Why did you decide to become a musician?
I had started a degree in electrical and electronic engineering but found myself travelling home at every opportunity to play in the local youth orchestra and brass band. The final decision was made when the maths became really hard!
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
The camaraderie and shared experiences. When an orchestra is really working as a team it is like a murmuration of starlings – everyone acting together as one.
What’s the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
The 1993 centenary concert at the Royal Albert Hall. We played the Second Symphony of Mahler and I remember the hall shaking with the sound of the Orchestra, chorus and RAH organ playing altogether. The trombone parts are a joy to play and the climaxes make the spine tingle.
If you could work with one musician, who would it be and why?
The Swedish jazz trombonist Nils Landgren worked often with the pianist Esbjorn Svensson (who unfortunately died in 2008 while scuba diving.) Svensson was a very creative writer and incredible improviser all of which was underpinned by a profound knowledge and understanding of Bach. Had circumstances allowed, I would have jumped at the chance to learn something from this amazing musician.
What work do you enjoy playing above all else and why?
The Seventh Symphony of Sibelius has to be a favourite of all trombone players. Like Brahms, Sibelius sounds very intuitive – it just develops naturally – but when you see it on the page it looks completely different and far more complex (it is that hidden rhythmic and harmonic tension that gives their work so much energy.) In this short symphony, the tension builds gradually three times, twice reaching a glorious C major resolution – the middle resolution being darker in character – and the trombone is given the majestic sustained melody that hails that arrival. Although I would like to think that it is because of the heroic and noble nature of the trombone that it is scored like this, it is more probable that the trombonist in the Helsinki Philharmonic got to the bar before the trumpet and horn players and bought Sibelius the first drink.
Tell us about the history of your instrument?
The trombone has been used in most musical genres to date. The original instruments, sackbuts, were used in early polyphony, in the Venetian courts and in various instrumental groups from the fifteenth century. They were used alongside other wind and string instruments and would play similar musical lines. In sacred music, trombones were often used to support the voices and developed into three sizes – alto, tenor and bass, each shadowing the appropriate vocal range – the soprano register either being supported by a treble instrument or simply using the natural brightness and energy to sit on top of the chorus. Although there is not a great deal of repertoire that utilises the trombone in the instrumental music of the Baroque and early Classical periods, the choral works of Handel, Haydn and Mozart and others include elegant and fluid writing for the instrument. Trombones did however begin to be used in the operas of Gluck and beyond, the first instance in a symphony (that is still performed) is the Fifth of Beethoven where he uses a section of three – alto, tenor and bass. Unlike early polyphonic writing, the use of the trombones, as all instruments, from this point onwards reflects more their specific characteristics so that they become part of a palette of sounds. The two most immediately obvious characteristics of the instrument are the wide dynamic range and the ability to perform a comedy slide without a safety net. For trombone players, often the most satisfying moments are the quiet chorales in Brahms and Mahler, the colour that the instruments add to Sibelius and the mellifluous lines of the Mozart requiem. For the back desks of the violas the most satisfying trombone moments are the bars rest.
What are your interests outside of music?
I am lucky to live in a beautiful area of the country that is fantastic for walking. Until recently I would also have included cycling in my list of hobbies but have discovered that my colleague Robb Tooley cycles further on a Tuesday evening than I do in a month. I have also started to renovate two houses – unfortunately it is the finishing that seems to be the tricky part.
Photo Credit: Christian Lawson