Eikanger-Bjørsvik Musikklag


Conductor: Bjarte Engeset
Love Stories
Grieg Hall Foyer
Sunday 2nd April

EikangerEikanger-Bjørsvik took a break from its preparations for the forthcoming European Championships by presenting the third of their four major concerts this season on Sunday evening to a larger than average audience (certainly in Norwegian brass band concert terms) in the well presented setting of the upper floor of the Foyer in the Grieg Hall, Bergen. 

This is a venue regularly used for mini concerts by the Bergen Philharmonic and the Bergen Professional Army Band.  Unlike our very top bands who are regularly ‘out doing concerts' where they have been employed by a promoter or band to appear and are paid a fee for this, the top bands in Norway (Eikanger included) rely very much on self- promotion to get both concert exposure and to raise funds for things like their trip to the European in Belfast coming up at the end of this month. 

In this situation of self-promotion, Eikanger have proven themselves to be one of the best, certainly the most innovative and busy of all the bands in Norway for at least the last 20 years that I am aware of.  Their thought process, innovation and preparation for this concert was as good as any and in some people's opinion (on the night) their best yet.

So, what was innovative about this 1½ hour Brass Band concert?  Their conductor for the evening, the eminent Orchestral conductor, Bjarte Engeset chose the theme of ‘Love Stories' - in fact it was only one story.  The greatest love story of them all - Romeo & Juliet, which on the night was told in two different ways and using only two pieces of music.

In the first half, this brilliant band and conductor along with the compere Cecilie Løken treated us to a heart rendering performance of Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Suite.  It was a little unusual to listen to at times as the piece had in fact been arranged by four different people (Paul Archibald and band members Svein Henrik Giske, Frode Rydland and Reid Gilje) with, of course, different ideas of scoring and not always following on in the expected key.  This was only a very small negative and for most it was not even apparent.  The 10 movements were linked together extremely well by Cecilie reading from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet text which also helped the audience to follow the story as they listened to the music. 

Conducted with great musical feeling and space, it was no surprise to find out later that Bjarte had conducted this music many times before with orchestras.  This was a band in absolute top form led admirably from the front by their redoubtable Principal Cornet Jane Westervik.  The ensemble was always very tight and the music flowed out of both band and conductor.  The full sounding (and well tuned) Horn/Baritone & Euphonium group was a joy to hear and the Flugel playing of Henning Anundsen was right up there with the very best of British ‘silky- sounding' musical players like Iwan Williams, Neil Hewsom and Helen Fox. 

The standard of this ensemble never ceases to amaze me and their ability to produce the moods and sounds as close to the original as possible, was evident for all to hear.  This was a mighty first half to the programme which was performed at such a high level that everyone just couldn't wait for the second half to start.

The second half took the Romeo & Juliet story from Verona in the 1500s as written by Shakespeare and the 1930s Ballet Music of Prokofiev to the streets of 1950s New York and Leonard Bernstein's vibrant West Side Story.  The band played my arrangement of Symphonic Dances from West Side Story - a 23 minute non-stop direct transcription of Leonard Bernstein's score of the same name.  It was only the third performance ever of this arrangement, with the other two performances played by Radøy Brass conducted by myself.  This was to be a thrill for me to just sit and listen to my arrangement being played by one of the best bands around and they did not disappoint.

A totally different style of music from the Prokofiev that we heard in the first half and both band and conductor immediately ‘got in the mood' and produced a massive performance of this very difficult arrangement.  The percussion group of Craig Farr, Stine Herland, Andreas Lien Røe and Espen Haukås were kept busy in both halves of the concert and performed with exuberance (but with a great feeling of balance against the band) and with a lot of musicality too. 

The Basses were sublime and the Trombones led by Grethe Tonheim - well, what can I say that hasn't already been said, these are among the best around.  A special mention here, for Monica Vabø Reigstad for her absolutely wonderful Horn Solo in ‘Somewhere'.  Of course, with this type of programme, there are bound to be some ‘fatalities'.  Like most times, because of the amount of exposure the cornet group gets and the effect such a programme has on the lips, it is normally there that you get the most slips, with tonight being no exception.  Frode Rydland was almost imperious on Sop and the rest of the group performed more than admirably and the little splits and splats that were there did nothing to detract from the tremendous effort required to perform these two massive pieces.

This was a band in absolute ‘top form' again trying to move the boundaries of brass banding with innovation, preparation, practice (they did 6 hours on Saturday!), presentation and performance.  If they play close to this form at the European, watch out.  This could be the year when the trophy finds its way back to Knarvik and the Band's brilliant new bandroom consisting of large rehearsal room, offices, kitchen and sitting rooms.  There are plans for extending the property in the near future to accommodate individual rehearsal facilities.

Gareth Pritchard