Libor Pesek’s Bell And Also Sprach Zarathustra…

China! What a great trip. A bit of freelance stuff but now back to the day job. Our next concert consists of a trumpeter’s hard night out: Also Sprach Zarathustra and Cockaigne Overture. It would be easy to suffer mentally  with the difficult aspects of the repertoire but you have to try not to think about what can go wrong and try to really enjoy the music instead.unnamed-4


As it happens, I was to do the difficult, but fun, cornet part of the Cockaigne Overture by Edward Elgar. I love this piece! I think it is a great composition by a genius at the height of his powers. Elgar was very impressed by the astonishing abilities of the professional orchestra musicians in Britain. He writes a showpiece for many instruments to show what they are good at and some challenging passages for many also. The piece is written for a definite difference between cornet and trumpet.  He certainly writes to show the differences between the instruments and the distinct styles of the specialists on those instruments so prevalent in the day. Elgar was consistent with this scoring in his compositions, as was Tchaikovsky and many others. The great Ernest Hall (first Principal Trumpet of the BBC Symphony) and Jack Mackintosh (Principal Cornet of the BBC Symphony Orchestra) would never have considered doing the work of the other. These days, the boundaries are less clear.


However, the trumpet parts of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra contains many difficulties for the trumpet players. Indeed the first part contains what many consider to be all aspects of what is hard about orchestra trumpet playing. Death defying high notes, quiet control, exposed solos etc. RLPO Section Leader Trumpet Rhys Owens makes this type of work sound particularly easy. The music is so glorious anyway.


One of my favourite aspects of performing this piece with the RLPO is the cast bell that was made for the performance of this piece, for use in the ‘midnight’ section. Normally , a tubular bell suffices! Here is Principal Percussion Graham Johns explaying how this magnificent bell came to be…


The story of Libor’s Bell:

It was in 1994 that the RLPO embarked on a longish tour of Germany and Austria, culminating in a performance of Strauss ‘Zarathustra’ at the Muziekverein in Vienna – with Libor conducting.  When I saw the program for the tour about six months before, I realised the significance of the Vienna concert and looked into the costs  of  buying a real church bell for this important concert..

Up until that time we always used a rather inadequate. dull, tubular bell that just couldn’t represent that famous ‘midnight‘ moment in Zarathustra.

I subsequently received a quote from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London (makers of Big Ben) for £5,000… – a lot now, but a huge amount then..

With the quote hot-in-hand I went to the management with a proposal to purchase said bell – sadly only to be told that funds were just not available.

Rather dejected I took the rather rash decision to go ahead and buy the bell myself…


Arrangements were made and the bell was delivered on a stand in a lovely case. The case was designed to support the bell when lifted on to its own lid so that it can be struck by the player standing up. A beautiful velvet skirt was made to hid the case – the same material as the choir seats..


At the first rehearsal, bell in place (I remember it was at the Gladstone Hotel near Lime Street – now The Liner) Libor spotted it, open mouthed..

I told him the story and after a pause he declared ‘Colleague, I want to pay half’!!

Sure enough a month later the money arrived in my account.

Milena Baines got to hear of the story and amazingly the other half of the money arrived from the Preston Friends of the Phil about a year later…


The gamble (fortunately for me) paid off and since then the bell has been hired to orchestras all over the UK and has made several thousand pounds for the RLPO in hire fees..

It’s even been to the Czech Republic when Libor requested it (and me) for a performance of Zarathustra with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

It will forever be known as ‘Libor’s Bell’..




About brendanball

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