The Build Up – RLPO SPAIN TOUR 2012


The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is about to tour Spain for five days. The UK’s oldest surviving professional symphony orchestra (founded 1840) is a regular visitor to the Iberian Peninsula and, having lived there myself, it is always a pleasure for me to write a commentary and pictorial blog about the band on tour in Spain.

I’ve just dropped the dog off at the ‘Dog Whisperer’s’ house, as per usual when I’m away, for his five day holiday. When I get back, at around 7pm on Tuesday, I will collect him then pop along to Liverpool Philharmonic Hall with him to see my brother there, who will be playing percussion with The John Wilson Orchestra.

I’ve tidied the house, in case there are any intruders in my absence, packed all my clothes and finally found my passport. Just got to pack up my computer and internet stuff so that I can relate what will be going on, over there, on here.

Last week, we played our tour programme to enthusiastic applause from the Liverpool audience. Since then we have played in the Bridgewater Hall, whilst the UK’s second oldest orchestra were on tour in China and a final concert pre tour concert on Sunday to a packed house, as Steve Bell presented his concert of classical pot-pourri to a very appreciative audience. It is nice to see Steve doing so well. He holds down a conducting position with the Halle orchestra nowadays. I was at the RCM with Steve and he is also a very fine french horn player, and to this day is still Section Leader of the horns in the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Well, the RLPO lorry has set off, which means the orchestra has enjoyed four free days in the UK as our instruments and clothes travel over land to Alicante. I have retained my trumpet mouthpiece and, of course, I have more than one trumpet in the house, to practice on.  I have only done an hour or so trumpet practice each day,as maintenance, because after a very arduous month my face is telling me that my embouchure is in need of a bit of a rest! Here goes…

…I have always done solo stuff: perhaps taking more of an interest in this genre than many, (17 Brandenburg 2s!) but have made a determined effort to do more of late. I’ve had a few  pieces written for me, done a few premieres of works, new chamber pieces etc but recently I have decided to put some stuff down on record, in my own name. It seems to me that once trumpeters join that great brass section in the sky, they are soon forgotten unless they can leave some decent recording output.

So, thereforeI am entering a very interesting but busy period, at present. Quite a lot of interest has been generated through my collaborations with the internationally renowned organist Ian Tracey…

Trumpet & Organ

…and the bespoke music written for me by international award winning composer Ailis Ni Riain has been receiving a lot of favourable attention from critics etc…


…I have quite a few options, at the moment, as composers are offering quite a lot of new works for me to look at. This is quite a privilege for me and I’m honoured they want me to play their new work too. Ian Tracey, and myself, will be releasing an album of piccolo trumpet and organ music before long. I will hopefully be following this with four further albums of music for solo trumpet, a cornet album, specially written stuff, a DVD with film and some solo concert work etc. My Goodness! However, the day job with the RLPO is always a pleasure and will not be taking any kind of a back seat. There is also a very busy schedule of work with  Ensemble 10.10 this year.

On a kind of completely different subject altogether, a student was asking me a question last week. What, then, is the art of an being a good orchestra trumpeter? It depends what job you do! This may sound strange, but not to those of us in the trade. Unless your name is Reinhold Friedrich then it is impossible to be good at everything. My section leader, Rhys Owens, is the best exponent I know of quiet trumpet control, eg. Mahler 9. In fact, he contributes in every category and can turn his hand to all styles. First trumpets need to be good at learning a lot of material quickly and very good at ‘scales and arpeggios’ in the upper register. They also need to be strong enough to lead the brass section through all those long, tiring loud chorales. That would leave  an observer to wonder what the job of the 2nd and 3rd trumpeter amount too. It has been said that the job of the second trumpet is to make the first trumpeter sound perfectly in tune by matching his every move, making the first player feel comfortable in all those ‘nervy’ high parts and generally making sure the first player gets home in a good mood! Paul Marsden, Principal second trumpet of the RLPO has all this down to a fine art. I have a lot of enjoyment sitting on my chair, hearing these two fine exponents go about their very different trades.

Apart from playing all the those hard first cornet parts, I have always regarded my job (playing first and third) to be available, at the drop of a hat, to play anything the first player doesn’t fancy, to be available if the section leader goes ill, in any situation. In fact the co-principal can end up arriving at work and playing all the first pad. My advice to those going for co-principal chairs is to be prepared: that means keep your playing in the best shape you know how and know ALL the music! I defy anyone to be able to simply sight read or busk their way through the symphonic first trumpet repertoire. It has been said of the third player that he must check the tyre pressure of the first player’s car in the morning to make sure he gets to work! On tour, it is often joked that if the first player has the prawn curry, then the third player had better eat it it too; in fact, try all the first players choice of food on tour, before he eats it himself! For what it’s worth, my other advice, to any kind of trumpeter, is to try to achieve something every day with the music and enjoy that music, too.

So, lecture over; I’d better get my head down soon as the bus will be leaving Philharmonic Hall at 8.00am tomorrow. Not the usual two or three week trip, with a day or two free, a whistle stop tour of Alicante, San Sebastian, Pamplona and Zaragoza in consecutive days. A commando raid! Long days of travel, from one end of the country to the other.  It will be tiring but always good fun. I’ll be more than happy to report on all the events, performances, what we see and what we eat etc. Keep your eyes peeled. Anyway, one more look at that check list…

1. RLPO Spanish Tour 2012

About brendanball

Professional Trumpeter: Soloist, Orchestra Player, Chamber Music, Contemporary Music & Education.
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