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15 Questions to Alison Balsom

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi! Great thanks! I'm in Paris waiting for a Eurostar.

What's on your schedule right now?
I played the Hummel Concerto yesterday in the UK and am just returning from a rehearsal with the incredible soprano Nathalie Dessay - It was fantastically inspiring to play with her.

Can you still remember the first time you heard a piece of classical music?
FIRST time! Wow - Nobody usually asks that! The first time I was aware of it in my memory was hearing a performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto played by Michael Collins - I was very lucky to have such a classy introduction to classical music.

What was the deciding moment, which made you want to become an artist?
It was when I heard the Swedish trumpeter Hardenberger play the Hummel at the Barbican with the ECO. I was about 9 and I remember the next day at school thinking: 'Now that's what it's all about!' - It took me about 12 more years to seize the opportunity and run with it. 

What's the hardest part about being a musician and what's the best?
The hardest part is the admin and the hardest, but also the best is the constant pressure we put on ourselves. Aspiring to always do more, create something more musical, magical or worthwhile is so great, but also a huge lifelong all consuming challenge. 


Do you consider it important that more young people care for classical music? If so, how, do you think, could this be achieved? 
It is vitally important that young people at least have a chance to be exposed to the highest quality art of all genres. It is what makes a civilised society, and individually what really makes life worth living. It lifts us out of the mundanities of everyday life, and if you're lucky can take you to a place which is like paradise - who wouldn't want that for young people?

How would you rate the importance of the internet and new media for classical music?
Of course it is the future of purchasing music - THE most important way to reach a large audience, but I don't think things are as hopeless as they sometimes seem to the industry. People still want to hear new recordings - and if anything audiences have a much better appreciation of the quality of recordings now that top quality listening equipment has become more widely available. Classical music will do well from this.

With so many different recordings of a particular piece available – how do you keep yours fresh and different? 
I don't believe that recordings are made up of the sum of their cleverly engineered parts - The point of a recording is not to get the correct notes of a piece set for posterity, but rather to capture the ideas of the composer, represented by the spirit of performer at that particular moment. If I really feel I have something of my personality to give to the piece, something new to say, I hope that would be enough to make it original and fresh.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What's your approach to performing on stage?
In my opinion, most important for a good live performance is when the performer communicates something to the audience. If that something was made up of stylish presence, emotional commitment, a clear account of what the composer might have liked, then so much the better! My approach to performing on stage would be to try to keep this sentiment uppermost in my mind at all times, no matter how difficult in the excitement of the moment.

What does the word "interpretation" mean to you?
Simply the act of creating what a composer wished for, whilst adding our premeditated ideas, our emotions and then our spontaneous actions.

How do you balance the need to to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer? 
I start by trying to learn a piece as accurately to what the composer put in the score as I can. Of course this process will be 'coloured' by our personalities, but it is when we begin to perform it that our personal emotions unlock the music from the page, and hopefully give it a new life, and at least conduct (in an electrical sense) from composer to listener.

What's your view on the relationship between musical education and classical music?
I am struggling to answer this question as classical music IS one big musical education. I feel like I've only just begun. I really love so many other styles too, particularly jazz, but 'classical music' is a limitless subject. Musical education should include whatever captures people's imaginations. Classical music in my opinion is one of the most satisfying genres of all, but seems to be a delicate area in mainstream education in the UK as so often it is portrayed in the wrong way.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season? 
Well, since I am not, and I don't need to make a sensible balanced choice, It would have to include at least two St. Matthew Passions, lots of concerts with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Les Arts Florissants for instance - they just sound so fresh. All my favourite soloists - too many to even start listing. There would have to be something very un-classical - for instance the Buena Vista Social Club. But I would probably copy whatever the Barbican choose - I always seem to want to go to EVERYTHING they put on!

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
My relationship with the trumpet is generally great, although we occasionally fall out because of its physical limitations and repertoire limitations. Mainly though I am a loyal and passionate supporter - It can have such fabulous colours, be so versatile, and make such a beautiful sound. I will vigorously defend it for the rest of my life.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
I'm fascinated by the violin. The actual instrument itself, and the history of what each delicate little fiddle has been through in its 'lifetime' seems awesome to me - and the sound, the repertoire, the skills one needs to master it - all incredible. I tried to play it a few times but it is so frustrating to me that I can't sound like Maxim Vengerov and can't play the Brahms after a few weeks. So - I'm bad.

Caprice (EMI)
Bach: Works for Trumpet (EMI)
Music for Trumpet and Organ (EMI)
The Fam'd Italian Masters (Hyperion)

Alison Balsom

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