Alison Balsom is the world’s preeminent female classical trumpeter. She is a unique and independent artist who has broken through to the mainstream whilst retaining her integrity and core musical values. Exceptional talent, a glamorous stage presence and a witty and engaging personality make Alison one of the most exciting artists in the core classical world today.
Sound the Trumpet is an album of glorious baroque music associated with royalty where Alison brings the music of the Purcell and Handel to life.
Until this point, there have been no really top notch natural trumpet albums by international trumpeters on the market. This disc expands the repertoire for the instrument, whilst also maintaining a respect for the idioms and period style of these works. Alison is working with the top experts in this field – Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert. She is also joined by the countertenor, Iestyn Davies and soprano Lucy Crowe in some delightful and slightly different performances of some familiar repertoire.
In the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, Alison Balsom celebrates the heroic era of the Baroque trumpet in works by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) and Henry Purcell (1658 or 1659-1695), whose anthems, odes, sinfonias and operas have provided the music for numerous royal celebrations from their own day to the present.
Joining forces with Trevor Pinnock, harpsichordist, conductor and pioneer of historical performance, and with the English Concert orchestra that he founded, Balsom demonstrates the versatility and expressive power of her valve-less instrument in original works and new arrangements. These include Purcell’s Sound the trumpet and Handel’s Eternal Source of light divine in duet with countertenor Iestyn Davies and Purcell’s The Plaint from The Fairy Queen in duet with soprano Lucy Crowe. Further repertoire includes suites from Purcell’s semi-operas King Arthur (1691) and The Fairy Queen (1692) in new arrangements by Balsom and Pinnock, Handel’s Water Piece in D Major HWV 341 and his Oboe Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major HWV 301 transposed into C Major.
Alison Balsom is one of today’s most popular classical musicians. Having managed to break through to the mainstream without abandoning her musical integrity, she continues to draw ever-wider audiences for her performances and recordings of diverse repertoire.
Speaking of the repertoire on Sound the Trumpet, Alison said recently, “The deeper you dig into history, the more astonishing is the world from which this music comes. Everything seems to be clearly structured – and yet everything is full of freedom and emotion, and bursting with beauty … I find it no surprise that today, in a world where fixed boundaries are missing and, at the same time, we are searching for individual forms of expression, we return to the Baroque – to adaptations of Shakespeare, to the music of Purcell and Handel. Both composers attempted to express human existence in music. They are so modern because they describe everything that concerns us today: the beauty of musical order and the freedom of the passionate spirit.”
The trumpet for which Purcell and Handel composed was very different from the modern instrument. For one thing, it was valve-less, which made it very difficult to play. Alison likens the difference between Baroque and modern trumpets to that between film and digital cameras. “For quick photos you use a digital camera, but when you want an artistic result, even now you reach for the old Hasselblad.”
One of the first trumpet recordings that Alison Balsom heard as a child was of Baroque music conducted by Trevor Pinnock and she was immediately captivated by the sound. Discussing working with Pinnock earlier this year on the music for Sound the Trumpet, she says, “He knows every aspect of the pieces, understands that even the interpretation of a single note can alter the entire message of a work.
Balsom and Pinnock chose works by Handel and Purcell because both composers lived in London around the same time yet were very different. What fascinates Balsom about Handel is that “at first glance, you think everything is clear-cut. But when you play his works many times, each note suddenly acquires a meaning, each performance opens new dimensions.” Purcell, she continues, “is my true hero”, she says. “He repeatedly breaks out of the well-known Baroque structure, surprises us with absurd rhythms and daring harmonies. His pieces are highly modern and profoundly disconcerting.”
Alison Balsom set her heart on becoming a trumpet soloist from the age of ten, when her parents took her to a Barbican Hall performance by the great Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger. She went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music, at the Paris Conservatoire and with Håkan Hardenberger himself. Through BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme from 2004 to 2006, she appeared at the Wigmore Hall and with all the BBC Orchestras.
In subsequent years, Alison has won many awards, from the Classic BRITs to Classic FM, Gramophone and the ECHO Klassik. She performed at the Last Night of the BBC Proms in 2009, attracting an estimated global television audience of 200 million and made her US television debut the following year with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s on The Late Show with David Letterman. She has appeared throughout Europe, the United States and Asia with leading orchestras, as a recitalist on both Baroque and modern trumpets and in chamber music with the Balsom Ensemble. She is currently Visiting Professor of Trumpet at the Guildhall School of Music.
Alison Balsom records exclusively for EMI Classics. Her internationally celebrated Bach Trumpet and Organ disc of 2005 was followed by Caprice, which won her further critical acclaim. Her recording of the Haydn and Hummel’s Trumpet Concertos was named among the 24 best classical CDs of 2008 by The New York Times. About her Italian Concertos CD, Gramophone wrote, “The Baroque composers on this disc … would have been positively delighted with Balsom’s suave, characterful performances.” BBC Music Magazine said, “Listening to it is nothing less than a life-enhancing experience.” Alison’s most recent release was devoted to modern and contemporary music and featured Seraph, a trumpet concerto written for her by James Macmillan, as well as works by Toru Takemitsu, Alexander Arutunian and Bernd Alois Zimmermann.