London Sinfonietta Travels: Cardiff

Last weekend our Principal horn Michael Thompson and some fellow brass players headed west to Cardiff, for The Arcomis International Brass Event. A performance in St David’s Hall was announced by one of ten new fanfares commissioned by the festival, and followed by masterclasses for brass students at RWCMD and Cardiff University.

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Michael Thompson

Monday 7 October

Diorama Arts Centre, London

This morning is the start of a week of rehearsals for our appearance at The Arcomis International Brass Event in Cardiff. We are at a new venue, just north of Euston station. Great area for Indian food although I suspect we won’t have much spare time to enjoy that.

One hour into our rehearsal of Berio’s Call, we realise that there is no soundproofing at all in the building. The singers in the next room, who are rehearsing some Andrew Lloyd-Webber, come in to ask us if we are taking a break anytime soon. They need to record a song. We are happy to oblige and so atonality gives way to tonality for half an hour.

Back from our break, we tackle the rest of our brass quintet repertoire: Lutoslawski’s Mini Overture, James MacMillan’s Adam’s Rib and Tim Jackson’s Two Haiku. Tough repertoire, but a good morning’s work.

Saturday 12th October

St. David’s Hall, Cardiff

This is such a beautiful hall for sound; it’s a real pleasure to play here.

The lunchtime concert has gone really well. The quintet repertoire was rhythmically tight; a relief, especially in the Lutoslawski, where a momentary lapse in concentration can result in lots of egg on face. In addition to the quintet music there were two pieces without horn, so I was able to listen, and watch, from the wings. Both very dramatic pieces; Birtwistle’s Silk Tattoo House for two trumpets and a lone percussionist. The trumpet players rotate positions around the stationary drummer in the centre of the stage; sometimes gliding silently and sometimes marching, with loud footsteps. At the end, the lights dim, and the music dies away in darkness. Very atmospheric.

After this, Byron lurches on to the stage dressed magnificently as a clown, playing the Berio Sequenza. A stunning performance, culminating in a perfect demonstration of how to collapse in a heap without smashing up the instrument. An invaluable skill!

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Pete Smith (tuba), Christian Barraclough (trumpet), Alastair Mackie (trumpet), Gareth Roberts (percussion), Byron Fulcher (trombone), Michael Thompson (horn).

From St. David’s Hall we go our separate ways to give masterclasses; Alistair and Byron to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to give an insight into Berio, and me to Cardiff University, where I am working with three young horn players on Mozart’s Concerto K495.

We have the benefit of working with an orchestra rather than piano. This is a first for me, and it means that we can explore all kinds of aspects which are usually lost in a piano reduction. Matching phrasing between solo horn and first violins; balance and blending of colours with the oboes; how to direct as a soloist without a conductor and negotiate cadenzas.

The three soloists – Ian Wildsmith, Florian Hunziker and TomTaffinder – play one movement each, and all three play with elegance and assurance. They are a pleasure to work with, and are remarkably unflustered when I suggest things such as playing from memory and improvising a cadenza.

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Michael Thompson with masterclass participants Ian Wildsmith, Florian Hunziker and Tom Taffinder 

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