Champion Brass: Eikanger-Bjørsvik Musikklag


Conductor: Reid Gilje
Compere: Viggo Bjørge
Dobcross Band Club
25th March 2005

Saddleworth is right in the heart of the banding scene within the UK.  It doesn't matter which direction you go:  North, East, South or West, within a short distance you'll find a brass band that will always give you a warm welcome. 

The area is renowned for its bands and Whit Friday, the March contests that bring the whole area to a standstill.  Imagine what it was like then, for one of the most famous band clubs in the world to host the newly crowned Norwegian Champions, Eikanger-Bjørsvik Musikklag? 

With band concerts in the area almost on a weekly basis, Saddleworth people know their bands and appreciate the performances they hear, but what they got here was something they would remember for a long, long time. 

The band has performed on previous UK visits in the area including the aforementioned Whit Friday March contests, and this was another night those present wouldn't forget. The programme was fairly typical of those that the band likes to present in Norway on a regular basis, and was top-and-tailed with two classics of the banding repertoire.

Eric Ball's ‘Tournament for Brass' opened the concert and within the opening ‘Trios and Duets', it was clear that the band was in cracking form.

The middle movement ('Solos') was one of those moments where time just stood still.  Some delightful ensemble playing was made even sweeter with the sound of Jane Westervik on principal cornet and Tormod Flaten on euphonium and by the conclusion of the third movement, the audience was in the palm of the band's hand.

In 2003, the band released the highly acclaimed CD, ‘The Art of the States' that was short-listed for 4BR's CD of the Year.  This visit has seen the band once again in recording mode.  ‘Tales and Stories' (although the title may change) is due for release in June and will feature music with a Balkan flavour to it and some fine soloists.

The band chose to feature a number of those fine soloists on the night (and why not when you've got the quality Eikanger have) and the first was Monica Reigstad on tenor horn. Monica performed Philip Sparke's ‘Aria' and produced a lovely warm sound and refined controlled, aided by some excellent band accompaniment.

The next soloist Tormod Flaten, needed no introduction.  The euphonium star is one of the world's finest exponents of his instrument, and left the audience speechless. Tormod has also been recording parts of a solo CD this week (hopefully available later this year) and he whetted the appetite with a mind-blowing performance of ‘Fantasie Orignale' by Picchi arranged by Margaret Antrobus.

As with other great soloists, it was never a question of ‘Will he – won't he?' when it came to the technical hurdles set for him within the piece.  It was all about the subtleties of the music, and his interpretation of it, that took the breath away. 

The bass section can sometimes be forgotten when it comes to solo features, but not on this occasion.  They stepped forward to give a fun interpretation of the Neil Sedaka classic ‘Breaking up is hard to do', before the final soloist of the first half was featured.

Flugel horn player Henning Anundsen was featured in the popular ‘Children of Sanchez' arranged by the conductor.  Once again, Henning matched the standard of the soloists heard earlier with a compelling rendition that earned Chuck Mangione a second Grammy award.

The first half concluded with music that demonstrates the band's versatility in ‘Balkan Moods'. Eikanger always pride themselves in their concert programmes and when attending the SIDDIS competition (the Norwegian version of Brass in Concert) the band likes to present a programme of new music. This was such a piece, and it brought things to a rousing mid term break.

The second half featured three pieces from the band's SIDDIS programme last year.  ‘Art & Fun', ‘Graceful Ghost' and ‘Green Hornet' all had a sense of fun about them and were performed without any trouble and liquid facilty.

Trombone player, Grethe Tonheim was the final soloist of the night in the Gershwin classic ‘Someone to Watch over Me' arranged by Svein Giske.  It doesn't matter where you look round this band it has talent all around the stand as Grethe showed during her performance, which was never less than outstanding.

The music ‘Unisons' is part of a suite by the Bulgarian composer Alperin and has been featured by the band at SIDDIS competition.  Once again, the band gave a demonstration as to why they are one of the best bands around with its quality of performance.

Reciprocal presentations were made between the band and their hosts during the night and you sensed that it wouldn't be too long before all meet up again.

The band finished its official programme with Dean Goffin's Rhapsodic Variations ‘My Strength, My Tower'.  This music from the Salvation Army repertoire was as compelling as the opening ‘Tournament for Brass' and had its spine-tingling moments and the highlight was the delightful arabesque section towards the end with some delightful cornet and euphonium work.

No one was leaving without hearing more and two contrasting encores were given.  Firstly, ‘Buchiminis', and secondly, music from then pen of the Bergen-born, Edvard Grieg, entitled ‘Takk'.

This personally was a humbling experience to be in the presence of great musicians whose quality of performance at times was exceptional.  You can listen to any number of CDs, read reviews, but when you hear Eikanger live, the realisation of how good this band is, hits home. 

With the invitation in recent years of bands outside the British Isles to compete at the British Open, it does cross the mind how long it will be before they will be invited to compete at the most prestigious contest in the world of banding?

The band went from Dobcross to Halesworth in Suffolk, where they would perform on Easter Day under the direction of the band's musical advisor, Elgar Howarth.  Anyone present, if this concert was anything to go by, would have had an absolute treat.

Congratulations to Phil Beck for arranging for the band to perform in Saddleworth.  To the band, ‘Takk' – thank you.   Thank you for a memorable musical experience and hopefully you'll be back in the UK very soon.

Malcolm Wood.