orchestra.

It would just be unfair to separate any of the team from Fountain City, who were simply superb — and gave the Americans such pizzazz and precision.

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Dave Collins

BA (Hons) (Dunelm) I, FSCO
Composer and Arranger