On the edge of history

Issue 5946

Cory Band looks to make further history at the RAH on 8 October. All about the National Final and much more in the latest packed edition of BB!

NEW FRONTIERS: Italy set for inaugural ‘National’

Thursday 29 September, 2016

Since the first European Brass Band Championships in 1978, we have seen the growth of the brass band around the continent, resulting in a number of countries whose banding scenes now rival, and in many cases surpass, that of the UK in terms of organisational structure, playing standards and investment in youth development. In addition to these countries, a number of nations are now beginning to see a growth in their brass band movements, with an increasing number of ensembles being formed and interest in brass bands spreading within musical communities.

Italy is one such nation; there have been British-style brass bands there for around two decades, and the country has sent several representatives to compete in the Challenge Section (formerly B Section) of the European Brass Band Championships. However, brass bands have not, until now, started to become a country-wide phenomenon, but there are now individuals in Italy with the desire to promote the medium across the country. To this end, the Italian Brass Band Association (ABBI - Associazione Brassband Italiana) was formed in 2015, with Lito Fontana, the Argentinean trombone virtuoso, elected as its first President. I caught up with Lito to find out a little about how he became involved in the brass band world and his plans for the future of the genre in Italy.

RR: Lito, many thanks for talking to us. How did you first become involved in brass bands?

LF: I was born in Argentina, where I started playing the guitar, as there are still no real brass bands in the country (a situation I would love to see change!). After moving to Italy, I took up the trombone at the age of 13, but grew up playing in wind bands and small brass ensembles as the brass band scene in Italy was basically non-existent at the time. I studied at the Conservatorio Rossini in Pesaro, a town on the Adriatic coast, and then moved to Austria, where there is an incredible brass scene and where my love of brass bands really developed! 

RR: How did the brass band community in Italy evolve?

LF: The first British-style brass band in Italy to compete in the European Championships was Mitropa Brass Band, which finished second in the B Section in 1994. This was followed by Novodrate Brass Band’s participation in 2002. The first Italian champion of the B Section was Brass Band Frener-Reifer Pfeffersberg, which was founded in the South Tyrol region in 2000 and which won the contest in 2007 and '08. After this some more brass bands started to form, for example in Breschia, Sicily, Udine and Frosinone. We have had two further Italian champions - Brass Band Wipptal in 2014 and Italian Brass Band in 2015.

However, unfortunately, like in many countries at present, bands and musical ensembles in general have a problem with funding as the government seems to see the arts as the first thing to be axed when decisions about where to prioritise funding are made.

RR: What was your motivation to become involved in the Italian brass band movement?

LF: My simple goal was to develop brass band playing in Italy, and this is why I wanted to be involved with forming the Italian Brass Band Association. The country is very much focused on more ‘classical’ orchestral instruments and very few people have any idea what a brass band is - they think it’s a kind of small brass ensemble that only plays very traditional pieces featuring a tune, bass line and off-beats from the rest of the band! I wanted to change this idea and push the development of the brass band scene in the country by changing people’s perception of the medium.

RR: What successes have you seen so far in the development of banding in Italy?

LF: We have now had a number of different bands competing in the European Championships, and, as mentioned previously, some champions from among these, which is very encouraging. We have formed ABBI and have the first Italian National Brass Band Championships in October this year! 

RR: What are your plans for the future of brass banding in Italy and are you happy with the rate of development so far, especially in terms of Italian participation in the European Championships?

LF: My main aim is to popularise the brass band movement across the whole of Italy. Italian Brass Band played in the Challenge Section at the European Championships but my dream is for the band to participate in the Championship Section. However, this will take a lot of hard work and dedication. We need to be humble and listen and learn from countries with more developed brass band scenes (for example the UK, Norway and Switzerland) and adopt a temperament that will allow us to perform at the same level, instilling the professional mentality and discipline which I believe are the fundamentals of ensemble playing. I have had a wonderful time with Brass Band Oberösterreich as it had such great players and amazing work ethic - I want the same standards to apply in Italy!

We have four bands participating in the National Championships this year, but this number will increase every year as awareness of brass bands in Italy grows!


RR: You have talked about a lack of government funding for music in general in Italy, so what support have you received to allow these first National Championships to take place?

LF: Support has actually been incredible. The region of Marche has provided ABBI with funding and support, and the Mayor of the city of Ascoli Piceno has allowed us to use the incredible town theatre, with 700 seats, for free, which is extremely helpful. In addition to this, the local Chamber of Commerce in Ascoli Piceno has supported us by paying the three judges’ travel, accommodation and fees. The sponsors for the contest are Buffet Crampon/Besson, Schagerl and Yamaha, and without their invaluable support the contest simply would not happen! Ulf Rosenberg from EBBA is also coming to visit the contest and support, which is welcomed. 

Because of this support we have been able to allow bands to enter the contest for free, and the proceeds from the gala concert (featuring Ensemble de Cuivres from Switzerland, directed by Vincent Barino) will all go towards the funds to help victims of the August 2016 earthquake in Central Italy.

RR: Lito, it’s been fascinating talking to you about this growing brass band nation - many thanks for giving up your time and best of luck with the new event!