Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Fanfare for the uncommon man - and woman

The award-winning Imperial College Big Band:  engineers, scientists and medical students,  making  music around the world
The other morning,  switching from Radio 4 to Radio 3 – a habit usually triggered by the sports reports - I hear a charming interview with a retired civil engineer. He recounts how he decided to learn to play a musical instrument at the same time as embarking on his degree course and in a relatively short space of time became sufficiently proficient to play with the university orchestra. He then discovered that as his career took him to projects around the country and then further afield, he could quickly find new friends in new places by joining the local music-making scene.  He travelled the world with his trumpet, which seems to have become a universal social passport giving added pleasure to his construction career.

Captivating - Heatherwick Studio's giant dandelion housing the British Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 Expo
A few days later I am in the Great Hall of the Royal Institute of British Architects to hear the Annual Lecture delivered by the designer Thomas Heatherwick who creates extraordinary structures such as the Seed Cathedral for the British pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 Expo. The range and creativity of his work, from handbags to monumental sculpture, from glass bridges to the new Routemaster bus, has led to him being labeled a modern Renaissance man. At dinner afterwards, I am seated next to Heatherwick senior, who was a music teacher for many years and tells me that his son Thomas was a more than competent musician – playing the trumpet.

Last Friday evening is spent just a few minutes from home, in St Johns Smith Square, the wonderful Baroque church built for Queen Anne in 1728 and which has become one of London’s favourite concert halls. The players of the resident London Chamber Orchestra not only make music of wonderful quality but also deliver it with such a joie de vivre  that their concerts sell out fast.  Conducted by the exuberant Christopher Warren-Green, tonight’s attraction is the outstanding trumpeter Alison Balsom, who started her career with the LCO and has become an international star.

Alison Balsom, taking the classical trumpet to new heights and new audiences

As the glorious golden notes of the trumpet soar upwards, I think of the recurring theme of this joyous instrument and the power it evokes. From tumbling those walls of Jericho to helping an engineer finding new friends far from home, from a designer challenging the norm in buildings to a young woman triumphing in a world dominated so long by male giants such as Crispian Steele-Perkins and Håkan Hardenberger.

Above all, trumpet music lifts the spirits. As the Reverend Sydney Smith, the great 18th-century wit and raconteur, is said to have declared,  his idea of heaven was 'eating paté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets.'


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