In the Belgian and Dutch provinces of Limburg (Belgian-Limburg and Dutch-Limburg), every town and every village, even the smallest ones, have their own village band. But almost of all them are either "fanfare bands" or "harmony bands" (=wind orchestras). As it happened, two of the few british-style brass bands in this area both had a concert in the same weekend. A review...
Noord-Limburgse Brass Band, Eksel, Saturday May 20th 2006
On Saturday the Belgian "Noord-Limburgse Brass Band", a 1st section band made up of players from all over the North of Belgian-Limburg, organised its yearly spring concert in their hometown of Eksel. The band is conducted by the inspiring Ivan Meylemans. It's always a joy for the audience to see Ivan's energetic style of conducting.
The band opened the concert with Firework, an opening fanfare composed by Jan Van der Roost. After that followed Philip Sparke's very enjoyable Music for a Festival, which went down very well with the audience. The third piece was the beautiful Choral of Hope by Johan Evenepoel. Then it was time for the most challenging piece of music for the evening: Martin Ellerby's Chivalry. The band hadn't been practising this piece for very long, and it will need some more finetuning before it can be used on a contest stage, but they certainly didn't shame themselves. The first part of the concert was concluded with some film music: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The program after the break was a bit "lighter". The band started with Bill Olaver's SA piece "Make his Praise Glorious" (one of those SA with a steady rock beat...), followed by the euphonium duet "Softly as I Leave You" by Alan Catherall. For this, the band's principal euphonium Bart Drees was joined by the recently signed new 2nd euphonium, René Hindrikx. Next on the programma was "Countryside and Common People" by Alan Fernie, another piece that was very popular with the audience. From the movie Braveheart, the band played beautiful arrangement of "For the Love of a Princess" (with a beautiful flugel solo by Steven Schuurmans). Also the Tenor horns were given an opportunity to show off: they played Roy Newsome's tenor horn trio "Hat Trick". The concert was concluded with a medley of Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke", "The Ketchup song" (with kazoos, a little wink to the Eurovision song contest) and Caravan (Duke Ellington).
Of course the audience wasn't satisfied with this, so they asked for two more pieces: a hymn from the red book (sorry, I don't know which one...) and T.J. Powell's classic march "The Contestor". A really excellent concert by an excellent band. They were national 1st section champions last year,a nd with a couple of new signings since then, they seem to have improved themselves even more. If they can keep this level up, they make a real good chance of promotion to the championship section next year. A section that they should have been for a couple of years already, according to some people...
Brass Band Limburg, Thorn, May 21st 2006
One day later it was time to make a short trip accross the border, to the brand new and magnificent store of Adams Musical Instruments in Thorn (NL). Adams is one of the biggest suppliers of wind and percussion instruments in the Benelux, and they regularly organise concerts and other events to promote wind and brass music. Today, they organised a concert of Brass Band Limburg, to celbrate the band's 25th anniversary,a nd for the occasion, two exceptional euphonium players, Steven mead and Stef Pillaert, were invited to join the band and the bands own euphonium star, Renato Meli. For this reason, the concert was callled "The Three tenors".
Brass Band Limburg is mainly made up of Dutch players, but also a couple of Belgians. Also their conductor is Belgian: noone less then Frans Violet, also conductor of European Champions Brass Band Willebroek.
After the opening piece, John Williams' "The Olympic Spirit", the first euphonium solo was played by Rento Meli. He played "Mr. Euphonium" by Swiss composer Bertrand Moren. After that, the band took on the challenge of "Journey to the Centre of the Earth", the piece that brought so many success to Frans Violet at the Belgian nationals and teh European Championships - with Willebroek of course. And while Brass band limburg certainly is no Willebroek or Black Dyke, they certainly gave a fine showing of the piece.
The second solo item was played by Belgian Stef Pillaert (solo euphonium of BB Willebroek). He played 'Walking on Music" - maube not very known, but very beautiful, composed by Stef's compatriot Roger Derongé. The band plyed on other item - frode Anlaes' "Vitae Lux" (arranged by Torstein Aagard-Nielsen), and then it was time for the first appearance of the third tenor, Steven Mead. he played Norman Beachcroft's "The Better World", a piece that's 25 year old - yust like the band on stage. The first half of the program was concluded by Duke Ellington's "Caravan" (wait a minute - hadn't I heard that before somewhere? )
In the afternoon before the concert, Steven mead gave a workshop (or "clinic" as some would say...) in the Adams store to some 30 local euphonium players. As a gimmick, these 30 players opened the second half of the concert with a piece conducted by Steven Mead himself. After that, the band got back on stage, starting with William Rimmer's "Ravenswood", another classic march. As his second solo item, Stef Pillaert played the Briccialdi version of "Carnaval of Venice". This version of CoV was arranged for brass band by Frank Bernaerts - but it certainly isn't like any other piece in the Bernaerts catalog! It's the same version that is featured on the EBBC2002 highlights CD. The audience went crazy.
After this briiliant display of technique and musicality, the band played a version of "Gaelforce" that perhaps could have used a bit more practise. But no worries, it was time again for Steven Mead to take the stage. The piece he brought were "Slavische Fantasie" (Carl Höhne / arr. Peter Graham) and "Pokarekare Ana" (Tomoana / arr. Luc Vertommen; from his latest CD "Euphonium Virtuoso"). It has to be said, Steven was obviously in good shape and he really seemed to enjoy him during the concert. The evening was officially ended with the Klaas van der Woude arrangement of "Hello Dolly" (including the singing part), but of course the band had studied one more piece of music, a euphonium trio for the three superstars of the evening: Steven Mead, Stef Pillaert and Renato Meli.
After a short chat with the members of the band at the bar,a nd after getting a autographed CD from Steven Mead we went home, a bit tired but very satisfaid. There may not be an overwhelming number of brass bands in the area where I live, but the ones we have, can certainly stand up to the competition!