Trumpets! at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London May 29, 2003 
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Foyer ensemble (Barnard)

London concertgoers experienced an extraordinary trumpet-focused event one early summer weekend: on Saturday 10th May the Queen Elizabeth Hall was taken over all afternoon and evening by the London Sinfonietta's Trumpets! day, the brainchild of international soloist and outgoing ITG board member John Wallace, OBE.

The event kicked off with two "all-comers" brass ensembles which each rehearsed a work for two hours before presenting it in an open concert in the QEH foyer. One ensemble, led by Bruce Nockles, rehearsed Oliver Knussen's challenging Tanglewood Fanfares. The other group, under the direction of Richard Barnard, developed an entire new piece, Tutankhamen's Court, a complex work with many sections, antiphonal effects, and an interplay of solo and ripieno textures. This new work's world premiere in the foyer was well received, as was the Knussen; both ensembles, and especially the brave souls leading them, are to be congratulated on putting together such exciting and expressive performances of contemporary music in one brief afternoon.

Foyer ensemble (four colleges)

After the ad-hoc ensembles had finished it was time to start deploying the heavy hitters. The foyer concert continued with a huge student brass ensemble representing four music colleges: the Royal Scottish Academy (RSAMD), the Birmingham Conservatoire, the Royal College and Trinity College. This mega-ensemble, conducted by London Sinfonietta trombonist David Purser, performed Richard Strauss' Feierliche Einzug, and Reflecting Dreams by Jean Hasse. After this the audience moved into the hall itself for two more free concerts.

In the first of these the brass ensemble of the Royal Academy of Music performed a wide-ranging programme of contemporary music. The Academy players were augmented with guests from the RSAMD and from CalArts, whose Lisa Edelman performed the ITG-commissioned Exposed Throat by the evening's conductor H. K. Gruber. The group performed a range of pieces, for everything from large brass ensemble to duets and solos, by a diverse group of composers including Peter Maxwell Davies and Jonathan Lloyd.


The second free concert of the evening was an extraordinary and thrilling presentation by the Uzbek group "Abbos". Consisting of three trumpets, two percussionists and a double-reed player, Abbos played a selection of traditional tunes to an enthralled audience. The trumpet they play, the karnay, is a magnificent copper instrument, about eight or nine feet long, very large bore, with a huge. dramatically flaring bell. The music played by the trumpets is mostly of rhythmical and textural interest, the melodic possibilities being restricted by their narrow range, which seems normally to be just two notes, one very low and one about a sixth higher. The players wear traditional costume and the performance is further enhanced by the way they move around the stage, frequently changing position and sweeping the trumpets round in huge arcs so that the sound heard by the audience is constantly altered. When one of these instruments is played straight at you, you're nailed right back in your seat. When the players raise the trumpets up high, crossing them over one another to form a great golden spire, the effect is dazzling and uplifting.

The karnay has one other remarkable feature, which is that the whole bell section may be removed. The bell is then reversed and placed back on the instrument, where its function is now presumably only a rather ornamental form of storage since it is no longer connected: the result looks like a partly-opened metal parasol. The musician continues to play on this now much shorter and effectively bell-less instrument, quieter and higher, but also with more flexibility and variety in the part played. I must also mention that the percussionist and double-reed players, too, have exciting, skilled and evocative parts to play in Abbos' fascinating music.

Karnay, bell reversed

The group, who been introduced to us by John Wallace, composer Peter Wiegold, and musicologist Dr Razia Sultanova, received a rapturous reception from the audience. It was clear from people's comments afterwards that they made a huge impression and would be very welcome visitors on any subsequent trip here.

After a suitable break this marathon event rolled on into its climax, the main concert itself. The London Sinfonietta, led by Clio Gould and conducted by H. K. Gruber, performed a programme of music from the last eighty years, the oldest being Varese's Octandre and the up-to-the-minute newest Stuart McRae's concerto Interact, which had received its world premiere only the previous night in this concert's sister event at the RSAMD in Glasgow. (Regular "News from the Trumpet World" readers will recall that John Wallace is now the Principal of the RSAMD. And yes, I do mean THE Principal, of that entire institution, not principal as in first trumpet or anything of that ilk, indeed no.) The McRae piece is a complex work making much use of the virtuosity of the orchestra as well as that of the soloist and was greeted with great enthusiasm at the QEH. Other items on the programme included Gruber's own Zeitfluren, the premiere of Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky's Notturno for chamber ensemble and tape, a skilfully executed Gabrieli canzona from the RSAMD brass ensemble, and another visual and sonic thrill when Abbos once more took the stage. This time, however, they were not the sole artists, but collaborators and colleagues of the London Sinfonietta in Peter Wiegold's The Great Wheel, written specially for and with this joint ensemble and presented here in two parts. This spectacular piece explores, in depth, the broad sound-world resulting from this amalgamation and makes theatrical as well as musical capital from the possibilities of grouping and regrouping, confrontation and co-operation, that present themselves. At one great moment the Abbos trumpets were doing their stacked-trumpet manoeuvre, turning slowly in centre stage, while Sinfonietta players counter-rotated round the outside: perhaps the Great Wheel of the title, and a really impressive spectacle.

London Sinfonietta and Abbos

It's difficult to see how this work will be frequently performed - I wonder if we may hope instead for a recording? - and I feel privileged to have heard and seen it on this occasion.

As the evening ended and people began to disperse, it was clear that the huge event had generated a lot of energy and excitement. Even those who had attended only the formal evening concert had experienced a wonderful range of skilled playing and varied textures; for people who had been there the whole day, it was more than eight hours' worth of pure trumpetistic fascination. Email addresses and information about playing opportunities were being exchanged and new relationships forged.

Congratulations and thanks are very much due to all the performers, especially John Wallace, and to the orchestra and venue staff who must have worked very hard to make this complex and interesting event such a success. More, please!


London Sinfonietta
Abbos Online

Related ITG News stories:
Wallace to premiere concerto in Glasgow/London trumpetfest
Abbos: Uzbek trumpets in UK tour
London Sinfonietta invites all-comers brass
Edelman plays ITG Gruber commission

Source: Neville Young
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