Thursday, April 12, 2018

THOSE FOUR NOTES - Tchaikovsky Symphony No.6
the bassoonist's nightmare

 by Roger Birnstingl

is very puzzlinIt g why Tchaikovsky didn’t put those four notes on the bass clarinet, an instrument he used quite a lot, particularly in his ballet music, the Manfred Symphony and more. There must have been some technical reason why he chose the bassoon and this we shall never know. It is the only occasion that I have seen a bassoon part of any work with four pppp, so he must have known that he was asking a lot.
He conducted the first performance  himelf, shortly before his death. It's impossible to know whether the bassoonist played this passage on that occasion. My guess is that he did, and it was a disaster so that from then on it was played on the bass clarinet. Interestingly it remains in the  bassoon part and in the printed score. 
I have only had to play this bit on two occasions. The first was at the RFH with Markevitch conducting the LSO. I had got through the opening solo and was feeling relieved that the worst was over. Jack Brymer was in the middle of his long solo when I became aware that the bass clarinettist was looking at me with a desperate expression indicating that his instrument was not working. No choice for me but to play the notes for him, and with the reed I had on which was not the one I had used for the opening.
Jack, being a real pro, made a subtle crescendo towards my entry so that I could play fairly comfortably thinking ‘better too loud than not at all’. Amazingly, Markevitch gave me a bow at the end although I am sure that most of the audience had no idea why he had got me to stand up.
The other time was when the bass clarinettist of the Suisse Romande, a friend of mine, asked me to do this because he would have had a completely free week and wanted to go away. This concert was right in the middle so of course I agreed and worked out some tricks with a duster in the bell and the Bb key closed with a rubber band.

Roger Birnstingl started playing the bassoon at age 14. He was educated at Bedales School and later studied with Archie Camden at the Royal College of Music in London.
He has served as principal bassoonist of the London Philharmonic (1956–1958), the Royal Philharmonic (1961–1964) and the London Symphony Orchestra (1964–1977). He later served as principal bassoonist with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande until his retirement in 1997. He is currently professor of bassoon at the Geneva Conservatoire. He is also a joint president of the British Double Reed Society.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The story of E1

It was 1972 and I had been supplying music to young wind players and their teachers for about a year. Teaching wind instruments in schools was still a fairly new thing, and there was very little music written that was suitable for young beginners. I paid a visit to the British Music Information Centre and looked through random boxes of manuscripts, searching for a style that looked fairly easy. That was how I discovered the name Raymond Parfrey. He seemed to have written several pieces that were tuneful and uncomplicated, so I got in touch with him. He was very interested, but at that precise moment he was doing a commission for alto flute. How interesting! Not exactly suitable for young beginners, but there was very little published for alto flute. Why not take it on?

I had been listening to advice from established music publishers for a while, with the idea of doing some publishing myself. The first sensible thing to do of course would be to publish something that would be popular and sell well. Another suggestion was to number your publications with a numerical prefix of some sort, so that it looked as if you had been publishing a large quantity for years.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm not very good at taking advice. This is why I began with E1 - Lyric Moment for alto flute.

Innocent and undaunted I took a copy into London and started calling in to some of the major music shops to see if they would buy one. On the whole they were encouraging and gentlemanly (yes, all the buyers were blokes then), patting me on the head and taking a copy. I was a music publisher, and over the moon!

Raymond Parfrey 1928 - 2008

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Gordon Jacob 1895 - 1983
It was in 1974 that a concert was given in Hertfordshire by a clarinet choir. That was a relatively unknown combination in those days, but Gordon Jacob had written a piece Introduction and Rondo that was to receive its first performance that day. We were asked whether we could give him a lift to the venue, and I sat behind him in the car. He confided to us that he had never actually heard a clarinet choir, but he was such a master of orchestration that it was a great piece, and the players and audience loved it.
My music business (JEWM) had been running for three years, and we were beginning to publish new works for young players. The repertoire for beginners at that time was very limited, as learning wind instruments in schools was still a new venture. I was particularly annoyed that beginner brass players were usually asked to play a brass band part as their exam piece. It would be unaccompanied, and make very little sense without the rest of the band, but there was not much else suitable.
As we drove along I went into a bit of a soap-box speech about the fact that young players needed good music when they were learning, not just simple ditties written 'down to their level'. They need to be taught with well-written music of stature and quality.
Very soon after, through the post, came Four Little Pieces for trumpet or cornet and piano - from Gordon Jacob. It soon went on to the AB exam syllabus and has remained there on and off ever since. Many other pieces followed, and through that chance transport problem a long friendship was established. Isn't life wonderful?

Cover illustration by Timothy Macpherson aged 12.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Near Death Experience

Jane Marshall - cor anglais

The trouble with recording sessions is that you never know what you're going to be in for until the moment you walk through the studio door…
Imagine my delight, on arriving at Air Studios in NW3, to find that we were doing a new album for the great Michel Legrand (remember Windmills of your Mind from The Thomas Crown Affair?) with the man himself conducting. It was to be called Between Yesterday and Tomorrow and was a series of songs telling the story of a woman's life from birth, through childhood and motherhood to old age and ultimately, death. The piece was originally written for Barbra Streisand but after a couple of initial sessions was abandoned, until the French Opera star Natalie Dessay heard about it and was desperate to record it.
As usual, I had a quick look through the part after warming up and there did seem to be a couple of Cor Anglais solos but nothing too onerous I thought…

Ha! How wrong can you be?

When it came to it, the two solos were to be played segue, constituting one of the longest and loneliest solos I've ever had to play, even after twenty odd years in a symphony orchestra. Inevitably (for the Cor Anglais) it was in the last song called, rather aptly, 'Last Breath' and so I started playing in what I thought was a suitably sombre and discreetly dying sort of style.

'NON NON NON NON NON NON NON!!!!!' shouted M. Legrand from the podium, followed by one of those ghastly silences in a room when nobody dares to breathe.  He may be small and in his mid 80s but my goodness he can be fierce!
Clearly I had totally misinterpreted Michel’s feelings about death. He wanted the voice he had given to me to rail against death, passionately, powerfully and with anguish, only then to mellow and eventually fade away.

From a technical point of view this was a huge challenge; a long, lonely continuous solo with limited breathing opportunities, screeching at full volume up the top of the range and then gradually getting lower and quieter, all those things you'd rather not have to do on the Cor Anglais. Michel made me dig incredibly deep to give him the emotional intensity that he wanted, but we got there. He was delighted with the end result and I had had an extraordinarily fulfilling experience, even if my heart had nearly stopped in the process!

All over now!

Jane Marshall is a freelance London musician and Professor of Cor Anglais at both the Royal College of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She was formerly Principal Cor Anglais of the Philharmonia Orchestra for 16 years and prior to that, the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Happy Birthday to 'Big Noise'
10 Years old in 2018

Big Noise, Raploch, Stirling, Scotland 

 Big Noise is run by the charity Sistema Scotland, and transforms the lives of children living in disadvantaged communities. The symphony orchestra, and learning a musical instrument, are the tools used to equip children with a range of social and life skills: confidence, resilience and aspiration.
Big Noise works across four communities, with more than 2,500 children, from birth to adulthood, in school and nursery, after school and in the holidays. It enables children to reach their full potential, and to bring about permanent social change in their communities.
It was started by Richard Holloway, who went to Venezuela to see how Sistema worked and then  set about making it all happen initially in Raploch, Stirling.

2008 - 35 Children
2010 - 317 Children
First Side-by-Side concert with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
2012 - 428 Children
2013 - Launch of Big Noise, Govanhill, Glasgow
2014 - 1100 Children
The Big Trip to Venezuela
2015 - 2000 Children
Launch of Big Noise, Torry, Aberdeen
2016 - Side-by-Side Concert with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
La Mortella - Concert tour to Italy
2017 - Launch of Big Noise Douglas, Dundee

2018 - 2,500 Children
10th Birthday Celebrations

For more information, or to make a donation, go to:

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Want to Celebrate Handel's Birthday?

George Frederic Handel - born 23rd February 1685

There will be cake!

On Handel's birthday, 23rd February 2018, there will be free entry at Handel House from 11.00 - 6.00. Refreshments will be available to visitors throughout the day. Every hour, on the hour, there will be a 15 minute recital by members of the Amadè Players, starting at 11.00, the last one at 4.00 pm

Handel moved into the newly built house in Brook Street, London, in 1724 and lived there until he died in 1759. It was here that he wrote some of his most famous works, including Zadok the Priest, and The Music for the Royal Fireworks.

It is now called Handel House Museum with the mission to promote the knowledge, awareness and enjoyment of Handel's music to as many people as possible. Events include live performances, educational and outreach activities, and exhibiting and interpreting objects connected with his life.

In addition the museum promotes the diverse and continuing musical heritage of 23 Brook Street, through its association with Jimi Hendrix who lived there in the late 20th century.

Handel House Museum, 25 Brook Street, London W1K 4HB     Tel: 020 7495 1685

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Can anyone help to make this reality?

Dr Sokol Saraci, Professor of Trumpet, University of the Arts, Tirana, Albania

 As a professional trumpet player I would describe the brass (especially trumpet) situation in Albania as follows:
The Albanian brass school has shown good progress, after enduring a poor and isolated political and economic history in Albania during the 1990s. Looking back, I can remember how hard it was for us. After graduating we had to build step by step a professional background, seeking out information that could help to make us well educated, so we could feel comfortable facing the world.
Contact with Western musical traditions and expanding our knowledge and exchanging artistic experiences with our American colleagues developed a complete different level in the Albanian brass school. It also gave professional players access to quality pedagogical sources, so of course most things are definitely getting better.
However, as a professional player, and professor and teaching every day in the University of Arts in Albania, I am concerned about many unresolved issues, in particular the diversity of trumpets. All Albanian trumpet players - orchestral performers, professionals and students - only have a Bb trumpet. This creates not only difficulties in performing original orchestrations in various music styles, but it also makes gives us huge problems with transpositions. However at present funds are not available for these additional instruments.
My desire is to create a real trumpet laboratory in the University to give the students the chance to play all types of instruments:  flugelhorn, cornet, trumpets in C, D and Eb, natural trumpet and piccolo trumpet. It would be amazing for them to feel all those sounds and to have the possibility to discover all the tone colours of each instrument, to experience a wide trumpet repertoire, and raise their playing to another level.
Being a teacher and guide to my students has always been my dream, and that is what I hope for the future – to open a new window for the next generation.. I will always search for improvement, which means sometimes dreaming of a different reality. As the great Richard Wagner said: ‘Imagination creates Reality’.
Dr. Sokol Saraci
Professor of Trumpet, University of the Arts, Tirana, Albania 2018

Sokol Saraci is professor of trumpet and director of the chamber music and wind instrument department in the University of Arts in Albania. His education started with a degree from the University of Tirana and continued with a master’s degree from the University of Tetovo, Macedonia. After that he won a Fulbright Scholarship to the Truman State University in Missouri USA. On returning to Albania he gained a PhD with his research into wind orchestras in Albania. His publication Trumpet and the Trumpet Player is a guide to daily practice. He is well known as a successful teacher, bringing inspiration, brightness and wisdom to his trumpet classes.
He has been principal trumpet in the National Opera in Tirana for many years. He also plays chamber music and appears as a concerto soloist in Albania and around Europe.