I’m taking a few days off the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra this week. I have been rehearsing in Chichester as I will be performing the Trumpet Concerto by Alexander Arutunian at St. George’s Church, Cleveland Road, Whyke, Chichester this evening. The programme is also to include Holst Beni Mora and Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherazade.
The marvellous University of Chichester Symphony Orchestra, myself and their esteemed professional conductor, Crispin Ward have been rehearsing tirelessly for three days in the university chapel for tonight’s performance. The concert starts at 7.30.
Crispin Ward is an international orchestra conductor who has even been knighted for services to music by the Moldovan Government. I have known Crispin over thirty years since we studied at the Royal College of Music together; myself on the trumpet and Crispin studied horn, piano, composition and conducting. He is in demand all over Europe and much further.
Crispin is also engaged as professional conductor by the University of Chichester and oversees the artistic planning of the seven orchestras. I would be coaching the brass, giving a lesson or two, rehearsing and performing the Arutunian Concerto and catching up with my old mate and his wonderful family after too long an absence. The Wards are also keen gardeners, like myself.
Since Crispin has been involved in the goings on at the university, he has seen the influx of undergraduates rise from a fairly modest 80 per annum to a thriving three hundred a year. The music department alone has 1,200 students. The courses and standards now rival that of the so-called major performance conservatoires of the UK. I met students from Brazil, The States and the former Soviet Block as well as those who had chosen or switched to Chichester from those aforementioned music colleges elsewhere. The Enthusiasm and work ethic has been so infectious.
Crispin, who coincidentally lives just around the corner puts in all the spare time he has to make the place what it has become over the last few years. I don’t know how he manages whilst also juggling his busy international conducting career.
Before the concert I thought I would take in the sights of Chichester. The famous Cathedral dominates everything in this historic city.
I wandered around the city. the central area is fairly small and it doesn’t take so long to wander around and soak up the history. Everyone here appears to give directions via The Cross, pictured above.
I wandered into the ‘Vintage Market’ and bumped into an old friend. Trumpeter Nick Briggs abd I know each other from our time at the Royal College of Music together. Nick is slightly older than me, having graduated in 1986. I left there in 1988. We haven’t seen each other since because Nick is busy doing shows/musicals in the big theatres and travelling all over the place with those. I do symphony orchestras mainly so our paths don’t cross professionally. What a pleasure to hear my name called and seeing Nick on turning around. He was just up the road from me, doing ‘Gypsy’ just before it hits London’s West End in the Savoy Theatre.
Mark Chagall is one of my favourite artists. The ‘Church Window’ in Chichester Cathedral is as fine an example of his work one could hope to see anywhere. I regularly play a pice with organ dedicated to Chagall called Church Windows by Petr Eben. Bizarrely, I was told that the University of Chichester threw four Chagall Windows in a skip and they are now destroyed. What a shame! I could have replaced some of my windows with them…Chichester Cathedral is rightly proud of its musical tradition. In fact, the remains of Gustav Holst lie there. There is also a tablet in honour of the great Thomas Weelkes.Well, wish me luck! It has been a couple of years since I’ve performed the Arutunian Concerto and after the last three days I am very excited about the opportunity. I have grown up playing the work and it has become and old friend. Doors open at 7pm if anyone fancies a night full of oriental flavour. Some tickets are available to be sold on the door…
It is funny what occurs to one when awaiting the call to the stage to start a concerto. I was in my ‘green room’ listening to the first piece when I wondered how much trouble I would get in if I entered the stage in one of these to play the Arutunian…
Also, whilst I was waiting, I noticed a large barrel of ‘altar wine’ just by me. I had always assumed this stuff was not very strong but here was a 15% wine. No wonder many priests have rosy cheeks!
Alexander Arutunian is ranked among the most important Armenian composers of his generation, alongside Kachaturian. I am fully aware that there are seemingly no end to the ways his name can be spelt. The spelling I use is that on my very old copy of the music, so that is good enough for me. My old copy, which was old when I came into it even still has the original wrong notes in it, too! His style is exotically colourful, exhibiting folk-like Armenian traits and very ‘catchy’ melodies. Amusingly, trumpeters in the trade make a play on words and refer to this piece affectionately as the ‘Out Of Tune Again’!
The trumpet concerto is his most popular work today. The inspiration for the piece was Armenian Trumpeter Zolak Vartasarian, who unfortunately died in military action in 1943 before Arutunian had completed the work.
The great Russian trumpeter Timofei Dokschitzer gave the premiere in 1950 and also made the definitive recording. The concerto consists of a single movement. It opens with a brief florid introduction before getting under way with three dancing sections composed in a bravura manner, interspersed with two varied lyrical segments.
Dokschitzer wrote a dazzling solo cadenza which I would be playing prior to the resounding conclusion of the work.
I have been playing this piece so long now. I first learnt it for my audition to Chetham’s School of Music in 1981. Arutunian’s daughter came in to my audition, in front of the great Philip Jones, introduced herself and said she had really enjoyed my playing! Wow, a big moment for a young kid.
The piece feels like it has become an old friend nowadays…
I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Arutunian. The orchestra had a great time too; the audience also appreciated it. In fact I had a great time all week. Coaching these young stars of the future has been a pleasure. Apart from the thrill of performing it is so satisfying to put something back into music.
What a great way to make a living…
On the train journey home I was forced to break the journey whilst I crossed London. What better than making a pleasant lunch in the Japan Centre, Piccadilly Circus…
I have two more extra concerto projects over the next two years (aside from the norm), when the ‘day job’ allows. I will be performing two more great concertos written under the Soviet regime. Those amazing works for trumpet and orchestra by Andriasov and Weinberg. Champion!