Japan Day 6 (by Dan West)

The final concert day of a Septura tour (or ‘SepTOURa’ – a cringe-inducing term which I unsuccessfully tried to moniker earlier this week) is always bittersweet. It’s fun performing and socialising with great friends in a new and exciting country, but by the final day I find the desire to get home and reunite with my long-suffering wife and kids to be a bit heart-wrenching. Luckily today began with the welcome distraction of riding on the 320km/h Shinkansen ‘bullet train’, as Kyoto – the final destination of Septura’s debut Japanese tour – beckoned. Alarms were set for a civilised 11am departure, and I hoped that I would not be awoken by another alarmingly punctual 8am magnitude-5 earthquake, as I had the previous morning on the 11th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Hotel!  

Our Pro Arte Musicae support team

We were greeted in the hotel lobby by our minders for the day, sent by the promotors Pro Arte Musicae to herd us through Tokyo’s Metro system to the bustling Shinkansen terminal in the heart of the city. After several journeys this week navigating the Metro with cases and instruments I believe all of us were excited to get to a slightly smaller city. Kyoto only has 1.5 million residents – significantly smaller than the densely populated Tokyo, which is home to over 9 million people.   

Pete couldn’t hide his excitement as we waited to board, and he informed us that the Nozomi class bullet train for our journey was the fastest of the three classes of Shinkansen commissioned for the Japanese rail network. I shot a few time lapse videos for my train aficionado friends back home (4-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter and 76-year-old father-in-law included) but soon found that the scenery began speeding by at such a quick pace that normal video would do just fine! 

It is widely acknowledged that these trains run as smoothly as they do fast, and our Nozomi didn’t disappoint. Spacious coaches, even in our standard class carriage, gave us plenty of room to address the various tasks we needed to complete on this journey: Simon scoured the Charles Ives archives for music which would suitably contrast Gershwin in our upcoming American-themed recording; Matt proofread and published blog posts and social media content; Pete studied recordings for an upcoming solo gig back in the UK; Sasha, Alan and Huw caught some shut-eye and I obviously wrote the bulk of this blog – which I promised the lads wouldn’t descend into a quasi-political rant about why we can’t have such nice trains in the UK! Perhaps one day we’ll have a transport infrastructure that’s as sophisticated and efficient as the Japanese. We can always dream! We disembarked and admired the sleek contours of the Nozomi as it sailed swiftly to its next destination. As you may notice in the accompanying photo, the train’s aesthetic nicely matches the contours of my brand new Japanese-made DAC bass trombone case. Another sterling example of Japanese engineering at its finest!   

DAC’s bullet train-inspired bass trombone case

Lunch by section

After a segregated lunch (the trumpets wanted to chat about mouthpieces or something) we had a quick turnaround before another signature Septura schlep on public transport (SCHLEPtura is another nickname I’ve suggested for the group) to the venue. It’s not always Ubers and limousine buses for us!  

The Kyoto Concert Hall

We arrived at the venue for tonight’s sold out gig, the Murata stage at the Kyoto Concert Hall, and found another stunning, modern performance space with a rich acoustic for us to enjoy. I could rant about the lack of similar spaces in London but I’m afraid it would be nothing that hasn’t been said before!  

Sasha warming up

Playing for a packed-out concert hall brings out all the adrenaline and the first half proved to be very exciting! The overture, Finzi’s God Is Gone Up is anthemic and, to my ear at least, sounds about as British as it gets. Elgar’s Serenade for Strings is a staple of our repertoire these days, as is the challenging but profoundly moving Shostakovich 8th String Quartet – though neither of these pieces have made us particularly popular with our various string-playing friends and colleagues. I came off stage in the interval to FaceTime my kids and realised just how knackered I was. We went back on for the second half with renewed focus and determination, and despite the cumulative effects of several intensely demanding concerts in a row, everyone performed the Handel and Gershwin with an impressive reservoir of energy. My admiration for the musicians who I get to share the stage with in this group reaches stratospheric heights when I witness what they can accomplish musically under these demanding conditions.  

Another mammoth autograph session

After the concert we had another marathon autograph session – a ritual I’m still finding quite surreal. Audience members of all ages, including many brass players and aficionados, formed an orderly queue while the group sat along a table armed with Sharpies and smiles for selfies. Most of these delightful people have brought us their newly-bought Septura CDs or a concert programme to be signed. Many of the younger crowd presented us with more unusual items upon which we were expected to scribble our ever evolving signatures: etude books (I didn’t realise there were so many volumes of Kopprasch), instrument cases and even the odd mobile phone for us to sign. After a few photos with the keenest of the young brass players and school kids we packed up our gear for the last time as quickly as we could.

We joined some members of the local Kyoto brass ensemble for sushi, beers and some very crunchy deep-fried bits of chicken bones (mmmmm…) at a local restaurant and then we finished the night with a ‘cap de nuit’ (or two… or three) whilst playing some surprisingly competitive and spirited darts over the road. Alarms dutifully set for a 6:50am start the next morning we caught a couple of hours of sleep and prepared to schlep it back to London. 

Japan Day 5 (by Huw Morgan)

Monday morning began rather unconventionally, with a brief tremor measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale acting as my 8am wake-up call! Fortunately we were some 100km southwest of the epicentre (near Mito, where we had performed the previous day…), so there were no pictures falling off the walls or tables sliding around the room, although judging by the number of members who slept blissfully through the earthquake, I’m not even sure such drama would have awoken them from their slumber! I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide whether we are simply a very talented bunch of sleepers, or whether some may have been suffering the effects of the evening before!

Having caught up on some much needed rest, our free morning gave us the opportunity to undertake a spot of light exercise, write a few emails and generally relax in the hotel. Having completely fallen off the low-carb diet wagon since arriving in Japan, I took the opportunity to indulge in a potato and bacon bread roll at the on-site bakery – which I promise tastes far better than it sounds!

Our Japanese battle bus

Mid-afternoon and we set off to Showa Music University, the venue for our day’s masterclasses and concert. The “battle bus” for this short journey west was a stylish black Toyota, which represented a significant upgrade on previous models used in our overseas expeditions, and came complete with a white-gloved chauffeur, who navigated Tokyo’s seemingly incomprehensible motorway system with consummate ease. Behind him, discussions ranged from the benefits of having an au pair, to the Beeching railway cuts of the 1960s and the Tory leadership contest!

Show music academy

On arrival at Showa we were greeted by a welcome committee of brass professors, who duly provided sandwiches and tea (Fortnum & Mason’s, no less) while we took the opportunity of a relaxed warm up. Not content with having already completed Joe Wicks’ special hotel HIT workout earlier in the morning, Alan decided that a few extra burpees and lower back stretches were in order, while Pete entertained us on the piano with a couple of Septura specials – Debussy’s ‘Cathédrale engloutie’ and ‘la Fille aux cheveux de lin’ (no offence to Pete – who’s also a remarkably talented pianist, too – but these pieces really are #betteronbrass!)

Our schedule for the day

Having split up into our respective instrumental groups for the first of the masterclass sessions, we were treated to some delightful playing by Showa’s most talented brass students, each terrifically well-prepared and sensitively accompanied. As is now customary in Septura trumpet classes, Alan, Simon and I “tag-teamed” our way through the session, which included music by Eric Ewazen and Vassily Brandt, discussing a variety of technical and musical elements.

Alan in full flow

Huw in the hall

Our mini-performance followed – works by Finzi and Handel allowing us to take full advantage of the generous acoustics in the university’s concert hall – before the entire group led a masterclass with four young chamber music ensembles. These ranged from high school students playing Victor Ewald to the university’s own quintet, performing Malcolm Arnold, as well as classic PJBE ten-piece works by Susato and Chris Hazell. We were unanimously impressed with the high level of playing, and how receptive the students were to our suggestions.

Queuing for ramen

The menu

Ramen

Having worked up quite an appetite, and with photos and autographs all done, it was back to the city. Unsurprisingly, given the success of the previous evening’s outing, our choice of dining establishment was an easy one, and we all enjoyed heading back to Mutekiya for another round of Tokyo’s finest ramen and gyozas. A quick whisky on the way back to the hotel seemed the perfect way to round off our last night in Tokyo, before getting some rest ahead of the following day’s Shinkansen trip to Kyoto.

Contented brass players

Japan Day 4 (by Sasha Koushk-Jalali)

With two concerts behind us, Sunday marked the middle of the tour, and brought with it the group’s concert in Mito, a city near Japan’s south east coast.

We had been informed that over a thousand tickets had sold for our concert in Mito, which mustered an additional hubbub of an anticipation within the group as we traveled out on Japan’s radically clean and efficient train network. Our leader Alan Thomas #superalan was on particularly energising form after consuming a Japanese brand of “iced coffee” that revealed the whites of his eyes and modified his gesticulation to include all four of his limbs. 

The venue for the day was the Ibaraki Prefecture Cultural Center, a cavernous gem of a concert hall, in which Huw Morgan can be seen here diligently testing the acoustics of stage right. 

Simon Cox initiated our rehearsal by successfully providing the group with our music, after which we played through a few key moments from our programme, ensuring we were still in the game. 

Our concert was shared with a fantastic wind band comprised entirely of pupils from a girls school, who played a 30 minute programme immediately preceding us. The three tuba players in the band made an impressively monstrous noise, despite being dwarfed by their instruments ! 

The performance itself went down fantastically well with the mammoth audience, who scarcely allowed Alan or Pete to complete a single phrase of their solo movements in Handel’s Suite from Rinaldo before being offered cheers and applause, and were audibly impressed by the crisp second movement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8. 

Matthew Knight and Simon Cox managed to develop an immediate bond with the audience by reading phonetically written out Japanese speeches. By a lucky turn of fate it seemed that Simon Cox’s jokes were at least marginally funnier when in Japanese. 

Immediately after coming off stage we were ushered to a signing table at which we signed Septura CDs for a sizeable line of audience members. We were then led back to the hall in which the 100 strong wind band were assembled on stage, and greeted us with a mixture of wild screaming, cheering, and whooping! Dan West was a particular favourite of the crowd, who seized the opportunity to take a quick selfie for his Facebook profile pic. 

After a quick costume change we hitched a ride to the station on a coach with members of the wind band, who continued to whoop with intense elation while in our presence. Most of the group found this to be a fairly wild experience, while true to form Huw Morgan seemed totally unfazed. 

The sheer level of post concert merriment and excitement did mean that we missed our scheduled train back to Tokyo, however this enabled us to grab a couple of beers for a later train, nothing silly.

Upon arrival back in Tokyo, the evening’s merriment continued with a fantastic meal at Mutikiya, an award winning Ramen restaurant a short walk from our hotel (boasting ramen broth using special ‘Mutikiya salt’ which according to the Guinness Book of World Records has the highest mineral content in the world.. 🤓). 

We finished  off the day with a few gentle frames of pool and a few rounds of darts in the centre of Tokyo. The perfect wind down to a long day. 

#mito #wildcrowd #halfway 

Japan Day 3 (by Peter Moore)

Saturday 15th June began with a mild headache. The relief of getting through our first concert relatively unscathed so soon after a long journey meant that we allowed ourselves some time to celebrate and let our hair down on Friday evening. Dan, Sasha and I decided we would sample some world-renowned Japanese whisky, only to be met with a look of disbelief from the barman when asking for doubles. It turns out singles in Japan are the equivalent of our cost-cutting UK double measures so naturally, we thought we should take advantage of this and have another. We felt as though we deserved it – Septura concerts are terrific fun and I particularly enjoy the physical and mental challenges the gigs present, but as a brass player, no amount of practice and rehearsal can truly prepare you 100% for a gig of this nature. There will always be things that are left to chance and this is often the catalyst for a really exciting performance. 

Pete meeting Septura superman Tadao Funada

We were met by Septura no.1 fan Tadao, whom I had heard so much about. He’s a charming and enthusiastic man, who has supported the group from the very early days. Tadao had organised a joint concert with Tokyo brass and the whole event ran from 1 30-4 15 with numerous intervals, finishing up with a great arrangement for “massed band” of Pomp and Circumstance, or “Pomp and Stomp” as the Gubbay aficionados of the group refer to it. We were all very grateful that artistic director Simon Cox remembered to pick up all of the Septura music from his hotel room, thus avoiding the panic and despair of the previous day. 

Matt fine-tuning the Tokyo Brass Players in Septura’s arrangement of Handel’s Rinaldo

Septura with the Tokyo Brass Players and Tadao Funada

With gig number 2 done, we proceeded to a post-concert reception that Tadao had organised for us, joined by the wonderful people from Tokyo Brass plus various friends and family.

Simon thanking Tadao for his continued support of Septura

After a couple of hours socialising, taking pictures and having a good giggle when one of the ladies from Tokyo brass put all of us through the gender swap “filter” on Snapchat (Simon Cox was by far the most convincing), we returned to the hotel for some necessary “me-time” only to be met by a barrage on the group WhatsApp chat. Dan West was busy doing his research for the evening ahead and advised us that we should go and check out Shinjuku. He didn’t let us down – it’s an incredibly vibrant part of Tokyo, bursting with character and full of locals enjoying an evening out. Completely by accident we ended up in a posh restaurant, indulging in a delicious 7 course taster menu (well we’ve got to spend that daily subsistence somehow!). We then ended up in an arcade, where the group got to show-off their various skills including shooting zombies, basketball and Mario Kart. Dan and I were very distressed when we saw the out-of-service Air Hockey table, both claiming that it was “our game”. With the competitive edge in us bubbling away, perhaps it was for the best that we didn’t get to play it… we have to stay friends if we’re going to do all of these concerts together!

Competitive juices flowing

Mindful of another early start, we made our way onto the last tube home. The next morning we travel out to Mito for another concert, put on by our fantastic host Genroh Hara. The train journey  is a great opportunity to catch up on some admin, catch some more “Zeds”, look at the picturesque Japanese countryside or in my case, compile this blog…

Origato!

Japan Day 2 (by Alan Thomas)

I’ve just woken up in Tokyo all of a flutter – today is the day of Septura’s eagerly awaited Japanese debut!! 

My schedule (which I’ve been informed eagerly by Matthew Knight with his boyish grin, has a new, improved larger font compared to NZ🧐) tells me the lucky venue is the Koganei Miyaji Musical hall, Tokyo. 

We made our way there on the impeccable Japanese rail network with help from our most helpful ProArte Musicae representative. We were certainly quite a sight, and maybe a bit of an inconvenience clogging up the busy carriages with two large suitcases, tuba and mutes.

On my previous visits to Japan it’s always amazed me how they seem to ‘nail it’ when building concert halls. The Miyaji Hall did not disappoint. A beautiful modern 600 seater hall with an acoustic perfect for our trade mark ‘British brass sound’!

The programme we’re playing out here is not themed, as has been the case of late, but more of a ‘Septura’s Greatest Hits’ with works drawn from 4 of our CDs by Finzi, Shostakovich, Elgar, Handel, Gershwin and Debussy.

The first rehearsal of any tour is always the longest. We all set aside a decent amount of time for our individual warm up routines getting our lips buzzing and tongues going. We then get together as a group to get the feel of the hall, the feel of the programme and polish any corners, always paying attention to the finest of details. However, on this occasion our warm ups were extra long due to the librarian (whose middle name is Etienne) leaving all the music pads in his hotel room so we waiting patiently while they were rushed over by taxi. Never a dull moment!

Following this we had an array of duties for our promoters including photo shoots, interviews and an hour masterclass with local young brass players, who I have to say, were a credit to the Japanese music system and incredibly quick learners! 

The trumpets leading a class with Japanese students

Septura trombones with our interpreter for the day, Japanese trombone player Takashi Shinagawa

The evening concert was an absolute joy. If I could’ve packed up the acoustic and taken it everywhere for the rest of my playing days I’d be more than happy. I feel the same orchestrally about Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. The rousing opening of Finzi’s God has gone up reverberated beautifully. Shostakovich String Quartet No.8 brought the first half to a close and you could literally have heard a pin drop after the soft trombone chords concluding the moving final movement. 

Septura’s debut in Tokyo

Following the interval we reopened with Handel’s Rinaldo suite, which was great to revisit after a break in in being programmed, featuring solos from Peter Moore playing the war mongering King of Jerusalem👑, and yours truly playing a sexy siren obviously! 💃 The scheduled programme finished with Gershwin’s American in Paris, one of our most played numbers and which we hope to record in the autumn, watch this space!!! 📀Throughout the performance Matt Knight and Simon Cox presented the pieces in Japanese, no mean feat!! The highlight of any American in Paris appearance has to be the car horn demonstration by resident percussion doubler Dr Cox.

At the conclusion we were received with such rapturous applause we had to perform 3 encores, Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm and Mount Fuji, a folk song learned by some of the group on a previous visit to japan with the LSO, arranged on the flight over by in-house arranger Cox.

Post-concert photos

The warm reception continued after the concert with a long orderly line of audience members waiting to get CDs, posters and instrument cases signed. It was so heart-warming to have this opportunity to meet the audience, receive their gushing compliments and to see how happy they were to welcome us to Japan. 

The journey back to base camp almost went without incident, apart from the group’s only PhD holder ‘stacking it’  exiting the train whilst wheeling our vital suitcase containing CDs, mute stands, music etc. Unfortunately, none of us were quite quick enough to catch the moment on our phones, so no £250 cash prize from You’ve Been Framed this time #itiswhatitis

Japan Day 1 (by Simon Cox)

The tour almost finished before it began. We’d met in central London to rehearse before heading to Heathrow Airport, and the easiest way to get there afterwards seemed to be some split-fare Ubers (or ‘splubers’ in common parlance). For some reason the trumpets’ driver didn’t seem to think it was a problem to start driving with an open door and half a person on the pavement. Twice. To be honest I’m not sure he ever quite realised what had happened.

Airport check-ins are always a nervous affair for us, as there’s a danger someone will be asked to put their instrument in the hold (pretty much guaranteed to destroy it). As usual there were raised eyebrows at the appearance of a tuba, but eventually everything was sorted and we took to the skies.

It’s not been long since our last tour to New Zealand, and some of us are still trying to undo the damage of all the indulgent eating that took place there. Huw’s approach is to limit his intake of carbohydrates, which meant the pickings were slim during the flight. The result? Cheese topped with butter. Delicious.

The 11-hour flight felt like childs’ play after the monumental 25 hours to New Zealand, and we landed in reasonably good condition, to be met by our host for the week, Genroh Hara of Pro Arte Musicae. There was a slight delay as Dan West was interviewed by local television, taking the opportunity to plug our concerts to the masses. 

Dan West immediately cornered by the Japanese TV crew

A shuttle bus to our hotel followed, and the quality of driving was possibly even worse than in London, a dodgy steering wheel causing frequent moments of alarm. Safely checked in, we headed to the Metropolitan Theatre to do a bit of practice before meeting no. 1 fan Tadao Funada for some sushi (it must be a relief for him to finally see us in his home town – it’s at least sure to be cheaper than his usual practice of following us around the globe). 

With Septura No. 1 fan, Tadao Funada

Aware of a busy day to follow, and the need to adjust to Japansese time, we decided to head to bed not long afterwards (‘couple of beers, nothing silly’). Tomorrow we make our concert debut here, something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time…

Wellington Day 2 (by Huw Morgan)

It has become somewhat of a tradition in Septura to use mealtimes together as an opportunity to discuss our next eating arrangements! Monday evening at The Bresolin was no exception, as we made plans to meet Dave Bremner the following morning for brunch at Goldmine, a true Wellington institution. The hearty breakfast certainly didn’t disappoint (I even managed to find some black pudding!), and after a superb ‘hipster-coffee’ at Goldmine’s sister cafe, Lamason, it was back to the hotel for a relaxing morning, a light warm-up and a short nap.
Matt Knight, on the other hand, was substantially more productive, fitting in a couple of hours’ teaching with some trombone students at the New Zealand School of Music, before he and Simon took to the airwaves of Radio New Zealand, promoting our final two performances of the tour and spreading the Septura message far and wide among our Antipodean cousins.

Matt and Simon in the Radio NZ studio

Fully rejuvenated, we duly made our way across the road to the venue of our penultimate concert: the Michael Fowler Centre, a 2,000-plus seater concert hall situated in the heart of Wellington’s CBD, and a stone’s throw from the picturesque Lambton Quay. After a brief soundcheck for Radio NZ, who recorded our performance for deferred broadcast, we embarked on the group’s first ever ‘Touch Tour’, an immersive experience for blind and partially-sighted patrons. As well as introducing ourselves and demonstrating the different elements of the ensemble, the sessions allowed the audience to feel the different instruments and mutes that we use, enabling them to fully appreciate and visualise the various components of the performance.

Pete introduces the tuba for the Touch Tour

Matt explains the finer details of trombone technique

Our ‘American in Paris’ programme, which focusses on the transatlantic relationship between Ravel and Gershwin (with some Debussy along the way), was enthusiastically received by a typically welcoming Kiwi audience, who ushered us back on the stage for the now almost obligatory encore of ‘I Got Rhythm’. This wonderful reception, combined with the hall’s beautiful setting and generous acoustic, contributed to a very special occasion, which you can read all about in a review here (“a brilliantly played, immensely stimulating concert”).

The Michael Fowler Centre

Concert done, CDs signed, photos taken and the jubilant chatter of a gleeful audience dissipating into the night, we headed to Golding’s Free Dive for our final drinks in Wellington (I still haven’t worked out if this was a deliberate continuation of the ‘gold’ theme from breakfast!) With a merry troupe of NZSO brass players, music students and Chamber Music New Zealand colleagues in attendance, it was the perfect farewell to friends old and new, and also allowed us to serenade Jack Hobbs, CMNZ’s Artistic Manager, who had assisted us since our arrival in Nelson, and who celebrated his 30th birthday in the best way possible – by attending a Septura concert!

Celebrating kiwi-style post concert

Although the promise of a late-night fried chicken joint failed to deliver, most of us were ready to head homeward, a good night’s sleep being the main priority. Having become separated from the main group, however, Matt Gee and Dan decided that one last drink at a nearby hostelry was in order… With true Trumpian hyperbole, they tried to convince us back out with the promise that this was ‘the best bar ever, guys… the best drink of the tour by far’. Unswayed, we remained steadfastly in our rooms, awaiting the morning report on their nocturnal activities, and looking forward to returning to Auckland for show 5/5.

Wellington Day 1 (by Alan Thomas)

Bouyant from another successful show in a rather wet Dunedin, we boarded our airport shuttle and our perky resident driver ‘Starsky’ whisked us off to the airport.

Our Chamber Music NZ fan welcomes us at Wellington airport

On arrival in Wellington we enjoyed a short walk along the stunning Wellington Harbour, described by some as ‘mini Melbourne’. We grabbed a quick bite to eat, and Matt Knight had an even quicker dip in the choppy waters, before our final NZ-based rehearsal for Septura’s up and coming recording of the Nutcracker on Naxos.

Relaxing at Wellington Harbour

 

Matt Knight enjoys a quick dip

We were generously allowed to rehearse in the home of the Royal New Zealand Airforce band, decorated in banners, uniforms and framed pictures of their various engagements around the world.

We have performed Nutcracker several times now, with a variety of celebrity narrators. However, most of the rehearsal was used learning 3 exciting additional arrangements by Mssrs Knight and Cox of the Battle, Waltz and Pas de Deux. As always, much care is taken over getting the right nuances and tempos, and after three hours I can safely say we’re totally ready to put the red light on.

Tuesday the 30th marked the long awaited ‘free day’ in the schedule. After the 4-day residency in Nelson, 3 concerts, not to mention a lot of travel time it’s great to have a bit of time to relax and recharge the batteries before our final two shows in Wellington and Auckland.

Walking up Mt Victoria

Artistic Directors at the summit

As in all groups we all have our different ways of utilising this time. Runs exploring picturesque trails, climbing Mnt. Victoria, private lessons, personal practice, Museums, gift shopping and HIIT workouts all filled the day before we came together for a wine and cheese soirée hosted by Dave Bremner, followed by a succulent roast lamb dinner in a local restaurant.

Meal with our host Dave Bremner and other NZ friends

Fully recharged we’re all ready to get back to performing tomorrow!

Dunedin (by Matt Knight)

A leisurely 10 am start in Christchurch continued the theme of this being the most relaxed Septura tour in history. To Matt Gee’s chagrin, a couple of us even committed the cardinal sin of being slightly late for the bus – it seems that Kiwi baristas are quite laid back, and the making of the perfect flat white definitely cannot be rushed. We were relieved to see that for the short flight down to Dunedin we were on a slightly bigger plane than the day before, so at least the tenor trombones could be squeezed into overhead lockers. 

Ahead of the tour I had done an interview with the Otago Daily Times and whilst most of the article seemed to really capture the essence of Septura, we were amused to read in the published version that Pete Smith – in reality Principal Tuba of the Philharmonia Orchestra – had been given a considerable upgrade, and was credited with holding that position in the Royal Philharmonic.

On the battle bus to Dunedin

We had been told that Christchurch was the “English” city of New Zealand (we were staying on Regent Street there), and that Dunedin was the “Scottish”. It certainly seemed that way as we arrived. After flying past stunning mountainous landscapes we descended through thick clouds and landed in pouring rain, a stark contrast to the beautiful sunny weather that we have experienced everywhere else on this tour. As we were driven to our hotel in the centre of town several of the players remarked on how much it reminded them of Glasgow – two, Huw Morgan and Matt Gee, having actually lived in the Scottish city early on in their careers.

The Glenroy Auditorium

After a healthy lunch all together we had a bit of a rest before heading to the Glenroy Auditorium for our brief soundcheck. Now that we have performed both programmes in New Zealand we try not to rehearse too much before the concert, preferring to keep our lips fresh in the knowledge that the music is all extremely well-practiced already. We were slightly relieved to find the auditorium was a good-sized chamber hall, seating around 500 – rumour had spread (from our knowledgable taxi driver Starsky) that the hall was a 5000-seater, and despite the press coverage we weren’t fully confident of filling a hall that size.

As it turned out we performed our Pilfered Piano programmes to a respectable audience, and it was warmly received with enthusiastic and frequent applause. We always try to go out to the front of house in the interval and at the end of the concert, and it was nice to meet some of the audience and sign CDs for the keenest of them.

Work done for the day we decided to sample some of the pinot noir for which the Otago region is famed, and we retired to our hotel (via a Scottish-inspired kebab shop) content with another great day on tour.

Christchurch (by Dan West)

It’s hard to fathom that over a week has passed since we took off from Heathrow. On Friday morning we departed Nelson, NZ with heavy hearts after a very successful residency at the NCMA. We met in the hotel foyer at a very civilised 8:30am before piling into the airport transfer which was kindly arranged for us by our generous hosts, Chamber Music New Zealand. During the short drive we covered very familiar territory: it had only been a few days since we cycled along the same motorway during our epic 40K ‘Tour de Richmond’, heroically fending off jet lag on Day One. We reflected on the more gushy reviews we received from the enthusiastic pupils and participants at the end of the course. The manner in which everything was organised & curated by the legendary New Zealand trombonist David Bremner was exemplary, and I hope he doesn’t mind if we essentially steal all his ideas & use them as a framework for future brass workshops!

Arriving at the modern & modestly-sized airport I was amused to see that there were only 2 gates: Arrivals and Departures. Michael— sorry, Matthew Knight & I had our greatest fears realised when we boarded the tiny twin-prop aircraft & found the overhead containers were significantly smaller than our trombone gig bags. Using what could only be described as coolness under pressure, Knighty discovered that his trombone fit underneath the seat, leaving me to buckle myself in with a bass trombone wedged between my knees. Thanks to years of Jedi training, the air hostess didn’t seem to notice this on her final security check. We promptly took to the skies with what I assume must have been numerous violations of the aircraft safety code!

Squeezing trombones and trombonists into their seats

Luckily it was only a 40 minute journey to our destination. Christchurch is a city on the east coast of the South Island with a population nearly 6 times that of Nelson’s 50,000 residents. We were informed by the front pages of all the national print media that our esteemed Duke of Cambridge was visiting the city on the same day.  He was in town to meet the survivors & honour the victims of the vicious mosque shooting which took place here last month. Perhaps if he needs some light relief after a sombre day we could end up seeing him in the audience for the performance of our uplifting American In Paris programme this evening. After a power nap I met a few of the others for lunch in a very sunny & warm spot just a short walk from our hotel, which is located over the road from the earthquake-damaged and cordoned-off Christchurch Cathedral. Pete & I were mocked by the Artistic Directors for ordering mocktails, but the joke was on them because the beverages were both refreshing and delicious! A quick coffee in the square was then all we had time for before setting off down New Regent Street – an historic stretch of tarmac which features a tramway, pastel-fronted storefronts and evokes a very similar vibe to San Francisco – towards tonight’s venue for rehearsal & soundcheck.

Christchurch Cathedral

Regent street

The Piano, Christchurch

The Piano Centre for Music & the Arts features an immaculate modern performance space, which is only a year old. We were delighted to find that the acoustic was as pleasing as the aesthetic, and after a classic Septura ‘Top & Tail’ rehearsal we dispersed to make our final personal preparations for the gig. I have to admit that energy had reached a particularly low ebb, mainly due to jet lag – though it was suggested that we were possibly all suffering from a post-workshop comedown. Those few days in Nelson were knackering but also rewarding; it’s a rare treat (for me especially) to work with pupils as enthusiastic & receptive, but the opportunities for ‘switching off’ and relaxing weren’t in abundance.

I took advantage of the break between rehearsal & concert  to video chat with my family back in London, catching my wife & the kids just as they woke up. The 11-hour time difference has taken some time for me to get my head around, especially factoring in early bed times (for the kids – not me!). If I lie in until 7am here (8pm at home) I completely miss the kids, and then my next opportunity to chat with them doesn’t arise until 6:30pm here (7:30am at home) which can be tricky depending on what venue we’re about to perform at and whether there is decent WiFi. 

Though we’ve traveled so far we’re constantly reminded what a small world it is, especially in the wider brass community. Amongst the audience members tonight were a former pupil of Alan’s from the RCM and there was also a bass trombonist who happened to be the very first teacher of Kiwi celebrity trombonist & great friend of the group Blair Sinclair of Opera North in Leeds. These deep-lying connections are apparent everywhere in New Zealand, even down to the names of the cities and the streets within. 

After the concert, which I particularly enjoyed due to an acoustic which gave us plenty of encouragement, we successfully limited ourselves to the oft-promised but rarely-achieved mantra ‘Only a Couple of Beers’. A late night snack at the classic Kiwi pizza chain ‘Hell Pizza’ was all we could manage before our beds summoned us. The news of a 10am shuttle to the airport was music to everyones’ ears, and with any luck my alarm clock will wake me after a solid night’s sleep.