From 28 April - 1 May, Brass Bands England (BBE) brought the European Brass Band Championships back to the UK as part of a wider festival of banding, with an awe inspiring ‘boom’ that projected brass bands far into the public sphere. The contest saw the Cory Band from Wales retain the European Championship title it won when the event was last held in 2019, with Brass Band Regensburg (Germany) winning the Challenge section. Youth winners were Catch Basin Brass Band (Austria) and Wardle Academy Youth Band (England).
Throughout the Festival, an Arts Council England National Lottery Project-funded outside stage on Centenary Square saw an audience of thousands hear music across the whole spectrum of brass banding, with the fitting tagline #ThisIsBanding introducing the artform to a new audience. In fact, 78% of survey respondents from the Outdoor Festival were first timers at a brass banding event and 78% of those who attended also said they were now more likely to attend a brass band event in future.
The event saw significant exposure for brass bands, being covered by the BBC twice over the weekend, as well as featuring on the Your West Midlands (Birmingham local television) channel. Seven digital billboards dotted at key points around the city also ensured that the event couldn’t be missed by visitors or local residents.
A Modern Triumph
The chosen set test-piece, Philip Wilby’s newly composed Saints Triumphant, looks set to become an instant modern classic, keeping audiences entertained all day and giving Cory Band an early lead in the competition on Saturday. The piece, inspired by the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams, celebrates 150 years since the composer's birth and was partly funded by the RVW Trust. The final chords spelling out the rhythm of the composer’s initials sent spines tingling inside the virtually sold out Symphony Hall.
The Festival opened with performances on the Arts Council England and Besson-sponsored #ThisisBanding stage, with performances from a range of groups from beginner to professional running throughout the weekend.
The first inside performance took the shape of a Prelude Concert featuring the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Collingwood, with solo performances from trombonist Brett Baker alongside a daytime workshop with 700 brass students from schools in Birmingham getting to play along with the Marines to music they have been learning in their school lessons.
On Friday evening, Grimethorpe Colliery Band had the honour of playing three outstanding new works for brass band by composers Thibaut Bruniaux, Théo Rossier and Andy Wareham, with Théo eventually being crowned the deserving winner in a close-run European Composers’ Competition.
The competitive banding events began on Saturday morning with the European Youth Contest featuring six bands performing in the Development Section and two in the Premier Section.
After Saturday afternoon’s Championship Test-piece competition, four bands formed Sunday morning’s Challenge Section in performing both an own-choice work and the set test, Variations for Brass Band by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Brass Band Regensburg finding its way to the winner’s podium.
The competitions concluded with the competitive highlight of the weekend, the Championship Section Own-Choice, which brought together a world premiere in addition to many much-loved test works from composers both old and new.
The performance of a generation
The culmination of the weekend’s events was the Gala Concert - a collaboration between Cory Band and Louis Doudeswell, brought together by BBE, with a full newly arranged score by Callum Au that mixed brass band and big band classics alongside signature arrangements. This performance was headlined as the ‘most innovative and engaging performance in a generation’ and could even be seen as a turning point for brass bands as a form of public entertainment.
The audience were then treated to a bonus performance from Louis’ Big Band in the newly refurbished and extended Symphony Hall foyer for the weekend’s concluding ‘players’ party’, with much dancing and merriment going on well into the bank holiday night…!
BBE organisational team
The weekend was presented by the team at BBE, whose staff and volunteers kept the event running smoothly inside and out, leading cornet virtuoso and Besson Artist, Roger Webster, to comment: “Brilliant music, great playing, stunning venue and sunshine! Bravo BBE for your organisation. We were never far from a BBE representative who were so helpful throughout!” The cooperation band from Scotland added: “Just want to say thank you for hosting the best ‘Europeans’ we’ve been to. Your team was helpful and supportive to everyone. Nothing was too much… Thanks again from everyone at the co!”
BBE CEO Kenny Crookston commented: "Everyone at Brass Bands England is delighted at the success of the European Brass Band Festival in Birmingham. From the first notes of Thursday’s amazing education event with the Band of HM Royal Marines to the final flourish from Cory Band and Louis Dowdeswell’s Big Band late on Sunday night, performances were all of the highest standards, while audience reactions were simply sensational. Our staff and volunteer team worked tirelessly throughout the event and we are very pleased that public feedback to their work has been universally positive. I would like to thank every one of them for their commitment and excellence throughout the 17 months of the project, and the European Brass Band Association both for collaborating so positively and for showing faith in BBE to host the event in such challenging circumstances."
He added: “This Festival was about much more than what happened in Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall, however. The outdoor stage on Centenary Square attracted large and enthusiastic audiences throughout the weekend, and this type of outreach is vital in letting the world know that brass bands are thriving in a progressive and dynamic way that will make us more relevant to diverse communities than ever. None of this could have been achieved without outstanding contributions from Arts Council England's National Lottery Project Grant scheme, Birmingham City Council and the event's various sponsors, including Besson which supported the outdoor event. We are extremely grateful to them all, and to the audience members whose attendance will contribute to a vibrant future for brass bands in the years ahead."
Images can be downloaded here.
European Composers Competition
1st prize: Théo Rossier
2nd prize: Andy Wareham
3rd prize: Thibaut Bruniaux
Audience prize: Thibaut Bruniaux
Band prize: Thibaut Bruniaux
European Youth Brass Band Contest
1st prize: Wardle Academy Youth Band (England)
2nd prize: Smørås Skolemusikk (Norway)
3rd prize: Elland Silver Youth Brass Band (England)
Best soloist: Adam Warburton, Trombone (Wardle Academy Youth Band)
1st prize: Catch Basin Brass Band (Austria)
2nd prize: Youth Brass 2000 (England)
Best soloist: Philip Schönweger, Soprano Cornet (Catch Basin Brass Band)
1st prize: Brass Band Regensburg (Germany)
2nd prize: Brassband Überetsch (Italy)
3rd prize: Hebden Bridge Band (England)
Best soloist: Bethan Plant, Solo Cornet (Hebden Bridge Band)
1st prize: Cory Band (Wales)
2nd prize: Valaisia Brass Band (Switzerland)
3rd prize: Foden’s Band (England)
4th prize: Tredegar Band (Wales)
5th prize: Stavanger Brass Band (Norway)
Best soloist: Will Norman, Flugel (Tredegar Band)