By Encorum team member, Polly Dunlop (September 2017)
Musician of the Month – September 2017
Alison Balsom (1978-)
Born in Hertfordshire, Alison Balsom connected to the trumpet at an early age and has become one of the greatest ambassadors of its place in classical music. She has won various prestigious awards, including the 2013 Gramophone award for ‘Artist of the Year’, the Classical Brits award for the ‘Best Female Artist’ in 2011, the ‘PPL Classical Award’ by the musical charity Nordoff Robbins as well as international awards and recognition.
On Monday, 13th October 2014, I went to The Royal Albert Hall to see the charismatic Alison perform her solo show. Having recently started my third and final year at University, my dissertation – a 20-minute trumpet performance, was hot in my mind, and I was avidly piecing together repertoire for my programme.
Alison’s performance that evening included the Czech composer, Peter Eben’s, Zlate Okno (translated as “The Golden Window”), orchestrated for trumpet and organ. Have a listen to the piece here. Zlate Okno is one of the four movements from Okna (Windows) composed by Eben. Petr Eben (1929-2007), born in Žamberk Czech Republic, was a composer and organist who was considered to be one of the best Czech musicians, becoming notable and famous in the West following the 1989 Velvet Revolution. A lot of Eben’s compositions were inspired from author’s and artist’s works. Eben’s Okna works were influenced by Marc Chagall’s Jerusalem Windows, in which Eben chose four of the twelve Chagall Windows to depict; Modré Okno (Blue Window), Zelené Okno (Green Window), Červené Okno (Red Window), Zlaté Okno (Golden Window). The images and colors in which Chagall uses for his windows intrigued Eben as they are a source of light and are a view from reality to fantasy.
The Golden Window movement is the most tonal out of Eben’s Windows. The organ is heard at the beginning of the piece with a clear chorale, similar to that of a Russian national hymn. (This chorale is also heard in Tchaikovsky’s 1812, festival overture.) With the chorale repeating itself in the organ, the trumpet enters with individual phrases, when least expected, over the top of the organ’s chorale. With their different abstract melodies, the trumpet and organ later come together in the piece, the same way the sun suddenly beams through the window.
Every set of eyes looks through a stained glass window differently and thus Eben creates similar characteristics within Okna, giving the musicians some freedom of improvisation allowing them to choose when to enter with their different passages. This, therefore, makes each performance different.
It is with no doubt that Alison Balsom’s breath taking performance of The Golden Window, along with The Royal Albert Hall’s boasting acoustics, blew my mind! I immediately knew that this piece was to feature in my dissertation. Having lived in the Czech Republic for 6 years prior to going to University in 2011, I felt even more determined to include it in my dissertation – adding more of a personal touch.
Alison, a stunningly attractive, personable trumpeter with a great sense of humour, has caught the interest and appreciation from audiences worldwide. Profiling the trumpet in a fantastic way, she has encouraged youngsters to pick the instrument up and at least give it a blow!
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