The B Grade at the Melbourne Nationals is set to be a close contest. There are 13 very strong bands competing, plus there will be a new National champion, as the 2015 & 2016 champions Boroondara Brass move up to A Grade. It has been really tough to pick a winner, or even a top 3 from an extensive but formidable list of contenders.
In the last handful of years, we have rarely seen a whitewash of all four of the on stage categories, and the contests have always been close, so every piece is of significant importance. As a usual B Grade competitor with Northern Brass, I am looking forward to seeing how the B Grade pans out. There's even a little of my own Brass Band music being played so keep your eyes peeled for my name!
Test Piece - 'The Snaring of the Sun' by Stephen Roberts
In my opinion, this is a perfect challenge for the B Grade contenders. Written for the 2nd Section National (UK) Finals in 2015, 'The Snaring of the Sun' should challenge and excite the Australian B Grade, with challenges both for soloists and the ensemble as a whole. Plenty of room for bands to show off their musicality, as well as some finicky technical challenges. Compared to last year's 'Penlee' by Simon Dobson, the bands should be pushed into new challenges with this work, and a band that can draw out the various characters from the work will do very well.
I believe the deciding factor for this test piece will be the quieter dynamic playing, and maintaining the musical intensity. I do not envy the B Grade Soprano cornetists or Eb Bass soloists, both facing very high and exposed passages. I commend the Music Advisory Board for a very exciting, but challenging, selection.
It is very difficult to pick a definitive winner, or even a top 3, for the test piece, as it will ultimately come down to interpretation of the music and how the various soloists handle the pressure. I'm leaning towards, in no particular order, Cairns, Marion and Geelong West as my top three, based only on their recent form, but it is truly anyone's title for the taking.
13 fantastic B Grade ensembles should lead to a brilliant competition. Cairns Brass are in red hot form, having placed in all of the 4 on stage categories at the 2017 National Championships. Marion City also placed at last year's Nationals and have been in red hot form at a State and National level.
Geelong West, Dandenong, Northern, Maroondah and Box Hill all enjoy a home state advantage. Also in the mix are chuffed 2017 NSW State Champions Parramatta, who will be looking to enjoy further victory. Toronto Brass, who placed last in the B Grade at last year's Nationals and failed to retain their NSW State title, will be hungry for a good result which I am certain they are capable of producing. Also in the mix are the Western Australian Canning City Brass, who last competed at a National level in 2013, where they won the B Grade section. Coming down from Queensland are Brisbane Brass 2 and Surfers Paradise, who placed 1st and 2nd respectively at the 2017 Queensland State Championships after competing over Fletcher's test work "Labour and Love". They will also be joined by Townsville Brass, who haven't competed since 2015.
I think that, like last year, a superb own choice performance could guarantee victory of the entire weekend. Boroondara's performance of 'Hannibal' last year was arguably the best played piece of music all weekend, even in comparison to the A Grade section, and blew everyone's socks off. If a band could do that again, surely the National title would be theirs!
So here are my predicted top 5:
1) Marion City
3) Geelong West
Wild Cards: Parramatta, Canning, Brisbane Brass 2, Northern Brass
Do you agree with my predictions? Let me know in the comments below!
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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.