Now well and truly in love with modern brass band music, having attended the Australian Championships and watched the New Zealand Band Championships this year, I thought it was time to check out the best of the best at the European Brass Band Championships 2017 (EBBC). Although I couldn't watch the live stream due to work commitments, I did purchase the Championship Section Own Choice recordings, and it has inspired so much internal discussion, that I just had to share some of it with you! So below are six observations I made from the contest.
1) Australia is miles behind Europe.
The rankings have always disheartened me about how far Australia’s brass banding scene is from the rest of the world, but after listening to the EBBC, it became fairly apparent that the Championship section is miles ahead of the finest Australian bands. Despite Brisbane Excelsior cracking the top 50 in the latest band rankings, I think Australia still has a long way to go to reach the top. Will more contests shared by New Zealand and Australian bands push our Pacific banding to new levels, as seen at the New Zealand championships earlier this year?
2) "Destination Moon” is my new favourite brass band piece of all time.
Cory Band commissioned a work for the 2017 EBBC, and while it couldn’t bring them a first place finish, it sure made for a near faultless performance. I can’t find any record of composer Paul Raphael online, bar this new work “Destination Moon”. Raphael is a raconteur through his cinematic quality writing unlike any other brass band work I have ever heard. The solos are exquisite, the epic work never has a dull moment and Cory do a breathtaking job as always! I have so many questions about the composition (good questions!). It would be a dream to see "Destination Moon" performed live by Cory Band!
Edit: It has since been revealed that Paul Raphael was a pseudonym for Cory's conductor Philip Harper! No wonder I enjoyed the work so much!
3) Adjudicating and ranking bands is harder than it may first seem.
In response to some discussions online, I challenged myself to rank the 12 Championship Section bands’ Own Choices in order of precision and entertainment factor, and I couldn’t manage to distinguish between a number of bands. Bands like Cory, Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag and Valasia were key stand outs, but even distinguishing between the three of them is a nightmare in itself. How can one value one shaky note against another? To those who are critical of adjudications, I would suggest pulling out a series of performances from a single grade and attempting to rank them honestly in order of skill. Maybe then will the difficulty of adjudication become apparent.
4) Competitions like the EBBA are crucial to keeping banding alive by fostering new compositions.
Not only does the EBBA commission the test works, but five bands commissioned new works as their own choice. While many of these works are out of reach for the majority of brass bands, the competition is fostering more brass band music, which will in turn lead to lower grade works. At the Victorian State Championships this year, the set test work for B Grade “Trittico” by James Curnow was written for the 1988 European Championships, so it seems that these works will even foster future performances in lower grades, which is an exciting sign.
5) Philip Harper's observations after 2016's EBBC might be more truthful than I first realised.
Philip Harper, Musical Director of Cory Band, wrote a blog post which you can find here, where he commented on the quality of recent test pieces. Labelling some test work as displaying "musical thuggery and charlatanism", I first thought Philip Harper's comments might have been an exaggeration. However, after listening to some of the own choices from the EBBC, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, I too am starting to criticise the lack of compositional musicality in some upper grade works. I have heard works founded on unmusical prestissimo phrases that add nothing to the overall piece, or a complete lack of musical craft in the writing. As a young composer, I appreciate Philip Harper's observations, and will (hopefully!) avoid falling in the trap of letting the "difficulty factor" overrule the musicality of a composition.
6) Underdogs can always get up!
After nearly 30 years without success, Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag were named Champions of Europe, with their first place in the Own Choice securing a strong victory. Even in musical contests can the underdog rise up to triumph! Here's their performance of Thierre Deleruyelle's "Fraternity" from earlier this year.
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Jared loves to share his passion for music and artists through music reviews and commentaries. These include a selection of reviews written for community radio stations 3MBS and Radio Monash.