It's been another busy year for my euphonium, travelling with me around the world. Every year I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I do and never take for granted the opportunities and privileges that are afforded me on my travels. There were some periods of this year where tours ran back-to-back and my physical reserves were tested to the full.
Here are my thoughts on many of the activities during 2012.
The year began gently after a long but enjoyable trip to Asia in the weeks before Christmas 2010. And until a visit to Switzerland in the middle of January I was home and planning! I always enjoy visiting Switzerland, there are so many excellent brass players there and they play with such great spirit in the bands. I played with a wind band in Berikon, directed by the charismatic Hans Peter Adank. As is usual with him the after-concert party seemed even more enjoyable than the concert itself! Those that know him will understand !
After some intensive visits to the RNCM it was time for the RNCM Festival of Brass. The undoubted highlight was the concert by the Venezuelan Brass Ensemble who gave a packed Bridgewater Hall audience an experience they are unlikely to forget. For me it put into perspective how directionless our UK brass band movement is, so staid in our ways and lacking imagination. Perhaps it was compounded by the reaction of the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators , or at least their representatives, at my Seminar on Criteria Judging which I presented at the RNCM at the same weekend. Whilst not wishing to go into too many details here I was astonished at their negative attitude to a subject which has interested the rest of the brass band world and music contests around the world generally. Since then several contests outside the influence of ABBA have shown great initiative and some have implemented criteria based judging already with more to follow. The subsequent evaporation of the UK Brass band Alliance has in my opinion ensured that the backward looking attitudes can sadly continue unchecked, at least in England, for some time yet. Following this Seminar I indicated that I would be withdrawing from my frontline campaign and would be happy to let others take up the work and let the arguments speak for themselves, which I believe they are doing.
At the beginning of February I visited the Netherlands for a low brass day organised by my friend Jan Jansen, who has done so much to promote and develop brass education in this country. We had nearly 100 participants which was a tremendous response, and we plan the next one for 10 March 2012. See PHOTOS
The week after this I was near Valencia in Spain for the annual winter brass festival organised by Spanish Brass. I had around 17 accomplished Spanish euphonium students including 3 or 4 quite outstanding players. see PHOTOS
The week after this, 17 to 21 February I enjoyed my first ever visit to Malta, organised by my ex-student Mark Gauci, who is now making such an impact in Malta and the nearby island of Gozo. It was a very intensive schedule of 4 days of one-to-one teaching, rehearsals with his band and then culminating in a spectacular concert at the Manoel Theatre in Malta itself. Just to spend a few hours in this very old and famous theatre was wonderful and a large appreciative audience enjoyed the concert so much. I also gave a recital accompanied by Asta Kvasyte from Lithuania. see PHOTOS
As I do most months, I visited Markneikirchen Germany to test all the professional models of euphonium and baritone made by Besson, and the following week I was there in the snow, testing around 70 instruments. I enjoy this testing so much even though the schedule for the visit is usually quite intensive, leaving the home around 3:30 AM and driving to London Gatwick to fly at 7.30, arriving into Nuremberg around 1030 taking a rental car and driving 230 km to Markneikirchen getting there just before lunch. I then work at full speed until around 4.45pm before pointing my rental car in the direction of Nuremberg once again. I then get home around 11 PM.
I enjoyed a couple of projects with the enterprising Test Valley Youth Brass Band during the 1st half of 2011, starting off with an all day masterclass for the youth, training and senior bands, a rehearsal a few months later culminating in a public concert in May.
I have several visiting international students visit me for lessons and none more stimulating than Josep Burguera from Spain who came to see me at the beginning of March. He is a really talented musician and we had some fantastic discussions about music and performance.
In early March I also visited the town of Diedesheim, quite close to Frankfurt for a weekend of master classes and a recital organised by my friend Carina Conzelmann who thanks to great publicity, attracted around 50 euphonium tuba and trombone players to take part. There was a great atmosphere all weekend and I played a recital, again accompanied by Asta from Lithuania. The following weekend, 18 to 20 March I was again in Switzerland performing a concert with a brass band and then the week after it was off to my first US visit of 2012 and the spring concert by The Brass Band of Battle Creek. These weeks are always tremendous and this of course was no exception, and it was followed by a local US tour were I went down to the far south-west of Texas then back up to Baltimore (special thanks to my good friend Ed Goldstein) to play the new Gillingham Concerto at the music educators convention and give two days of masterclasses. From there I went directly to Riga, Latvia to take part in their annual Brass Symposium which is a festival which is gaining widespread attention for its innovation and dedication to the cause of brass music in the Baltic countries. see PHOTOS
In perhaps the most bizarre set of travel arrangements, I then returned to the USA direct from there to be one of the adjudicators at the NABBA competition held in Grand Rapids Michigan, only a couple of hours driving from where I'd been two weeks earlier with the BBBC! This well run event demonstrated from me the continuing growth of the brass band movement in the USA. Although we as judges were sitting in boxes, our marks counted separately. Perhaps the days of the 'cosy chats' between adjudicators are over. If you select high-quality musicians you must respect their individual opinions! The use of criteria would have again been even more helpful, and in my opinion contests later in the year both in the UK and around Europe seem to have been crying out for the use of criteria, in both test piece and entertainment contests. I will sit and be patient until the bleeding obvious becomes the bleeding obvious! Excuse my French !!
I made a visit to the Chetham' s School of Music in April and enjoyed meeting the talented students there before embarking on another rather bizarre set of travel arrangements, which took me from Lima, Peru were I took part in the Peru Low Brass Festival organised by the local trombone professor Carlos Quiroz, who did a quite splendid job in bringing together so many musicians from his own country and around South America. It was great to have the chance to compare travel schedules with Christian Lindberg who was also in Lima for a few days at the festival. There were also musicians there from Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina; it was a real meeting of musical minds. see PHOTOS
From there I flew back to Paris to record one track for a new solo CD by the young French star Bastien Baumet. We recorded Philip Sparke's Two Part Invention with the Paris Brass Band, before embarking on a rather long relaxation evening at the bar in the centre of Paris!@!
The next morning I flew to Beijing, my second visit to China, to do some teaching and play a recital at one of the prestigious Promenade Series of concerts organised by Mr Zijia Zhang. I do find Beijing to be very impressive in so many ways, not only the sheer size and grandeur of the city, but by how well it works. Despite the millions of cars there everything moves and everybody gets around. The air was a lot better quality than my last visit which was shrouded in smog, and it was a very good time indeed culminating in an excellent concert where I was joined by four other guest soloists, Flute, French horn, Trombone and Trumpet. I was getting more accustomed to their food and even more adventurous in my consumption of it! see PHOTOS
The following week, and as you can appreciate my life is full of contrasts, I was in Innsbruck Austria, actually a town rather than the city but one of my favourite places in Europe. To make music there seems so natural, a town so rich in tradition and culture, surrounded by mountains. My reason to be there was to give the world premiere of Hermann Pallhuber's tremendous new composition for euphonium, entitled Bliss. I was there to play it with the Wilten Band, the most established and well known of all wind bands in Innsbruck and full of amazing characters! The concert went very well, to a packed audience in the Congress Hall. I will be recording this piece during 2012 and giving the first performances in the brass band version with the Austrian Youth Brass Band in May 2012 and with symphony orchestra on Saturday, 23 June in Linz.
On 14 May I returned to my university roots by visiting Bristol Easton Salvation Army, for their Spring Festival concert. It was great to go back there and play with the band and have so many members of my family in the audience too, who'd made a special effort to hear me play. It was a wonderful weekend.
The week after I was in Ludwigsburg, Germany making a return visit to a band I last played with 8 years ago. It was a very interesting weekend, and it was encouraging to see so many excellent young musicians in the band, giving a breath of fresh and securing the future musical level of the band. It is another European city steeped in tradition with many beautiful old buildings, but with the spirit of innovation that sadly I don't see so much in UK towns and cities.
At the end of May I performed a concert with the Birmingham Schools Brass Band, something that I love to do quite regularly, and it was at the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatory, a place that I used to know very well indeed! Actually, not much has changed there, and it was so good to perform with these young musicians once again. Martin Orgill, the conductor for many years of this group, keeps up the fantastic standard and I have such admiration for his work.
The following morning it was off to Austria for some concerts with SoundINNBrass, both in Germany, close to Passau, Salzburg, see PHOTOS and then later in the week at the Schagel Festival in Melk, Austria. The latter festival was very impressive, well-run and highly professional on the location was quite stunning. In Passau I worked with an emerging brass band, and really enjoyed my time with them so much so that I will be returning to work with them from 17th to 20th of May 2012.
The day after the festival in Melk I flew to Zürich and then on by train to Visp, to play a concert conducted by my old friend Amade Schnyder, at a summer music Festival in Ershmatt , in the Valais. This part of Switzerland has weekly brass and wind band festivals and there's a great sense of camaraderie between all musicians, and the intensity of competition, although they want to win, is never allowed to get in the way of having a good time. see PHOTOS
Two days later I was playing at a surprise birthday party for an amateur euphonium player in Switzerland celebrating his 60th birthday ! To see the look on his face as I emerged in the converted farm building, accompanied by the band from Berikon who I have played with in January, was just fantastic. I thought the guy was going to pass out !!
So now we're in the middle of June, and it's time to head off to Tucson, Arizona for the 2011 LowBrass Boot Camp. A lot of people imagine, when they see the word Boot Camp, a load of people wearing camouflage clothing crawling along the floor covered in mud! Well it's nothing like this, instead we were in the air-conditioned surroundings, thank God, of the music building at the University in Tuscon, where we had been just one year before at the ITEC 2010. The course was full to capacity again and it was a really stimulating week being with friends and colleagues and playing music from 9 AM to 9 PM every day. The players both young and old, all really committed to the euphonium and tuba, had a great time rubbing shoulders with several really great performers and teachers, including Dave Zerkel, Aaron Tindall, Danny Helseth, Kelly Thomas and Pat Stuckemeyer. and his dear wife Mary. Sign up for 2012
At the end of June there were a couple more concerts with SoundINNBrass in Austria.
With the warmer weather upon us in Europe the summer months, July and August saw visits to Innsbruck again (for a two-day masterclass, see PHOTOS recording , see PHOTOS and outdoor concert with the Wilten Band, (again performing Pallhuber's Bliss), a concert with Lito Fontana's trombone quartet. ‘Trombonisti Italiani', and then on to Sicily, Italy and 3 concerts with the Messina Brass Band. I love working with these Italian musicians, and through the chaos of the organization, there is still superb music that outflows, and a love of brass bands. see PHOTOS
With just a few days break to build up the energy once again it was off to my favourite week of the summer, I always say this, and it's true. The Fanfare Week in Trakai, Lithuania is always a great time, with enthusiastic students, and big appreciative audiences, set in the most gorgeous of situations, with a mediaeval castle and lakes everywhere. (Sign up early for the course in August 2012!!). This year I played a concert accompanied by string quartet, as well as playing Carmen Fantasy with the band in the final concert. It was great to get to know to new teachers on the course this year, Wim Van Hasselt, a trumpet player player with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, and trombonist Tobias Schiessler, who brought so much initiative and talent to this year's course. see PHOTOS
In the middle of August was the Italian Brass Week, set in Santa Fiora, about 2 hours driving north of Rome. It was a week full of high-level brass playing, outstanding food and wine, dedicated students, good weather, and hit and miss organisation ! But it was such a friendly atmosphere and it was the middle of the summer, so why worry ?! Large audiences enjoyed the concerts, some of which were very long, including the horn night that went on until after midnight ! The low brass night was of course the highlight !! My fellow tutors were Oystein Baadvik, Roland Szentpali, Alessandro Fossi and Hidehiro Fugita, and other included teachers included Ian Bousfield, Dale Clevenger, Hermann Baumann, Giuliano Sommerhalder. I conducted the final concert of the week for all those that were left, to a packed audience in the town square in Santa Fiora. see PHOTOS
After that a holiday was definitely in order, and the following week I took James and Alicia, my two wonderful children, to a resort holiday in Egypt. It was just the perfect unwind. see PHOTOS
From then on we plunged into September with renewed vigour. A few days after listening to the British Open Band Championships in Birmingham, I was in the recording studio at the RNCM as producer for Kristy Rowe, recording an album of beautiful 19th century works that she had collected together and performed on the baritone. Watch out for this CD early in 2012.
Then there was a brass band weekend in Germany, with the 3BA Brass Band (huge thanks to Markus Mikusch), see PHOTOS, several visits to the Downton Band, near my home town of Bournemouth, preparing them for the 3rd section national finals, and a most enjoyable day trip to Paris, for the Buffet Crampon Artists Dinner, along with several of my esteemed Besson colleagues.
From Paris I went directly to Rostov in the south of Russia renewing my acquaintance with Vadim Vilinov and the Rostov State Wind Band that I hadn't played with some 8 years. It was to be his final official concert with this band and the weekend also marked his first concert with the Rostov Symphony Orchestra as professional conduct. Rostov has changed a great deal in the intervening years, and for the better. It was a memorable weekend. see PHOTOS
I enjoyed in the following week and two days with the combined Bern and Lucerne students of Thomas Ruedi. To hear the future professionals all in one room was a magical time. From there I had a fairly disastrous train journey from Milan and then onto Brescia. I love many things about Italy, but their trains sadly have gone way down in my estimation: catastrophic organisation, information and punctuality !! That's all I'm saying. Once I arrived in Brescia I had a terrific time playing with a really fine wind band under the baton of Denis Salvini, a charismatic and talented young conductor. We played good music to a large appreciative audience at the University music Hall in Brescia. I combined the rehearsals and this concert with 2 days of intensive teaching for local low brass students.
The following weekend was the national finals in London, and it was a most entertaining weekend, showing off the new Travel Mute, and meeting so many old friends. I had with me a euphonium colleague from Brazil, Rafael Mendes, who enjoyed his first experience of brass bands so much. I myself still find the Royal Albert Hall so awe-inspiring. In my opinion the best band won the contest ! (Sounds surprising doesn't it ?!), and despite what critics have said about the test piece, it certainly was a test and the audience enjoyed it.
The following weekend I was in Bergen, Norway for a euphonium weekend organised by Patrik Randefalk, the solar euphonium player with the Eikanger Bjorsvik band, and he did a splendid job bringing together around 30 students. A big thanks to him and to Besson for supporting this event so well. From there I went directly to Japan for a 13 day visit organised by Buffet Crampon Japan. Every single one of my Japanese trips going back 20 years has been enjoyable and this one was especially good, beginning in Osaka, then going on to Hiroshima, Kagawa, back to Tokyo, and culminating up in Sendai (near the centre of the earthquake zone earlier in the year). I have so many wonderful memories of this trip and met so many warmhearted people. It is hard to select a highlight from this time, but the one that perhaps I'll remember the longest was my concert in Sendai, and meeting all the musicians informally afterwards. I'm already planning my next Japan tour for 2012, and I can't wait to go back.
The week after I got back from Japan I went to Lithuania, to work with the Trimitas Band, but as conductor and soloist. This is a professional wind band based in Vilnius, and plays very well indeed. I am so grateful to their resident conductor Ugnuis Vaiginis for allowing me the opportunity to work with the band, and the concert in Vilnius seemed to go very well. I have so many wonderful friends now in Lithuania having been there for 10 years, and to see so many of them in the audience was a wonderful experience and quite emotional. see PHOTOS
With just a few more trips to go in the year this time to go back to Italy and to give to concerts and two masterclasses in and around Rome. The first masterclass was at the Santa Cecilia Academy in the centre of Rome, and we had a very good number of students and professional players attend. My good friend Antonio Menegazzo worked so hard to set this up, as did the number one euphonium performer in Italy, Matteo Caramaschi. We've been trying for many years to get the euphonium accepted here, and perhaps this was yet another small step. The first concert was also there. The second masterclass and concert was in city of Rieti, in the wonderful theatre there, that had one of the best acoustics of the entire year for me, giving euphonium an incredible depth and resonance, yet still clarity. No wonder this theatre has won so many awards for its acoustics. see PHOTOS
Approaching the final challenges of the year, I went to Austria to rehearse with SoundINNBrass , before flying directly to the USA for The Brass Band of Battle Creek Christmas concerts , to be joined the following day by the Austrians, who were guests of the band, and who also work to give several school workshops and concerts. Winter had definitely arrived in Michigan, but everything worked without a hitch. Performing in front of 800 high school students was quite daunting especially as I was also given the microphone, but it seemed to work really well. The final concert in Marshall, a city that I know so well as I'd been there 20 years in connection with the BBBC, was really outstanding.
And now I've just returned home from my final visit, which was to Caracas, Venezuela. Nearly one year after my first experience with Venezuelan brass musicians, at the RNCM Festival, I was privileged to be able to go to their headquarters, a really impressive 7 storey complex in Caracas (videos to come soon !) Caracas is a city with many problems, but from it also emanates so many positive stories and miusical performances over the years, from musicians from the Simón Bolívar orchestras, and they are nothing short of amazing. The euphonium is a fairly new instrument in Venezuelan music, but I was delighted to see the level and number of students involved. We had nearly 20 students and we work from 9 AM to 6 PM non-stop for a week, culminating in a couple of outstanding concerts. It was a week full of smiling, and good humour, I want to thank my translator for being so ‘on the ball' with all the translations, the questions from the students, and even from the fun times in the restaurants. A special thanks to my good friend Yefren Antonio Carrero Murillo. It was a pleasure and privilege to do this work, and very humbling. see PHOTOS
It was a perfect cadence for 2011 and left me with a lot to think about as I plan all the events of 2012, including of course the ITEC in Linz Austria, which is one of the principal focal points of my mind !! Please keep looking at the ITEC 2012 website, which is www.itec2012.at and we are also on twitter: @itec2012
To all my family, friends, supporters and fellow musicians I've encountered on my journeys, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for making 2011 such a memorable year.
I hope to find the energy to do more in 2012. From early summer to the beginning of November my health was not in the best of conditions, I'm pleased to say that this is all sorted out now, and so with renewed vigour and energy I look forward to the New Year. Thank you to all for your encouragement, it is so much appreciated.
Seasons greetings and a very happy New Year for 2012.