It had come to that time, once every two years, for the RLPO to appear at the world’s greatest music festival, The BBC Proms, 2012. We were prom performance 54 and a very challenging and exciting programme was chosen for both performers and audience alike.
Her Majesty The Queen, the Patron of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee on the throne this year, and by way of celebration, we had commissioned the ‘Master of the Queen’s Music,’ Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, to write a brand new symphony: his number 9. Premiered in Liverpool, earlier this year. This sound orgy would perfectly suit the big acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall. This would be the first offering in the programme. Containing a massive orchestration, including a full orchestral brass section and a separate brass sextet consisting of an extra 3 trumpets, two trombones and a tuba, the audience would be in for a treat!
The second half consisted solely of our acclaimed version of Shostakovich’s wonderful tenth symphony; his first after the death of Stalin. The RLPO was the recipient of last year’s prestigious Gramophone Award for this piece as ‘Orchestral Recording of the Year.
The ‘sandwich filler’ (if I may be so bold) was to be the much neglected violin concerto by Frederick Delius and performed by the effervescent Tasmin Little, making her 50th appearance with the RLPO; but only her first with Vasily Petrenko as her conductor. Tasmin has been a particular champion of this piece over the years.
After such a gruelling, but successful, long season the RLPO had been given a four week holiday after July 22nd; so it was something of a rude awakening to arrive back on August 20th for an intensive workout of rehearsals leading up to the proms performance on Thursday 23rd at the RAH.
Monday morning consisted of a full orchestra photo shoot for next season’s brochures, programmes and posters etc. Players will be seen on stage and at various points around Philharmonic Hall. The afternoon, however, had been set aside to wrestle with the awesome Peter Maxwell Davies Symphony no. 9.
Two more long days of rehearsals ensued, thereafter, before the big day. I seem to be one of those people who leave everything to the last minute, and the day of our biggest concert of the season was no exception. Apart from packing the right clothes, etc, I also had to drop the dog off ,at the ‘Dog Whisperer’s place, before proceding to Liverpool Lime Street to meet up with the rest of the RLPO before boarding the Virgin train to London.
I managed to do an hour or so’s practice before getting all ‘saddled up’ on my bicycle. I must have looked a sight, struggling to cycle into town, with three trumpets, my packed lunch & dinner, clothes case and with Scooby struggling along on the lead. Anyway, I got there on time, boarded the train and fell asleep for a while on the reserved seat they had arranged for me. I spent the rest of the time going over the Maxwell Davies part, before we arrived at London Euston.
Many readers of this blog will know that, on arrival in London, I prefer to travel around this most busy of cities by bus. I like to have a look around and remember my old haunts and see the fabulous monuments etc. I spent about 15 years or so working down there and I have always hated the impersonal and claustrophobic style of tube travel preferred by many. The decor on the tube system is akin to public toilet tiled walls! I always try to vary my route slightly too.
So, this time, I got the Victoria line down to Green Park. On exiting the station I was most surprised to see an exact replica of Liverpool’s own ‘Duck bus’ travelling down Piccadilly. It was immediately followed by a man wearing a pith helmet, riding a ‘penny farthing’ bicycle! So it’s not only in Liverpool…
I had a laugh to myself and was reminded of a few weeks ago when the trumpet section played a fanfare for the Queen as she boarded the ‘Duck Bus’ in Liverpool. Perhaps she had completed the rest of her Jubilee Tour on it and it was now just dropping her home at Buckingham Palace; a stone’s throw from where I was standing. I crossed over the road and boarded a bus which said it was a no. 9 to the Royal Albert Hall, which I soon discovered was a no. 19 to somewhere else and took me down Sloane Street.
I didn’t mind too much, as it took me past David Josefovitz’s House, where I had many rehearsals as a part of his London Soloists Chamber Orchestra. David had invented vinyl so had pots of money and lived in a mansion block on Sloane Street. He had produced many ‘first’ recordings and had rediscovered the manuscript to Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ in a church in Italy! The next door building, in fact to the Cadogan Hotel, where Oscar Wilde had gotten himself arrested.
I jumped on the correct bus, went past Harrods and alongside Hyde Park and disembarked outside the Royal Albert Hall; the very same bus stop I used daily for my studies, with David Mason, at the Royal College of Music.
I walked around the back, to the Artists’ Entrance and put all my gear in the dressing room. Right, I thought I had a bit of time to spare so I’d go and have a look at the Royal College of Music for a bit. I spent four wonderful years at this institution and I have nothing but fond memories. Stand outside the Albert Hall and it is the next significant building.
I went down the steps, over the zebra crossing and thought I’d have a peep over the wall into room 29. This was David Mason’s room, senior Professor at the RCM during my time. A strict task master but he turned out so many fine students. If things didn’t work out for a player in the profession, it was never David’s fault. I look back and he was a very thorough mentor. Mr. Mason inherited this room from his teacher, the legendary Ernest Hall (a scouser, actually). David Mason died last year. Room 29 was strangely quiet and empty…
The view of the Royal Albert Hall from the RCM is magnificent. Both buildings, along with the Natural History Museum were built at the same time and commissioned by Prince Albert; Queen Victoria’s husband.
I must say that this piece by Maxwell Davies presented me with some immense challenges. The first trumpet part, in the orchestra, is amongst the more challenging I have come across.
The persistently high tessitura and extremely wide interval jumps, and sheer technical obstacles had ensured that my summer holiday had not been as quiet as intended.
I had elected to play the part on the piccolo trumpet, which presented it’s own difficulties. Having premiered the work only a couple of months previously I was still struck by the composer’s words about his piece. Not intended as a tribute to the Queen as such, although it does contain fanfares served across the orchestra by the two heavy brass ensembles, it was more to do with his anti-war sentiments of unfortunate conflicts throughout her majesty’s reign.
Max cited his own memories of burning flesh and dead bodies lying around in WW2. There was also seemingly grotesque parodies of military band music. Particularly enjoyable for me were the inter play of last post style duets between myself and my section leader, Rhys Owens (on the other side of the stage).
In fact Max, having been in the same class at college as Elgar Howarth, knows fine well what the trumpet is capable of playing and how to challenge the performer. Both his trumpet sonata and trumpet concerto are amongst the finest in the repertoire. Peter Maxwell Davies has the reputation amongst orchestral trumpeters, whether deserved or not, of writing successively harder first trumpet parts in each of his symphonies. Although this is probably true in this case, I loved it.
This was what all those years studying at Chethams and the Royal College of Music was all about. The symphony was probably Max’s most tonal, to date and he said that the spectre of Sibelius’ final seventh symphony appeared to hang over him as he was composing the music in Italy.
Of course, with such a gruelling concert programme, it mustn’t be forgotten that the orchestra has to perform everything in the afternoon rehearsal. There can’t be any resting because the BBC have to get all their recording levels correct in everything. Besides, Vasily Petrenko is not the resting type of conductor. He is always trying to achieve more!
Phew! It is always a relief to see the end of such daunting concert works. Especially when they are so well received by the players, conductor and the enthusiastic Prom audience: I feel the reaction of the audience at the end of the piece not only justified all Max’s efforts but will ensure the canonisation of this fine symphony into the regular orchestral programming.
and it was nice to let the Delius just wash over us and to enjoy the lovely strains of Tasmin Little’s glorious sound float effortlessly around the auditorium. I must admit that my ‘chops’ felt completely ‘mashed’ and were probably not best suited to the gentle ‘tip tap’ style of the trumpet playing required for the Delius!
I was sitting alone backstage at the interval, when I was approached by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies himself. I shan’t go into the conversation too deeply but he was extremely pleased and very complimentary about my contribution. We chatted about the piece briefly and about what a challenge the first trumpet part was. I was extremely humbled that he had taken the trouble to find me, shake my hand and to call my playing ‘brilliant.’ I thought it such a nice gesture from a very pleasant and sincere man.
We reconvened on stage for the second half and the Shostakovich. There was some wonderful woodwind playing from my colleagues, as good as I think I’ve heard. The piccolo playing of Fiona Paterson is certainly worth mentioning here. For my own personal enjoyment was the perfection displayed by RLPO Horn Section Leader, Tim Jackson. They say there is nothing lonelier than a horn solo, but this symphony is full of particularly lonely ones. He led his section bravely through all the powerhouse stuff too.
Actually Fiona Paterson is now also sponsored by the Liverpool Organic Brewery. Of course my own long term association with that institution is already well documented. The audience broke into rapturous applause at the end and it was all we could do to finally get Petrenko off stage, such was their enthusiasm.
Amongst our own loyal supporters in attendance, I would like to mention that over one hundred delegates from ‘Liverpool Vision’ made the trip, and attended a pre-concert reception in the Parry Room of the Royal College of Music opposite the RAH. We are soon to have a multi million pound redevelopment of Philharmonic hall and the contribution of Liverpool Vision will be a major aspect of that work. This whole city is behind the RLPO. How many places can say that!
After the concert was the RLPO’s opportunity to party. The social side of this orchestra is second to none. The brass decided to let their hair down in the bar of the Imperial Science College, adjacent to the Royal Albert Hall.
After they closed the bar in Imperial College refectory, we headed for the nearest pub to our hotel on High Street Kensington, The Prince of Wales, opposite St. Mary Abbott’s church. We were there to meet the great Jim Lynch, who had attended the concert as a member of the audience. Most of you will recognise Jim’s fabulous playing already as he plays the theme on ‘The One Show’ and had a massive hit with his band ‘Touch and Go’; the song was called ‘Would You…’. By coincidence, Jim and I share the same trumpet teacher at different schools: John Durrant. Thanks John.
Well, the partying continued back at the hotel ’til the early hours. I must admit to finding the substantial breakfast at seven am hard work and the train journey contained many tired looking musicians. Now for the last week and a half of the anual holiday…
I was on the train back to Liverpool: trying to sleep but was unable to prevent myself from noticing how hard working Vasily Petrenko is. With us, his concerts are so enjoyable – he lets you play! He also rehearses the hell out of us! He drives us as hard as he drives himself, but he is always friendly and pleasant. A pleasure to work for, in fact. Vasily was sat on the next seat from me and was filling in his diary for 2018. He deserves all his success.
Once upon a time, Liverpool ran it’s own Proms series
Tasmin Little speaks to Laura Davies of her delight playing Delius with the RLPO & Petrenko at the proms – Liverpool Daily Post
Tasmin Little - talks to Catherine Jones of the Liverpool Echo ahead of the RLPO BBC Prom
BBC iPlayer listen to the first half - Maxwell Davies and Delius
BBC iPlayer listen to the second half – Shostakovich Symphony no. 10
Comments by the bucketload from the audience on - Storify
Apparently, there is also a first class review in The Times, but I’m too stingy to pay the online subscription!
See more spectacular photos of the event by RLPO Photographer Mark McNulty at RIVERCOOL
If you want to have a listen to, or even purchase the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s award winning recording of Shostakovich Symphony no. 10, then click on this link :-
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