The classical star landing a blow for brass
Thanks to the glamorous Alison Balsom, trumpet playing is shedding its stereotype as a fusty male domain
Monday 30 May 2011
Dressed by Armani and dripping with diamonds, Alison Balsom sizzled with her trumpet across this year's Classic Brit Awards and on the ITV broadcast of the ceremony last night where she was named its Female Artist of the Year for her album of Italian Concertos.
Balsom, 32, is hardly a typical trumpet virtuoso – it's an instrument more often associated with lads down the pub after band practice. But her mixture of glamour, charisma and unaffected, genuine-spirited musicianship has won the public's heart and in the process begun to transform the image of the trumpet itself.
Broadening her instrument's appeal beyond its macho associations is part of her mission, Balsom affirms, while scooping her 14-month-old son, Charlie, safely away from the coffee machine (she separated from Charlie's father, the conductor Edward Gardner, a few months ago). "I don't think I've changed the trumpet's stereotype singlehandedly, but I feel proud that it is changing," she says. "At my concerts I often meet little girls of eight or nine whose parents say they started playing the trumpet because they heard one of my CDs. As many girls as boys love the trumpet when they're very young – but later grown-ups put the stereotypes on them and it can deter them. It's a shame, because the trumpet is very extrovert and very physical, and so are many girls."
Balsom comes from Royston, Hertfordshire, where she says she was lucky to attend "a tiny primary school in which I had the chance to play lots of different instruments. I just fell in love with the trumpet." As part of a town centre redevelopment scheme, Royston is about to put up a statue of her, much to her astonishment: "I was up against King James I and the town cryer!"
Her first big break was winning the brass section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1998. "That was absolutely terrifying," she laughs, "and showed me what it would be like to be a soloist rather than an orchestral player." It was only when she went to study at the Paris Conservatoire, though, that her eyes were opened to what hard work it would be. "The French training treats the trumpet as a solo instrument much more seriously than the UK's does. My lessons in Paris were brutal. They lasted for six hours, you had to play in front of all the other students, and you knew they were hoping you'd just drop dead..."
The violinist virtuoso Maxim Vengerov – an ex-boyfriend of hers – is another influence: "He's an extraordinary artist. Every time I go on stage I think about his musical persona and try to put something of that into my playing."
The glamorous images on her CD covers, though, are only part of the picture. Her next recording will be altogether grittier, including trumpet concertos from 1950 to the present day by Jolivet, Arutiunyan, Zimmermann and, not least, James MacMillan – the world premiere of his new Trumpet Concerto. The opposite end of the spectrum from the Classic Brits? "This is what I do every day," Balsom declares. "I love to show the versatility of the instrument: we don't have as big a repertoire as other instruments, but we do have as wide a scope."
Balsom's own scope extends to being a patron of the new Mayor's Fund that Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has launched to provide music scholarships for hundreds of London schoolchildren. It's a cause about which she is absolutely passionate. "Since I've had Charlie it's become even clearer to me that even very young children have an instinctive response to music," she says. "It's like a fast track into their brains. It's so obvious. How can we ignore that? To lose that connection would be a dangerous thing for our culture." Helpfully, Charlie toddles by, singing to himself.
It will take figureheads like Balsom to bring the cause to the fore – and at least she is there to try. "I want to get that message across," she says. "But often people are more interested in the Armani dresses and the diamonds. And the fact that I'm a female trumpet player."
'Italian Concertos' is out now on EMI Classics
scienceScientists find the answer to a question that even puzzled Darwin
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
arts + entsThe 'Friends' actor on his new role as campaigner on addiction issues
Geoffrey Macnab: The Wolf of Wall Street's account of white-collar excess is A Rake’s Progress on steroids
scienceThe new development in bio-printing technology could be used in the future to restore lost vision - though years of research still await
architectureThe design collective which has stuck two fingers up at the modernists will call it quits at Venice
... But if you’re one of those poor souls offended by Jennifer Lopez’s choice of leotard, Grace Dent wants you to get a bloody grip
Arts & Ents blogs
Brian Griffin returns: Cartoon dog back from the dead in Family Guy Christmas episode
Matthew Perry: He'll be there for you
Nymphomaniac, film review: 'Despite the surreal sex scenes this is a serious drama'
FAT’s all folks: Architecture’s biggest jokers sign off in style
Shia LaBeouf apologises for plagiarising cartoonist's story for Cannes short film
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 Facebook 'self-censorship': study records when you don't post to find more ways to share
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 British prisoner Dr Abbas Khan found dead in Syrian jail days before he was due to be handed over to MP George Galloway
- 4 Vitamin pills are a waste of money, offer no health benefits and could be harmful - study
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >