Festival / The Festival


Chris Jeans reports from a thrilling event in the Valley of the Kings


The weekend of the 7-9 June saw the 28th French Open Brass Band Championships take place in the beautiful Amboise, the City of Kings on the Loire Valley, where six bands battled for the prestigious title. As usual, the locals were out in force to show their passion for music, and the competing bands appreciated their obvious enthusiasm and encouragement.


Amboise is both stunning and pretty, with a medieval feeling to it, and has more to offer than just any brass band competition, and what a great place for a brass band contest. The driving force behind this initiative from its conception is Jacques Gaudet, President of the Association Des Amis Du Brass Band, and ably assisted by Pascal Caraty who is director of the Amboise music school. Sadly, after 28 years of extremely hard work organising this wonderful event both Jacques and Pascal have decided it is time to retire. We will all miss all their hard work, however the contest will still keep moving forward under the new president Mme Veronique Lebrun. 


As tradition the festival begins with a welcoming party where everyone can meet each other and have a few light refreshments before the draw and the entertainment commences performed by the Thurlstone Band conducted by Graham Bates from the UK. 


On the Saturday morning, all the bands made their way to the attractive Beaumarchais Theatre, eager to all the bands playing in the main competition. All of the bands gave their best performances, judged by myself as the President of the jury, Laurent Douvre and Peter Collins.


Each band played a varied programme of 25 minutes, which included a set test-piece. The chosen test pieces were Bruce Broughton’s Heroes (Championship Section), Edward Gregson’s Plantagenets (2nd Section), Philip Sparke’s A Celtic Suite (3rd Section) and Alan Fernie’s Anglian Dances (4th Section/Youth Section). 


In the afternoon all the bands performed in front of the chateau d’ Amboise in order to compete in the march section of the championships. The bands played their own choice of marches to adjudicator Pete Collins and encouraged by an enthusiastic crowd on a boiling hot afternoon. The Flowers Band conducted by Paul Holland emerged as the winners with a performance of William Rimmer’s The Cossack delivered some superb playing that was totally controlled throughout with plenty of space to allow the music to breath earning the band a cheque for 200 Euros.


Aeolus Band conducted by Benoit Fourreau also delivered an impressive performance with lots of musical detail and a very controlled tempo throughout in Julius Fuocik’s Entry of the Gladiators scooping the runner up accolade prize of 150 Euros.


Third place with 100 Euros was awarded to the Brass Band de la Vienne conducted by Mathias Charton who delivered some very good ensemble playing in a performance with well observed directions and a reliable pulse of William Rimmer’s The Cross of Honour march, with A Tours de Brass Band from France under the directed of Stephane Balzeau taking fourth place with Clive Barraclough’s Simoraine, delivering some confident playing with sonorous band sounds.


The bands then moved to Parking Tour Heurtault where a 25 minute entertainment programme was given. The prize for the most entertaining band went to Brass Band de la Vienne and the prize for the best open-air soloist was awarded to Aurore Prieur for some super playing in the Harry James Trumpet Concerto. What a day, fantastic music, breath-taking soloists, fabulous performances and a great atmosphere made sure that everyone had a thoroughly enjoyable day. The streets were packed from start to finish and provided an excellent opportunity for the bands and audience to socialise as well as perform.


The traditional closing Gala Concert took place in Claude Menard Hall this year featured ‘The Flowers Band’ under the wonderful direction of musical director Paul Holland. The concert hall was completely packed to capacity at 8pm, ready for the 9pm start. The first half of the 28th French Open Gala concert opened with the band performing Paul Lovatt-Coopers’ Home of Legends. The music opened featuring Luke Barker off stage and magnificent playing from this wonderful band. The Flowers Band were certainly in full flow right from the outset. Then we were all treated to some of the finest playing of the weekend, featuring the wonderfully controlled playing from soprano supremo Paul Richards in Peter Graham’s Flowerdale from Hymn of the Highlands. The band was also so reflective in their subtle accompaniment. It was then movie time as the band performed


The Incredibles by Michael Giacchino and skilfully arranged by Philip Harper that had so much fun in delivery and was well received by the Amboise audience. We were then treated to some gorgeous playing by flugelhorn player Lauren Chinn performing Magah Seola composed by Gerald Fahy and arranged by Sandy Smith. This was delivered with so much ease throughout the range, with a lovely lyrical style and so well controlled. 


The band ended their programme with pieces Pall Mall by Jonathan Bates, Mayfair (An Evening in Town) composed by Eric Coates and arranged by Paul Saggers and Go to Jail! composed by Christian Overhead, which was taken from their cleverly inspired 2021 Brass in Concert innovative ‘Monopoly’ set. After a quick ‘Go!’ start there were neatly observed and lots of choreographed moments. What a super set to end the half of the programme, simply stunning stuff from this wonderful ensemble. 


It was now just after 10.30pm and at the award ceremony it was The Flowers Band under the direction of Paul Holland that managed to flourish in the set work of Bruce Broughton’s Heroes. So. the newly crowned 2024 French Open Champions collected 1000 Euros of prize money, and an invitation to compete in next year’s championships. The adjudicators agreed that The Flowers Band clearly showed themselves as the best band on the day. Their performance of the set test piece was simply amazing, like going into orbit, a statement echoed by the all members of the jury. There were many immense solo contributions throughout the performance in particularly Luke Barker on principal cornet, Lauren Chinn on flugelhorn, Emily Evans on tenor horn, Matt Rowe on baritone, Chris Thomas on trombone and Daniel Thomas on euphonium that was so beautifully with so much elegance and lovely lyrical phrasing in the music that was performed faultlessly with complete ease throughout all the solo passages. Daniel also scooped up the solo prize for the most outstanding soloist of the day performing the last movement of a new work by Vladimir Cosma, which had so much brilliance in execution and unbelievable technique that earnt him the outstanding soloist of the day, picking up a cheque for 200 Euros.


The Flowers Band contest programme opened superbly with Stephen Bulla’s Into the Sky, that was so stylish right from the outset and the articulation was so clear and so much attention to detail. The Aeolus Band conducted by Benoit Fourreau from France was so refined in the delivery of a very stylish Colas Breugnon and also had much to admire in Goff Richards euphonium solo ’Pilatus’. The set work was delivered to a really good standard and attention to detail, scooping the runner up prize. In the 2nd Section A Tours de Brass from France under the directed of Stephane Balzeau took the honours being the only entry, however was one of the more accomplished performances of the day. Their programme opened with the two movements from Gareth Wood’s Brass Triumphant, which had so much drive and energy. Then the set work Edward Gregson’s The Plantagenets that had so much character a good understanding of the style of the music. Then to close the set with Astor Piazzola’s Libertango. There was also just a sole entry in the 3rd section and this was won by Brass Band de la Vienne conducted by Mathias Charlton. There programme was well executed in the set work A Celtic Suite by Philip Sparke. Some beautiful lyrical playing in Vadimir Cosma’s euphonium concerto and closed the programme with a spirited performance of Oregon by Jacob de Haan. In the 4th/Youth Section the winners Brass Band du CRR de Tours under the direction of David Hubert claimed the title with excellent clarity of detail and good ensemble playing in Goff Richard’s Fanfare for a New Age, then featuring their flugelhorn soloist in Astor Pizzolla’s Libertango  and closed their set with the set work Alan Fernie’s Anglian Dances, delivering a well presented programme with good intonation on show.  There was plenty of local cheer for runners up the Thurstone Band under the direction of Graham Bates. The band opened with Ray Woodfield’s Walkabout and then producing a fine performance with the flugel horn solo Magh Seola composed by Gerard Fahy and the set work Alan Fernie’s Anglian Dances. Despite there only being six bands in the competition it was still a very memorable occasion. 


After the excitement died down it was the Flowers Band back on stage to entertain with the “Grand-daddy” of all Spanish marches Amparito composed by Jamie Texidor and arranged by Aubrey Winter, which was delivered with so much panache from this wonderfully drilled ensemble. The next soloist was solo baritone player Matt Rowe to perform Herman Bellstedt’s Napoli arranged by Geoffrey Brand that was performed with so much ease and brought the house down. Next up as announced some French cheese in an everyone’s favourite a ABBA goes Brass set arranged by Alan Fernie, which went down a treat with the Amboise audience. The final soloist of the evening was principal trombone player Chris Thomas who amazed the audience with Arthur Pryor’s Blue Bells of Scotland, great to hear one of the old favourites. Chris oozed confidence and plays with so much ease throughout the range. He demonstrated great flowing lyrical legato playing, exceptional technique, flexibility and super fast articulation.


What an impressive virtuoso on the instrument, this was top draw stuff from one of the finest exponents of the trombone in the brass band movement. The band then changed the mood as they performed What Sweeter Music composed by John Rutter and what a beautiful arranged by Luc Vertommen, with MD Paul Holland drawing out so much warm tonality from the band to compliment the literate phrasing.


Flowers then conclude their programme with the finale from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. The performance erupted with a fortissimo explosion and had so much energy and excitement creating a carnival atmosphere.




What a buoyant final piece and wonderful programme.


This was then followed by two encore Bright Lights Big City and Bach’s Toccata in D Minor, which not surprisingly led to a standing ovation. At well-gone midnight the band left the audience buzzing and wanting even more.


Musical Director Paul Holland was also delighted by his band’s efforts: It said a great deal about the commitment that after leaving early on Thursday morning and getting to Amboise on Friday afternoon the band was still able to produce top class performances on every occasion.


It was a great weekend, even if it was a bit exhausting, and our thanks go to everyone involved in the organisation of the French Open for making it such a memorable trip.


With the main contest now over, we could now just sit back and enjoy the entertainment on the Sunday morning as A Tours de Brass Band from France treated us to some excellent music making. After the excitement had died down, there is no doubt that Sunday afternoon seemed very calm in Amboise.


Many people I interviewed expressed their pleasure and their attachment to the event. Indeed, many music lovers book the date from one year to the next to spend a musical weekend in Amboise. We are already making plans with the new President of the organisation for the 29th French Open Brass Band Championships held over the weekend 23-25 May 2025.
A weekend not to be missed!