Alison Balsom on recording Satie, Piazzolla, Messiaen and Ravel – and her upcoming tour
The British trumpeter introduces her new album and upcoming tour
Alison Balsom's new recording is an eclectic mix of works by Satie, Piazzolla, Messiaen, Ravel and more. We catch up with her before her next tour of concerts.
How did your latest disc, Paris, evolve?
I wanted to collaborate with a non-classical musician and to do something that’s very different from what is expected from a classical trumpet player. Guy Barker is someone I have been a fan of all my musical life. We got to know each other and found that we had really similar tastes, both in jazz and classical music. We were talking about Gil Evans and Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown as much as we were talking about Stravinsky and Ravel and Messiaen. Even though we come from completely different worlds as trumpet players, we have a real mutual respect for what each other can do and recording together went from there. We recorded the album in a studio, which was quite different from what I’ve been used to in the past. And the fact that Guy and I arranged and orchestrated the whole thing became a common theme of the disc.
How did you decide what to include in the programme?
I've always had a fascination with Gil Evans and the way he transcribed Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez for Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain album. I wanted to explore that idea and I also wanted to record the second movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto just because I love it so much. And, of course, it has jazz influences. Working with Guy and his orchestra I could incorporate jazzy colours without changing much in the lines of the piece itself. These were the starting points and then we decided to do the shorter pieces, like Satie’s Gnossienne No. 3 and Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma’s Les Feuilles mortes (Autumn Leaves). We realised that a Parisian theme had developed organically so we called the album Paris.
What does the city mean to you?
I studied at the Conservatoire in my third year of Guildhall and it felt like a really important time in my life. It was the first time I thought I could use the trumpet as a way of expressing myself and it felt like doors were open to me for the first time. With this album I didn’t want to make a stereotype of Paris, instead it feels like Paris the way I experienced it. You can see a city in a million different lights and Paris means so many things to different people. That’s why the album is so diverse.
What challenges did transcribing works like Ravel's Piano Concerto present?
It’s important to leave the nucleus of a work intact. Something like the Ravel Concerto is such a perfectly constructed piece so it doesn’t need someone to come along and change it, rather to colour it differently. What I play is all taken from Ravel’s original score, but from several different parts, so it’s a totally different challenge to simply playing the melody on a different instrument.
There don't seem to be as many solo trumpeters as there are, say, solo violinists or pianists. Why do you think that is?
It may be because we don’t have this back-catalogue of limitless masterpieces by the great classical composers like other performers do. Quite a significant part of your career as a trumpet player has to be your ambition and hunger for creating new work and for finding new ways to present the instrument.
What format will your Royal Albert Hall Session in October take?
It’s going to like a pop concert in that it’s going to be quite theatrical with sound effects, a voiceover, and controlled lighting. We’re using the Albert Hall organ for an amazing piece by Petr Eben called Okna about stained glass windows – it has all these amazing colours that mmediately make you think of the colours of the window. The first half of the concert is about spring, so will have greens and blues and the second half will have an autumnal theme, with much warmer colours – reds and golds – which will be reflected in the music. The programme itself will include baroque repertoire along with the works from my Paris disc, so at times it will feel like a recital and at others like a jazz club gig. We're also taking the programme on tour, including to Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham, Cardiff and Bristol.
What kind of audience do you expect to attract on the tour?
I often have an eclectic audience and I’m really happy about that. We’re doing an education programme before the performance so I expect some of those kids will be able to come and bring their families. So there will be young people and people who don't know that much about classical music, as well as more seasoned concert goers. Something I really care about is engaging younger people though. A trumpet isn’t the most conventional classical instrument and, for me, reaching as diverse and broad an audience as possible is really important.
Albert Sessions: An Evening with Alison Balsom takes place on October 13 2014. Visit www.royalalberthall.com
Alison Balsom is on tour from 30 September to 14 October 2014. Click here for more information
Watch Balsom performing Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No. 3 and Piazzolla's Café with Miloš Karadaglić below
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