TCM Soloists’ Competition Final

Just got back from the Trinity College of Music Soloists’ Competition final. I want to write up what I remember while it’s fresh, so please excuse the late-night incoherence.

The programme was as follows:

Johannes Mnich, Piano
M Ravel – Piano Concerto in G major

Hari Eustice, Tenor Trombone
H Tomasi – Trombone Concerto

Tadasuke Lijima, Violin
J Brahms – Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77

All three candidates played extremely well.

I played 2nd horn in the Ravel and the Brahms, but did not play in the Tomasi, so it was extremely difficult for me to compare the various performances.

In both the Ravel and the Brahms, the tempo seemed to come slightly unglued at points. I didn’t notice this in the Tomasi when I listened to it, but that could well be because I’m not as familiar with the piece. I thought Hari was not loud enough in some places; that or the orchestra was a bit too loud. In playing the Ravel I found it very difficult to hear the piano and strings, just because it’s a different acoustic than the one we rehearsed in before this afternoon; the cor anglais solo was quite wonderful this evening, though. The Brahms had some major intonation problems in the wind section, probably due to the heat; I found it quite difficult to place some of my notes as a result.

The adjudicators had positive things to say about each performance, and limited themselves to one ‘quibble’ per soloist. The fault they found in the Ravel was that the second movement, which is achingly slow, was not lyrical enough in the piano. In the Brahms the complaint was that the violinist was not entirely drawing the orchestra into his performance, there didn’t seem to be the same listening and awareness that was present in the other pieces. The imperfection in the Tomasi was the same one I had picked up when I listened to it: at times, more sound was needed from the trombone.

Having rehearsed with all three soloists, I think on a different night with slightly different circumstances any of the three of them could have won this competition. They are all fine musicians and they all worked extremely hard.

Tonight, though, Hari Eustice was the winner. Many congratulations to him!

Other notes:

The chairs at St. John’s, Smith Square, are rather evil. The seats slope backward and the only way I could sit in them without getting backache was by perching on the very edge. Also, like almost all concert venues I’ve ever played in, there is not quite enough space for an entire orchestra to put their instrument cases and street clothes and assorted bits and pieces away during the performance. I’m not yet at the point where my concert dress packs flat into a pocket of my horn case but I’m getting closer and that is my eventual aim.

E. who was playing third horn in Brahms and first horn in Tomasi had a horrible time today with transport and various other things going wrong. He ended up missing most of the afternoon rehearsal, first by being late and then by having to go back to Greenwich to get his music for the Brahms.

It occurred to me that this might be one useful application of The Orchestra Musician’s CD-ROM Library. They mostly market to people who need lots and lots of parts for learning orchestral extracts for exams and auditions, and they’re a very good idea for that. But if any of us had had a copy of the third volume horn parts, then E. wouldn’t have had to go back to Greenwich to get his music; we could have found an internet cafe with a printer and he’d have had his part again in however long that took. This is definitely faster!

Perhaps since the last two concerts I’ve been involved in have involved near scrapes with people, music or both not being in the right place at the right time, it would be a good idea to get the rest of those CDs (I have the first four or five, I think; they keep bringing out more!), and keep them with my horn music. Oh, there’s plenty that isn’t in those ten volumes and of course it’s still always better to simply make sure that you, your music and all parts of your instrument (you don’t want to know) are in the right place, but it can’t hurt to have a little insurance.

While I have never been late for a concert, I have played in a concert without music. I was about 14 at the time, playing in the Mount Royal College Regional Senior Honour Band. We went up to Edmonton as guests of a concert band there, had a workshop at a school and then went on to play in a few music festival classes over the next day or so. I left my music behind at the school. I was too embarrassed and terrified to tell our conductor what I’d done, so I played all the music from memory. A few weeks later, she got the music in the post from the school we’d been at, and brought it to rehearsal for me. Words were had, not unkind ones, but I don’t think I stopped blushing for quite some time.

That was then, and this is now; we’d worked on that concert band music every week for a few months, and I’ve always been quick at memory work. There is no way I would be happy to play either of the pieces I played tonight from memory, there simply hasn’t been enough rehearsal time for me to gain that level of familiarity with them.

For my part, music I’m working on, in ensembles or as solo repertoire, lives in a music case that I attach to my horn case. If I don’t have my horn with me, I have bigger problems than whether I can remember the part.

Come to the concert!

I’m playing 2nd horn in the Ravel and the Brahms in this concert tomorrow night. If nothing else it will give my low range a good workout.

Trinity College of Music Soloists’ Competition – Final
Nicholas Cleobury conducts Trinity College of Music Symphony Orchestra as part of the 2008 Soloists’ Competition Final. Three finalists compete for the College’s most prestigious prize. This year’s adjudicating panel will be chaired by Ralph Alwood.

This concert is dedicated to the memory of Lady Evelyn Barbirolli, a much loved supporter of the College and the wife of Trinity’s former president Sir John Barbirolli.

Johannes Mnich, Piano
M Ravel – Piano Concerto in G major

Hari Eustice, Tenor Trombone
H Tomasi – Trombone Concerto

Tadasuke Lijima, Violin
J Brahms – Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77

7.00pm, Tuesday 13 May, St John’s Smith Square, SW1P
Tickets available from St John’s Smith Square
020 7222 1061 or

Saturday: Link Round-Up

My electric metronome, inherited from my father and probably older than I am, finally died this year. I keep hoping I’ll be able to resurrect it with a magnifying glass and a soldering iron, but honestly? I don’t have the time, and ought to just buy a new one. I’m quite taken with this little device but need to decide whether it would be incredibly useful, or whether I’d just lose it. Meanwhile there is this online metronome, which Miss Music Nerd linked to, but most of the time I don’t bring my computer along when I go to practise (too much to carry). What would actually be ideal is something similar made to run on my phone. It’s about the only Java application I’d be willing to pay for. Any takers?

In reading about the use of EVS at the National Performing Arts Convention in Denver, I started to think about how electronic voting systems could be used to create collaborative, audience-influenced music in real time or very near to it. The score would end up being something like a choose-your-own-adventure book, with not every path taken in every performance.

In a similar vein, CC Blog points at the Twitter Compilation Album. It basically does what it says on the tin. Listening to it is a little like listening as someone else flips through channels on a television or radio; there are some interesting textures and sounds but as soon as something grabs my attention and I want to hear more, it changes. Hm. Of course, it’s possible I’m completely missing the point by not understanding Japanese.

In other news I’ve gleaned from Creative Commons, Magnatune has announced a subscription service. A DRM-free subscription service, that is. Long may it last, says I!

Erin of Fugue State writes positively about I Found My Horn, which I now very much want to read.

Other books I want to read:

Why yes, I am just a big hippie really. Why do you ask?

The rest of this week proceeded much as it started: lots of rehearsals, paperwork, and some classes.

Thursday morning I managed to get both the rehearsal venue and the rehearsal time wrong. Somewhat fortuitously, they cancelled each other out, so that when I arrived at the correct venue (expecting to be 15 minutes late because I went to the wrong place first), I was actually 75 minutes early. Thankfully, I had a book with me. I would have preferred to spend the time practising but one cannot have everything.

Thursday afternoon I chased some paperwork, then went home for a reasonably early night.

This morning I woke exceptionally early, which gave me an hour to walk around the park before I could start to practise. There was another Symphony Orchestra rehearsal and I went to the correct venue this time. Then more chasing of paperwork, then arranging class, then home.

Tomorrow I have some social things planned but nothing too strenuous; Sunday is teaching, as always, though it’s looking like I’ll have a quite extended break in the afternoon. I may try to re-schedule my evening students to fill the gap, or I may just take the break and enjoy the weather.

It’s been a busy week and it isn’t even done yet.

Monday I was teaching, then wandered around a bit and found a silk sari for £5 in a charity shop. That prompted me to come home and do some simple sewing, so I now have two new sarongs (hey, I said it was simple), lovely and cool for the hot weather. I was absolutely shattered, unsurprising after my late night on Sunday.

Yesterday was a day of much rehearsing and some minor slaying of paperwork. I was still very tired and found it a struggle to concentrate well, but managed to have a reasonable day anyway.

The first two rehearsals were for the Trinity Symphony Orchestra, preparing for the final of the soloists competition. I’m playing 2nd horn in the Brahms violin concerto and the Ravel piano concerto, both gorgeous works. The rehearsals were productive but very poorly attended by some sections. The weather was glorious and I accidentally caught a slight sunburn eating my lunch on Blackheath. I was still feeling chilly when inside the Great Hall though. Maybe there’s a passage to some sort of frozen netherworld under the stage.

The third rehearsal was Brahms horn trio. We finally got through the whole last movement… slowly. I would have liked to go faster but slow practise does pay off better in the end, and as my part is probably the easiest of the three I don’t feel I get much say in when we get to play faster. B, the pianist, is definitely interested in trying to organise some recitals. It’s looking like we’ll try to play in some lunchtime concerts in August. Meantime we’ve got a couple of rehearsals booked for next week.

Today was good as well. I’ve just about recovered from my sleep deprivation exercise on Sunday night, in that I found it much easier to wake this morning, but was still flagging quite a bit mid-afternoon. But I practised, and got an assignment handed in, and went to improv class but hardly anyone turned up (probably because of aforementioned assignment as well as the truly beautiful weather), had some lunch and did some banking, and went to horn class.

Horn class today was excellent. We had Johannes HinterHolzer visiting from Austria; we’d all been instructed to learn Mozart’s 4th horn concerto (K495) and be prepared to play it. For the first half we talked about horn stuff in general, as well as the first movement of Mozart 4. Then we took some tea and sunshine and returned to actually do some playing.

A bit of context: when I was busking on the London Underground I played all of Mozart 4 two or three times a day, four or five days a week, for a year and a half. After a certain point it doesn’t really get any easier. I know the piece pretty well by now, and to be honest I didn’t prepare as much as I might have for today’s class. I learned an incredible amount despite both of these factors. Johannes is very precise in his ideas about what makes a line musical and what general phrasing techniques will give the desired effect; the result is that instead of saying, “Do it like this” and then demonstrating, he will demonstrate and then explain exactly what he did to achieve that result. He’s also very clear about the more nitty-gritty techniques for producing a good, accurate sound on the horn, and has an amazing ear for rhythm (or perhaps I just need to spend more time with the metronome). His manner is combination of encouraging and demanding that really inspires students to do their best. I’d very happily take a few lessons with him next time he’s in London, and I’m sure others who were there would also jump at the chance.

The result of all this is that I’m now ready to actually work on Mozart 4 properly again, although I’ll leave it until after my performance exam. I consider this a small miracle given just how much I’ve played it.

I do miss busking, both on and off the Tube, to a certain extent. There were good days and bad days, as with anything, but there’s something very encouraging about standing up in public to play music and having people give you money of their own free will. I had to stop busking in 2006 after injuring myself rather badly when I took a tumble down the stairs in my home. I don’t think I’m physically up to getting back to it just yet. I also don’t think I want to do it for 4-6 hours per day for more than about a month at a time, because it is physically and mentally incredibly taxing, but it would be good to have the option of doing a month a year or perhaps three pitches a week after I’ve finished my degree.


Today has been very, very long. I got up and taught and went on an impromptu picnic and taught some more and rehearsed and missed my last Northern Line tube toward home and messed about with night buses and ended up walking back from Bank with a semi-random person who turned out to be rather lovely.

I’d do it all again except it would be nice not to have the hour or so of messing around on night buses.

Unfortunately I have to get up again in a Very Small number of hours, so small it is smaller than the first non-prime. Tomorrow is going to be quite a challenge on that amount of sleep.

The Show Must Go On

It goes without saying that one should always be on time for concerts if one is performing.

I usually aim for arriving at the concert venue and being ready to play 30 to 60 minutes early, and also add 50% onto my expected journey time. I’ve not yet been late for a performance.

At Sinfonia on Thursday night we had a problem. Our first horn player was stuck in traffic. This wasn’t a huge problem for the Biber, because it has no horns in it.

The Vaughan Williams Folksong Suite does have four horn parts, but they are printed with 1st & 2nd on one set and 3rd & 4th on the other. Since we each had a copy of a part, all the parts were there. It is possible to cover most of the harmonies with three horns, because the work is quite heavily scored with lots of doubling. The third player jumped up to first; I played the third and fourth parts, alternating based on my own knowledge of the piece and the other parts. This is really not ideal but I doubt anyone in the audience noticed, except for the empty seat beside me.

The Mozart was going to be problematic, even though it has fewer horn parts. There was only one copy of the first horn part, and it was with our delayed first horn player. I hadn’t been scheduled to play in that piece at all, though I believe I have performed it before. The first part and the second part are fairly similar, it’s basically all octaves all the time except for a few bars in the last movement, but those few bars are fairly crucial. We had a very quick look at the score and decided that the thing to do would be to have the second player jump up to first (since he’d been rehearsing and knew what to expect), and let me sightread the second part.

Thankfully it didn’t happen that way. We were in our seats and about to tune when our first horn player arrived, flustered and rushed but with her horn and her part. I must admit I was almost disappointed as it would have been fun flying by the seat of our pants like that, but it’s probably for the best.

This is what happens when you are late for a performance: other people have to take big risks. That is why it is considered so awful. Every part really is crucial. And what would have happened if I did not know the Vaughan Williams so well, or if our first player had not made it in time for the Mozart and there were no other horn players available to try to cover the part?

Is it any wonder I don’t post much?

I’ve not been posting so much this past week; between having a cold, finishing up the last bits of moving house and trying to keep up with paperwork I’ve been short on computer time.

I’ve just come out of an information session with representatives of Impromptu Publishing, who publish Muso magazine. They will have a stall in the UNPLUGGED section of the forthcoming London International Music Show, and they wanted students to help out. There are two positions and six or seven of us turned up, and I figure as I can’t do the Sunday due to teaching I’m unlikely to get hired, but it’s a useful networking opportunity in any case. I might get some flyering work out of it, for example.

I hadn’t previously been aware of the Muso website. It looks to be a reasonable resource. They have a sheet music shop which stocks scores from several different publishers, a small forum, and you can set up a profile and add media and so on. I think it could be interesting but will have to wait and see whether they have caught the true spirit of user-created content as described in Gin, Television and Social Surplus. So far? It’s too small for me to tell, not that I claim to be some oracle of Whether Things Work Online.

Enough, enough links. What have I actually been up to?

Tuesday was busy: practising, Sinfonia rehearsal, lesson with Mark Bassey, Sinfonia rehearsal, trio rehearsal minus the pianist, which ended up being very short (because really? There’s not much you can do with the Brahms horn trio without the piano there). By then I was feeling all lurgified again.

Wednesday was also busy, I got myself up and out early enough for a brief walk around the park, then it was practising followed by two meetings (one with my personal tutor, Douglas Finch, another Canadian in London, and one with the head of Student Services here at Trinity), class, and horn class. Except about a half hour before the start of horn class, my energy levels took a very swift dive, so I went home early and went to bed. Ugh. I do feel better for the extra sleep, but it’s a shame to miss horn class with so few left in the year.

Today has been good so far. Again with the park, which was a cacophony of birdsong this morning. A short bit of practising, just a warm-up really, then up the hill to BlackDeath Blackheath for orchestra rehearsal, back down again for the information/recruitment session, and in a few minutes I’m off to vote in the mayoral elections. Silly me managed to lose my voting card but happily you can just turn up anyway; the system is rather open to fraud but I guess at least it gets people voting.

This evening there is the concert all these Sinfonia rehearsals have been held in preparation for: Biber, Vaughan Willians, Mozart and Schubert. The concert is in the Great Hall of Blackheath Halls, starts at 7.30pm and costs £10 (conc. £7).

No rest for the wicked, though, or even for the mildly impish such as myself. Tomorrow Symphony Orchestra rehearsals start for the TCM Soloists’ Competition Final.

I hab a code

Yesterday I didn’t practise. I was far too coldified.

Today I still feel like death warmed over, but managed to drag my sorry self in to Trinity anyway and got a good hour in before 9.30. Yay!

I’m looking at repertoire for next year’s final recital. It’s going to be problematic, I think, because there is a 45-minute time limit, and I’d quite like to play more than 45 minutes’ worth of music.

Some of the contenders:
Martin Butler, Hunding, about 4’33″
Mozart 2, around 20 minutes
Dukas, Villanelle, 6-ish minutes
A selection of Brahms lieder, transcribed for horn
Bach ‘cello suite in C major BWV 1009, around 20 minutes

If I play both Mozart and Bach then I can play only one other piece, but that’s a little sad. Playing Bach without the other movements is not great, though, and nor would I really like to do the same with Mozart. I guess if it comes to it I can choose one or two movements of the Bach and play them on their own; then everything else should fit, at least.

I wonder if I can apply to do an hour instead of 45 minutes. It would make life much easier.

Yesterday I played the Dukas Villanelle in horn class, on a piston horn in F. It was… interesting. The Besson piston horn that the College has for student use has a fairly large wrap and very awkward placement of the pistons themselves, so I’m glad I didn’t play most sections more than once, because even what I did was making my left arm hurt. On the bright side, the horn itself is so much lighter than my ancient, modified Alex 104 that I didn’t need to use the support stick at all and was able to play standing up.

On the whole, playing only on F horn is quite tiring, especially on that particular instrument which doesn’t have an amazing high range. I’m definitely glad I spent a week playing the Villanelle on my own instrument using F fingerings. I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble with changing from one fingering to another, probably because my own horn has the Slowest Valves in the West (I’m awaiting a quote from Paxman to have it fixed).

We also got to play with Vienna horns. Like the piston horn these are single horns in (one in F, one in Bflat) rather than double, so very much lighter to hold. The tone was rather amazing, as well.

So, now I’m considering playing the Dukas Villanelle on a piston horn for my final recital next year (but not on Trinity’s Besson, that would be a recipe for left-hand RSI), and also considering whether I might get a single F horn again at some point just because they are just so lightweight. I’d really want something that doesn’t interfere with my ability to play the Alex, for obvious reasons, so any horn shopping will involve quite a bit of looking around. And of course I still want a good natural horn, and while I’m at it I may as well get hold of a serpent. Perhaps after I graduate…

Practising this morning… ugh. I wasn’t feeling terribly well. I don’t know if it’s something I ate, the feeling-icky bug that’s been going around Trinity, or a particularly bumpy bus ride this morning, but I’m still feeling a bit delicate.

I did the only thing that one can do in such circumstances: play a bit, rest a bit, play a bit, rest a bit. I’m glad I did.

At 11am the Brahms trio (we still haven’t a name) had a two-hour coaching session with Stephen Stirling. We seem to be on the right track technically and musically, at least in the first two movements. I still want to rehearse in a larger room at some point, but of course this is easier said than done.

I met briefly with J, a mentor for my Year 4 Project. I’m not yet ready to announce it here, because there are still many decisions to be made, but I think I’ve scaled it back to make it a little more manageable, at least.

Now? A little more paperwork, and then home to rest.