Ahead of his appearance at Harrogate International Sunday Series in February, the youngest ever winner of BBC Young Musician Competition talks inspirations, repertoire and breaking down stereotypes.
You premiered Roxanna Panufnik in Vienna and are excitedly playing it in Harrogate – it was written especially for you – can you tell us a bit about it?
The Roxanna Panufnik commission came about when I heard some of her vocal music at the Wigmore Hall a couple of years back and was blown away by the sound world which she created. It seemed like a perfect fit as the trombone is such a singing instrument, in that the player makes the sound themselves. There is virtually nothing mechanical and the instrument just resonates the sound we make! I’m delighted with the result of our collaboration and am so pleased that Roxanna agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to work together on this project.
Your programme also features Beethoven and Gershwin – pretty eclectic – what do you hope audiences will leave with after experiencing your concert?
In this day and age of performing, it is important for us to be versatile and show as many attributes as we can in concert. The trombone is already a very versatile instrument, so it makes sense to include some lighter jazzy numbers and in the past I’ve even started in the 17th century and moved forward all the way to the 21st century in the space of a two hour concert via Beethoven, Brahms and other transcriptions! I love giving audiences new things to think about – so many people have come up to me and said after concerts, “I didn’t know the trombone could do this/sound like that” and it’s because it so often appears in a limited capacity. We need to knock down these walls and alter the narrow-minded preconceptions!
James Baillieu is on piano – you recorded your first CD with him – how is that chemistry?
It’s fantastic working with James Baillieu. His musicianship, intuition, artistry is world class. I always feel like he knows exactly when I’m going to play and when the note is going to speak – not always easy with brass players! We enjoyed working on the CD together and its been very pleasing to receive such great feedback about the duo dynamic.
Trombone is a bit of an unusual instrument – who inspired you to get into it?
I don’t remember exactly who inspired me to play the trombone, only that I knew I wanted to do it from a young age, after seeing brass bands in the park in Belfast where I grew up. My family have all played brass at some point in various capacities and my parents didn’t want me to do music at first. Maybe they wanted me to grow up and make an honest living!!! Anyway, I was very persistent and won them over…
Pretty cool winning the BBC Young Musician then being nominated a Barbican Rising Star – how has that changed your career?
The BBC Young Musician was an invaluable thing for me. Looking back, some of the opportunities I had in the months and years following on from the competition were amazing. If anything, I was slightly too young to fully appreciate them all at the time but am certainly very grateful for everything now because its played a huge part in my development to where I am now. Similarly, the Barbican ECHO nomination is great. Already this season, I’ve given recitals in the Vienna Musikverein and Amsterdam Concertgebouw, which is a huge thing for anyone let alone a trombonist! I feel very fortunate. Coming up are recitals in London, Birmingham, Hamburg, Cologne, Stockholm to name a few.
As the youngest ever BBC Young Musician aged 12 – how did that impact on you? At that age you’re still a child?! Was it tough or something you embraced?
The BBC competition did happen when I was very young, yes. I think when you’re that age, in many ways things are easier because you take things in your stride and don’t stop to think for too long! I was definitely one of these people and enjoyed the experiences without worrying too much because it’s tough to understand difficulties and pressures when you’re aged 12. I always try to return to this state of mind when things are challenging – it’s supposed to be fun! Above all, I feel very lucky to do my hobby and one of my biggest passions for a job (sadly my childhood dream of being a professional footballer for Man City wasn’t to be).
Brass perhaps is often seen as a working men’s/miners music – do you want to shake up that image?
I’m not sure that Brass is seen as a working men’s or miners music anymore…! I think perhaps this is a fair few decades out of date! Yes, we do still get the annoying stereotyping but I think it is becoming more and more equal in terms of gender as the years go on. Less and less now in schools do we hear, “you can’t play that instrument because you’re a girl”. I think it will continue to improve, but we can always do more to help banish the “old-school” labelling and stereotyping.
What’s the best thing any critic has ever said about your playing or the moment you’re most proud of?
I don’t tend to read many critics of my concerts or if I do, try not to take them too literally! It’s good that they exist, but I like to focus on maximum enjoyment of the music and sharing it with others!
The Festival runs a Library of Live scheme offering free tickets to 7-25 year olds to encourage them to experience a live chamber concert – what would you say to a young person, new to that world, to tempt them to give it a go?
The Library of Live scheme sounds fantastic and I would encourage any young person to go along to concerts and try new things. You might find something you really like when you are least expecting it and although it can feel a bit daunting and take an initial bit of bravery to enter a world that we aren’t familiar with, a chamber music concert is a great place to start.
Harrogate International Festivals present Peter Moore with James Baillieu on Sunday 3 February, 11am at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. Book online here. Box Office: 01423 562 303.