23 September 2022, 17:23 | Updated: 23 September 2022, 17:31
Multi award-winning trumpet soloist, artistic director and music education ambassador, Alison Balsom, speaks exclusively to Classic FM. Hear the full interview this Sunday 25 September at 9pm.
Alison Balsom is one of today’s leading brass soloists, utterly committed to showcasing the flexibility of the trumpet – from her 2019 album Music for the Royal Fireworks, a celebration of Bach, Handel, and Purcell, all recorded on the fiendish, valveless Baroque trumpet, to her latest offering, Quiet City, which is devoted to 20th-century American music and the era of jazz, from Aaron Copland through to Miles Davis.
Recalling her early passion for the instrument, Balsom tells Classic FM’s Moira Stuart of visiting the local library with her mother as a child and falling in love with a recording by the legendary American jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
“Dizzy Gillespie was a huge idol of mine,” Balsom says. “And even when I was very young, I realised instinctively this wasn’t going to be what I was going to try and do. I mean who could even get close to that kind of trumpet playing?!
“But I realised that he was playing his personality. And I was very convinced that I could use the trumpet to play my personality.
“I think that’s the case with any musician. Once you’ve got over the technical challenges of the instrument, once you can get around the instrument proficiently… when you describe [a musician’s] playing, you describe their character.”
Aged 18, Balsom was accepted to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she received the Principal’s Prize for the highest mark in her year. She went on to study at the Conservatoire de Paris with the great Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, who she recalls seeing in concert at the Barbican aged nine.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she tells Stuart. “I thought, wow, that’s what the trumpet can do. It can stand at the front of the orchestra. It’s got this amazing power, but also incredibly beautiful sound.
“That’s what I wanted to do. And I knew that doing anything else would seem kind of pointless.”
Balsom is a fierce advocate for music education, and early exposure to music-making. Aged seven, she started free trumpet lessons at her primary school in Hertfordshire, and between the ages of 15 to 18, played in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Classic FM’s Orchestra of Teenagers. Today, Balsom is perturbed by the diminishing role of music in the school curriculum.
“Music should be front and centre in education,” Balsom tells Classic FM. “I think it’s so short-sighted when it isn’t. It opens a door in a child’s mind,” she adds, which can “help them find their focus with other things.
“It’s a relationship that doesn’t have to be verbal. It’s something much deeper and more primal than that, in fact. We’re only now in our society beginning to realise how vital it can be.
“To diminish music in education is a really big mistake, and in the long-term future we’ll realise that.”