2013 British Open Championships

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 13 September 2013


On Saturday 7th September Foden's Band competed at the 'British Open Championships' held at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham as reigning Champions.
The contest attracts 17 of the best brass bands in Britain and is regarded (along with the National Finals held at the Royal Albert Hall) as one of the most major and prestige Brass Band contest in the world.
This year each band had to perform the 'set test piece' entitled 'Arabian Nights' by Stephen Roberts. The piece was based on Rimsky Korsakov's 'Scheherazade'.
This is what the composer says about the Test Piece :
'I am sure the orchestral suite Scheherazade is well known to most of the audience. The original is some 45 minutes long, but test pieces are usually no more than 15 minutes. My brief was to compress Rimsky Korsakov’s ideas into a new work that would suit the brass band, highlight its unique characteristics, test the world’s best players and provide engaging entertainment for the audience!
In order to try and do this I have used some of my own ideas to bind Rimsky’s themes together and give the piece a satisfactory overall shape, rather than just recreating a medley of tunes. Thus the work opens with the Sultan’s theme in band unison but this is immediately answered by a section of swirling fast notes that transport us to the shifting sands of the Arabian desert. Percussion solos arise like wisps of smoke from a genie’s bottle and the stage is set for our journey through the mysterious orient.
A fiendish euphonium duet arises from this haze and the timpani summon dark clouds with a battle call. The ensuing chorale leads us into Scheherazade’s theme, played on solo cornet and euphonium, while exotic percussion sounds perfume the air with caressing arpeggios.
The Lovers’ theme follows, first sounded over the rise and fall of the accompaniment of the sea (found in Sinbad’s theme) and solo instruments respond with expressive and decorative arabesques.

This scene is interrupted by a solo trombone and a whirling Dervish dance ensues (later on it will return as the victory celebration) which features each of the solo cornets in turn.
The solo flugelhorn starts another dance accompanied by Eastern percussion (including the Darbuka drum) with mysterious overtones on high muted cornets. The cornet section answers by intensifying the tempo and then a tranquil passage of expressive lyricism follows, in which the solo cornet ascends to a high D at the conclusion of a melismatic cadenza. This is not for the faint-hearted!
Things get heated now, as battle signals are exchanged between trombones and an offstage muted cornet. Alarm bells sound and tom-toms beat their combat rhythms. Now it is time for the warriors to display their prowess. The first whirling Devish up is the solo trombone. A fearsome passage covers the whole range of the instrument in a particularly unfriendly key (what a show-off!). Next comes a pair of horns who must play as one and display their acrobatics with fearless fluency. Last up is a pair of euphoniums who demonstrate the last word in daredevil sabre-rattling!
Now it is time to do battle and the bands must display their virtuosity in furious unison passagework, accompanied by thunderous percussion blows as no quarter is given. This is a fight to the death and those who haven’t oiled their valves will perish!
A joyful victory dance results and a solo tuba quartet show they can enjoy themselves too. It’s trebles all round!
Now the contest is warming up because the hardest is yet to come. The dancing gets more and more animated and eventually we arrive at the first climax of the piece as the Sultan’s theme returns above the sea music of Sinbad’s ship. This is a real test of stamina and intonation. Eventually the ship capsizes with a mighty dissonance and suddenly we are back to the shifting sands of the opening. A lonely solo horn restates the Sultan’s theme with plaintive longing and heralds a tender restatement of the Lovers’ theme. This gradually builds to the final climax marked ffff. Keep your hands near your ears if you have sensitive hearing – this could be loud!
Now it goes to the opposite extreme and no mutes are allowed – banding doesn’t get tougher than this! How quiet can the bands go?
Now we’re nearly there. It’s a race to the finish as the players ascend to their highest notes with the soprano instructed to hold the final note (a top E) just that little bit longer than everyone else (you know - like they do in big bands)! It’s a test to the very end.
I have tried to create something that is a real challenge to play, but is rewarding too. It is a small tribute to one of the great masterpieces of classical music, but is principally designed to highlight the colours and versatility of the brass band and be a salute to the players, conductors and organisers who spend so much time in dedication to their art.
The goal is produce a performance that combines musical personality, exemplary technique and impressive virtuosity – easy to say, but hard to do!             
Finally, good luck to all the bands and MDs and many thanks for all your hard hours of preparation. I do hope you all enjoy the day, whether listening or competing.'
Foden's played well after being drawn Number 13 and were placed 4th (being the highest placed English Band)
This result now takes Fodens from 3rd to 2nd in the World Rankings

Congratulations to Tredegar

1. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse), 8
2. Cory (Philip Harper), 16
3. Co-operative Funeralcare (Allan Ramsay), 14
4. Foden's (Allan Withington), 13
5. Fairey (Garry Cutt), 15
6. Black Dyke (Dr Nicholas Childs), 4
7. Kirkintilloch (David Roberts), 10
8. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Phillip McCann), 9
9. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof. David King), 5
10. Grimethorpe Colliery (Luc Vertommen), 2
11. Desford Colliery (Nigel Seaman), 17
12. Hepworth (Michael Fowles), 3
13. Milnrow (Mareika Gray), 7
14. Virtuosi GUS (John Berryman), 11
15. Leyland (Michael Bach), 6
16. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray), 12*
17. Seindorf Beaumaris (Gwyn M Evans), 1*

Foden's band maintains a world class reputation for providing entertainment in the field of brass music with a tradition and unique style Mark Wilkinson