RLPO – China Tour 2014 – 4 – Nanjing

The next morning was an 8.15am meeting. We would be going to Nanjing today to open the brand new concert hall there. Due to logistics, it would be necessary to send our suitcases on ahead to Beijing to hopefully meet up with us at the hotel there. Only an overnight bag would be acceptable as there would not be room on the bullet train to Beijing the next day for loads of suitcases…

The name of the brand new concert hall in Nanjing

The name of the brand new concert hall in Nanjing

A little bit of debriefing about Nanjing from Wikipedia


RLPO Director of Artistic Planning & Ensembles, Sandra Parr, places a white board of handy hints and essential information in the hotel lobby each day

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RLPO – China Tour 2014 – 5 – Journey To Beijing and Performance In Tianjin

The RLPO itinary for today

The RLPO itinary for today

Following the successful inaugural concert in the new hall in Tianjin, the RLPO awoke to the above itinerary. Today, we were travelling to the north; Beijing, in fact. Although the first concert on this third leg of the tour would be in Tianjin, it was considered more convenient to remain in the same hotel for the final three days of this mammoth tour.

At the busy train station in Nanjing

At the busy train station in Nanjing

The RLPO had to be ready to leave to catch the bullet train up the East Coast at 9.30am. We boarded the three coaches to the train station and disembarked to wait for a while before our 11.09am train was due to depart. Only one member of the orchestra had to return to the hotel to collect a forgotten passport!

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RLPO – China Tour 2014 – 6 – Beijing

IMG_0667Well, it has been a fantastic tour so far. Sadly, we are on the final furlong now. Two days in Beijing, with with two concert performances at the amazing National Centre for the Performing Arts. We had been informed that these two gigs, being in the Capital City and attended by certain people etc would be the most important for the orchestra. Although, for the life of me, as a professional musician, I can’t see that any concert would be less important than any other from a musicians point of view!

Chief Conductor Vasily Petrenko with RLPO First Violin David Whitehead

Chief Conductor Vasily Petrenko with RLPO First Violin David Whitehead

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RLPO – Dublin 17/09/2014

 Liverpool Philharmonic Hall has been closed for a major rebuild and refurbishment since May and, although the works are well underway, the building is barely recognisable; with hoarding, scaffolding and the back half of the building temporarily missing altogether, having been completely demolished!


 Meanwhile, the RLPO are working harder than ever and have begun an extensive period of touring. Today Dublin, London in a few days and then China for a couple of weeks. Busy, busy, busy!

The coach picked the RLPO up at 8.30am from Birkenhead Library and 9.00am from our state of the art refurbished rehearsal premises, The Friary. Apart from a five minute delay for one member having a last minute crisis, off we went.

I looked up about four miles (6km) down the M62 and disaster had struck. A massive, multi-vehicle pile up meant that we were stuck at the back of a massive traffic jam somewhere before St. Helens and an awful long way from our initial and rather important destination of Manchester Airport.


RLPO trombone section, Simon, Simon & Simon getting in the mood for Dublin…

Many members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra do not live in Liverpool but in many other places. Unlike me, they prefer to commute. Personally, I have got too used to living just around the corner to go back to travelling a couple of hours a day or more. The trombone section, who are all called Simon by the way, all live in Warrington together and decided to head for the airport by themselves. They are pictured above, wondering why they are the only members of a whole symphony orchestra there and wondering whether the trip to Dublin was just a ‘wind-up’ all along. They checked in at 10.00am as planned and, indeed, were some of the very few to actually make the flight!

For the rest of us, well… we sat on the two coaches for about four hours before being able to get off the motorway and each bus appeared to go off on separate ways to attempt to get to the airport. We had missed the Ryanair flight by miles. What would happen? Would the trip be cancelled, letting down the audience, promoters etc? Would other flights be available? Never a dull moment on tour eh?!

The RLPO have been touring all over the world for years and during that time have got up from all kinds of disasters, including players being left behind in foreign climes, coaches not turning up and worse… Spirits on the buses remained high and our coach was enjoying the ridiculous route we were forced to take which included going all the way to Knowsley Safari Park!


Rhys Owens (Section leader trumpet) and Brendan Ball (Principal Trumpet) talking tactics at the airport!


RLPO sub Principal viola Rob Shepley looking chilled to finally be on the plane.

News filtered through to our bus that we were still going to Dublin and Ryanair had placed our bus on two flights to Dublin at 3.30 and the other bus had gone back to Liverpool Airport as Ryanair had managed to fit them onto the 4.00pm flight to Dublin. All for no extra cost apart from the eight of us re-routed onto Aer Lingus. Phew!

We finally all arrived at the Irish National Concert Hall at around 6pm. Taskmaster Vasily Petrenko wanted a brief sound check for those who were willing and tested out the balance and acoustics. Personally I was feeling a bit knackered and needed to do a little private warming up. Trumpeters are notoriously finicky about preparation. Touring can be awkward for many as preparation can be scant. My old teacher, John Wilbraham used to say about touring, “… If you go on tour take a large bag of top Cs and  a large pack of Immodium!” Of course, going straight into the gig with no rehearsal straight after the five week Summer holiday might look a a bit ‘pearly’ from the outside but the RLPO has been exceptionally well honed by Vasily. Even after weeks on tour with the same programme he tries to achieve a little more each day.  Here was a different scenario…

The repertoire on offer this evening was Tannhauser Overture and Venusberg music, the Glazounov Violin Concerto with Ning Feng as soloist (Ning Had missed half of his rehearsal the day before because of similar problems) – interval –  the concerto commissioned for our prestigious percussion section ‘Poltroons in Paradise’ by Stuart Copeland (formerly drummer with The Police), an unusual piece called Reverie by Scriabin and the concert ending with Capriccio Italien by Tchaikovsky.

Sometimes difficult circumstances make people really come together and I thought we played really well. The standing ovation was especially pleasing, as was Vasily standing up the trumpet/cornet section first of all at the end. I am the Principal Cornet by the way and I do use a cornet. An American Vincent Bach Stradivarius with British style shepherd’s crook and a Bach 1C mouthpiece (for the trumpeters out there). Nice one Vasily!

Wow! A success deserves to be celebrated in true Irish style with a couple of pints of Guiness. Houricans is a famous haunting place for musicians in Dublin. We all headed for there. A proper Irish traditional pub and worth a visit from anyone in town.


Contra bassoon Gareth Twigg and extra trumpeter Neil Fulton enjoying the ambience of Houricans


  The trumpet section for this tour was our regular team; Rhys Owens, Paul Marsden and myself: with the addition of regular freelance player Neil Fulton. Dublin is a fond place for me to visit. In a previous incarnation I used to visit the Emerald Isle on a regular basis as a freelancer to work with a very fine orchestra, The National Symphony of Ireland. This is the symphony orchestra of RTE, the radio and television company of Ireland. The RTE also has a very fine ‘Concert Orchestra’ for the lighter programmes.

It makes for a very special evening when worlds collide and trumpet sections manage to converge and have a couple of pints. From the National Symphony Orchestra we had Principal Trumpet Graham Hastings (one of my favourite players) and Killian Bannister, Graham’s longstanding second trumpet. From the RTE Concert Orchestra we had Eoin Daly, the co-Principal trumpet of many years. All in all, a fantastic night. Especially considering the day we had endured…


Left to right – Brendan, Graham Hastings, Killian Bannister, Paul Marsden and Rhys Owens. Fixers could do worse than have a look in this pub!

Well, keep your eyes peeled because we go to London and then a big tour to six cities in China. Champion!


The Hammer Blow Of Fate!

The final movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is punctuated by three hammer blows. Alma Mahler quotes her husband as saying that these were three mighty blows of fate befallen by the hero, “the third of which fells him like a tree”. She identified these blows with three later events in Gustav Mahler’s own life: the death of his eldest daughter Maria Anna Mahler, the diagnosis of an eventually fatal heart condition, and his forced resignation from the Vienna Opera and departure from Vienna. When he revised the work, Mahler removed the last of these three hammer strokes so that the music built to a sudden moment of still, mute pain as its third blow. Some modern performances restore the third strike of the hammer.

Anyway, Graham Johns is the Principal Percussion of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra but in the Summer he flies off to join the World Orchestra For Peace which is made up of leaders and principal players from the world’s greatest orchestras. This year, the WOP has been touring with the ‘tragic’ Sixth Symphony by Gustav Mahler, culminating in a performance at the packed Royal Albert Hall for a televised broadcast.

Here is Graham about to strike the Hammer Blow Of Fate, having borrowed a box of talcum powder from Tuba player, Gene Porkony of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra…

1 2 3 4 5 imageI don’t know if conductor Valery Gergiev found it as funny as me? Only time will tell!

By the way, Graham is the managing director of JAM PERCUSSION , the world’s leading importer and exporter of percussion instruments and the choice of professionals the world over for their instruments.

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Tuba Humour!


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Lovely Solo Trumpet Playing By Mark O’Keeffe…

BBC Proms 2014 from the Royal Albert Hall, London.

A trumpeter evokes a World War I bugler in Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony No. 3

Andrew Manze conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in an excerpt from the second movement of Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony.

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Some Ideas For Honing Your Multiple Tonguing…

The Nightingale is brass band cornet solo composed by the legendary trombonist, Harold Moss. Moss was famous as a trombone soloist before the war and famous as a conductor of brass bands too. He was the conductor of the famous Leyland Motors Band which belonged to the car factory in Leyland, Lancashire.

One of my first trumpet/cornet teachers was Harry Bentham. Harry had been the Principal Cornet of Leyland Motors Band under Harold Moss during his tenure in charge of the band. Harry made a speciality of playing The Nightingale and another famous solo, Cleopatra, in the band’s concert programmes. By the way, I used to play for Leyland Motors myself as a kid and my father was a member on the E flat bass.

As soon as I learned to double and triple tongue, aged about nine or ten, Harry began to teach me The Nightingale. This Grand Concert Polka is still popular in British Brass Bands to this day. As you can see from the photo below the piece already contains a fair amount of triple tonguing but I have decided to take this a stage or two further.


I tend to play through this piece quite a lot during any holiday I manage to get from my day job with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. I prefer to practice music rather than books of unmusical technical exercises (lip slurs etc).

During the opening cadenza I double tongue the tongued semiquavers and use back tongue on the single semiquavers paired with the dotted quavers. I am not satisfied if I think my back tongue doesn’t sound as good as my single tongue  (or better!) and I’ll do a little work here if necessary.

In the following Andante, I try to play as musically, expressively and wring as much emotion and music out of it as possible. It is this musical approach which I think pays me much more benefit than pages of lip slurs etc.

At the Tempo di Polka I triple tongue and during the two quaver rests I play a middle C followed by a high C (fortissimo) as Harry Bentham told me Harold Moss wanted. I don’t know if this is common practice in bands but it is not printed for some reason.

In the Polka itself I immediately use double tonguing on all the tongued quavers. For example, the first B natural is played with the back tongue, as is the E in the fifth full bar and the D at the end of the sixth bar. The next section is the same, so I do it the same way.

In the Trio I continue in the same way, so the C in the third bar is back tongue, as is the F at the end of the fourth bar.

Following the rests I employ the same tactics, so the top G in the first bar is back tongued and the third, fourth fifth and eighth bars. The tenth and eleventh bars have both got a nice little manoeuvre whereby triple and double tonguing are employed on the first beat of each bar and the A in the penultimate bar is also back tongued.

The next segment, prior to the CODA, is played the same way as previously. The CODA is fairly obvious with more examples of mixing up double and triple tonguing in the tenth, eleventh, fourteenth and fifteenth bars. I actually get better results playing the piece this way and this is also how I choose to perform the piece, so it is not just an interesting exercise. By the way, I always try to play these pieces musically. I don’t like to sound like a snare drum or machine gun, so I try to play with style, in a melodious way.

Another good cornet solo which can be used for similar training purposes is Fantasie – Polka ‘Pandora’ by E. Damare. The first half of the second page is  a particularly good study…

unnamed-3 unnamed-4 unnamed-5This approach works for me. I find it also helps with orchestra pieces such as Sheherazade by Rimsky Korsakov and Cappriccio Italien by Tchaikovsky. Give it a try. Good luck!



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Musical Humour!


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Maurice Andre Plays The Jolivet Trumpet Concerto – 1969

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