Simon Desbruslais introduces his new album of contemporary works that put the trumpet in the spotlight
July 7, 2005 was a tragic day, etched in memory for the atrocities of the London bombings. It carries extra meaning for me, as the day that I recorded my first newly-commissioned trumpet piece, Sohini. The composer was Tristan Brookes, a friend from university (we were both undergraduates at King’s College London) and the month before I had premiered his work for trumpet and organ in the university chapel on the Strand campus. Armed with a portable MiniDisc player (remember those?), we walked for several hours through London, with public transport unavailable, to get to the Strand to make the recording.
This was my first experience of recording new, contemporary trumpet music. I began my mission to expand the repertoire after an earlier experience in a performance examination, where I had played a work by an esoteric 20th-century composer. The execution was excellent, my report said, but a pity about the choice of repertoire. How unfair, I thought! It was surely not my fault that none of the canonical composers of the 19th century decided to write for the solo trumpet. I could only sit by and watch while my fellow students went into their clarinet exam playing Brahms, or their piano exam playing Mozart (who, incidentally, wrote a trumpet concerto which is now lost – it would have increased our classical trumpet concertos from two to three…).
This was a crucial moment for me, when I decided that I could either lament the lack of solo repertoire for my instrument, or actually do something about it. After approaching Tristan to write his trumpet and organ piece, I found myself working with numerous student composers to write new works. It was particularly enjoyable to ‘workshop’ with them, demonstrating trumpet techniques and explaining how various passages sit on the instrument. We came up with all sorts of new musical and technical ideas, and the musical products felt like a shared, collaborative endeavour.
Fast-forward 12 years, and I have found myself in the fortunate position to have worked with many leading composers at the forefront of contemporary music. In particular, Robert Saxton and the late John McCabe were pivotal to the success of my first album, ‘Psalm: Contemporary British Trumpet Concertos’, which arose from various connections I had gained whilst writing my doctorate at Oxford.
I have commissioned music for a variety of combinations, some less explored than others (such as trumpet with string quartet). It was thinking about which combination to explore next that led me to the instrumentation of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto – originally conceived as a trumpet concerto, the final trumpet part became an obbligato, subordinate to the piano part, accompanied by strings. I wanted to redress this balance by commissioning works where the trumpet and piano would be treated as equal concerto partners.
And so ‘The Art of Dancing’ was born, which has emerged from several of the connections formed by my first disc and includes new music by four composers. Deborah Pritchard, who wrote the effervescent Skyspace for piccolo trumpet and strings (2012), composed a new concerto based on the paintings of artist Hughie O’Donoghue, continuing her musical responses to visual art. By no mere coincidence, Nimrod Borenstein was first introduced to me at a performance of Deborah’s violin concerto, Wall of Water, at the National Gallery and has written a work that stands proudly within the canonical three-movement form. Toby Young was a mutual acquaintance at Oxford, and it is after his double concerto that I have chosen to name the album, which includes seven movements delightfully-infused with modern dance forms such as garage and breakbeat. Geoffrey Gordon’s Saint Blue is similar to Deborah’s concerto, inspired by visual art (two striking paintings by Kandinsky) and is an important commission to me, as the first time I have worked with a composer from the US. The disc also features Kenneth Woods, now principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, who conducted three of the concertos on my first album, in addition to my duo partner, pianist Clare Hammond, and harpist Rita Schindler.
Hopefully, these wonderful new works will help to compensate for some of the missing trumpet repertoire from the past. I hope you enjoy them!
‘The Art of Dancing’ is released by Signum Records on August 25, 2017. Visit: signumrecords.com