The Royal Northern College of Music Brass Band made it a hat-trick of UniBrass titles at a vibrant and hugely successful event held at the University of Bangor in north Wales.
Conducted by former alumni and Brighouse & Rastrick trombone star Ryan Watkins, they claimed the UniBrass Trophy by a single point after a thrilling head to head battle with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Third place went to the University of Huddersfield in what was a repeat of the podium places of both 2017 and 2018.
A little bit close
Adjudicator Alan Morrison (joined by Anne Crookston) told an enthusiastic pre-results audience that it had been 'a little bit close' at the top, although they had 'agreed all the way down' the results table.
And whilst he admitted that the contest had been 'quite an uneven playing field', and that they were a little surprised that some bands hadn't chosen pieces that perhaps emphasised their more obvious strengths, all the competitors had 'something to offer'.
Much to the delight of the students, he rounded off his remarks by saying that his first experience (said with tongue firmly in cheek) of UniBrass was 'one that would live for him forever', although more seriously, he hoped that after their studies all the students would keep playing at whatever level they enjoyed.
Alan was certainly right about the closeness at the top, as the RNCM Brass Band set an imposing standard as the first band to perform.
Their 'Myths & Legends' set opened with 'Tale of the Dragon' by Paul Lovatt Cooper, followed by a superb piece of lyrical cornet playing from 'Best Soloist' award winner Dominic Longhurst on 'Rusalka's Song to the Moon'. A thumping rendition of 'Mephistopheles' saw them also pick up the 'Best March' prize, before they closed with the final part of 'Music of the Spheres'.
"It was a brilliant day and we certainly celebrated the victory," Ryan told 4BR. "Having to play so early in the day meant we had time to enjoy ourselves, so after it was rounded off with another win meant a great night too.
I've thoroughly enjoyed working with the band and hope I can continue to link up with them again. There are plans to perhaps meet up on a more regular basis at the RNCM, so if they do I'm available — the players are fantastic."
Although disappointed at not quite being able to claim a first UniBrass victory, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (who came runner-up for a fourth consecutive year) was still happy at pushing their rivals so close.
"There was only a point in it this year, so who knows in 2020," MD Ian Porthouse said. "I'm delighted at the way the band played and the progress the students are making. Our congratulations go to the RNCM Brass Band, but we are getting so close."
The band opened with 'Marta's Dance', followed by a brilliant piece of theatre with Mnozil's 'Lonely Boy', an eight-piece euphonium and baritone rendition of 'Bravura', 'Memories of a Lost Boy' and 'Ad Astra' to close. It saw them win the prizes for providing the 'Most Entertaining Programme', 'Best Section' and 'Best Percussion'.
Whilst the UniBrass Trophy was being held in the Theatre Bryn Terfel, the UniBrass Shield took place in the Hugh Owen Hall, where there was a super victory for the University of Chichester.
Led by MD Emma Button, who founded the band in 2012 and is now a lecturer at the university, their celebrations on being declared 2019 champion was a joy to behold — and were possibly heard over 300 miles away in their own student union bar.
The band has made remarkable progress in the past three years- coming 9th in 2017 and third last year, although as Emma told 4BR, thoughts of victory weren't that high as they made their way to north Wales.
"Not really. We didn't quite know where we stood in relation to the other bands, so expectations were low.
I was thrilled at the way the band played, but to hear that we won the 'Best Soloist', then the 'Best March' and the 'Best Tubas' changed things a bit. It was brilliant to see the student's race to the stage to enjoy the victory — I was so proud."
Cool jazz and rugby skills
The band opened their winning programme with 'Caravan' featuring the cool jazz skills of 'Best Soloist' award winner Lars Thorkildsen — who apart from playing the trombone also doubles up by playing rugby union for Norway!
A super rendition of 'Death or Glory' saw them pick up the 'Best March' prize, whilst they closed with the contrasts of Percy Grainger's 'Irish Tune from County Derry' and Paul Lovatt-Cooper's 'Wall of Sound'.
"The players deserved their celebrations," Emma added. "They work so hard and are really dedicated in giving up time for two rehearsals a week. We've got a great music department, but a lot of the players have little or no brass band experience. Now they do!"
In a contest that adjudicator Alan Fernie (joined by Sheona White) said was 'absolutely brilliant' it was the University of York that pushed the winner's all the way to the line in coming a point behind as runner-up and claiming the 'Best Percussion' prize. Third place went to Cambridge University who also won the 'Most Entertaining Programme' prize.
Alan also added that although it was obvious all the bands enjoyed themselves on stage, they had to perhaps be a bit more careful when 'blowing their tonsils out' — although he knew that was perhaps asking a bit much as he 'loved doing it myself'. He gained plenty of plaudits however when he urged all the students to keep playing 'for the rest of their lives'.
Even after the results were announced the musical entertainment continued with Tredegar Band giving an entertaining Gala Concert — giving Sam Hathern-Evans, the hard-working UniBrass Chair, a chance to reflect on the day.
"I wanted to send a huge thank-you to everyone involved in the event. We've had a brilliant level of support which we simply couldn't have made the event so successful without.
We've shown that it's not only possible to run an event of this scale in Bangor, but also that it can be done well, and attract the audience we need to make the event work."
I wanted to send a huge thank-you to everyone involved in the event. We've had a brilliant level of support which we simply couldn't have made the event so successful withoutUniBrass Chair, Sam Hathern-Evans
Adjudicators: Anne Crookston and Alan Morrison
1. Royal Northern College of Music Brass Band — 144
2. Royal Birmingham Conservatoire — 143
3. University of Huddersfield — 139*
4. University of Birmingham — 139
5. University of Nottingham — 137
6. University of Manchester — 134
7. University of Warwick — 131
8. University of Leeds — 129
9. University of Durham — 127
10. University of Bristol — 125
* 1 point time penalty
Best Soloist: Dominic Longhurst (cornet) — RNCM Brass Band
Best March: RNCM Brass Band
Most Entertaining Programme: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Best Student Conductor: Hugh Morris (University of Manchester)
Best Section: Euphoniums & baritones (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire)
Best Percussion: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Best Student Composition (both sections): Brooklyn (Lewis Hammond — University of Leeds)
Adjudicators: Alan Fernie and Sheona White
1. University of Chichester — 128
2. University of York — 127
3. Cambridge University — 124
4. Keele University — 122*
5. Sheffield University — 121
6. Oxford University — 116
7. Lancaster University — 114
8. Cardiff University — 113
9. Southampton University — 112
10. Bangor University — 109**
11. Nottingham Trent University — 109
* 1 point time penalty
** musicality takes precedence
Best Soloist: Lars Thorkildsen (trombone) — University of Chichester
Best March: Death or Glory (University of Chichester)
Most Entertaining Programme: Cambridge University
Best Student Conductor: Jack Aitken (University of Sheffield)
Best Section: Tubas (University of Chichester)
Best Percussion: University of York