Trakai Fanfare Week, Lithuania (by Huw Morgan)

Monday began with that rarest of Septura touring experiences: a lie-in! Having been awake for approximately 22 hours the previous day, it was a welcome opportunity for us to recharge the batteries, enjoy a hearty buffet breakfast, and bask in the glorious natural surroundings of our Dolomitic mountain chalet.

Simon recovering from a hectic previous day

Thereafter began the drive from Trentino to Venice Airport, winding our way through several tortuous mountain passes before hitting the motorway, where our driver was obviously at home amidst the cut and thrust of some typically erratic Italian driving…

Our next step was to negotiate the robotic philistines masquerading as AirBaltic check-in agents. Unfortunately, all of us have become wearily accustomed to airlines whose sole task seems to be to try and prohibit us from performing overseas, despite the frequent existence of an ‘oversized’ or indeed ‘musical instrument’ hand baggage policy. After a frank exchange of views, it was with some relief that all seven players, and our instruments, made it on board.

Several hours later, and after a short stop to change planes in Riga, we made it to Vilnius, where we were whisked through the night to the beautiful Riterio Krantas hotel on the outskirts of Trakai. The generous hospitality of our Lithuanian hosts began the moment we stepped off the minibus, with seven cold beers and a platter of tasty snacks awaiting us – just the tonic after 12 hours of travel!

As morning broke, it was clear we were staying in yet another area of outstanding natural beauty. Arvydas Mišeikis, the founder and artistic director of Trakai Fanfare Week, which celebrates its fifteenth edition this year, joined us for breakfast, before many of the guys headed for a quick dip in the balmy waters of the nearby lake.

After a short afternoon rehearsal and a tour of the music school in Trakai, it was time for the main event of our trip – an evening recital featuring our ‘American in Paris’ programme, including works by Debussy, Ravel and Gershwin. A ‘full house’ always adds an extra frisson of excitement to proceedings, and with standing room only in the beautiful 19th century church in Lentvaris, this was certainly the case. Rousing applause and a standing ovation ensued – the audience leaving with the now customary strains of our encore, ‘I Got Rhythm’, ringing in their ears.

Our venue for the night

The incredible interior

The post-concert reception was slightly delayed, as we took the opportunity of listening to the second half of a late-night concert featuring American trumpet icon James Thompson alongside the Lithuanian brass quintet, Brasspalvos. The night was still young, however, and in the company of many friends both old and new, we enjoyed some Georgian cuisine (VERY tasty, I can confirm!), washed down with a few local beers. Heading home shortly after 1am, we were already beginning to steel ourselves for another two AirBaltic flights on our journey back to London. Hopefully we’ll have better luck this time!

Septura trumpets and some international trumpet legends

Sounds of the Dolomites Festival, Italy (by Simon Cox)

The weather. We often make fun of ourselves in the UK for being so obsessed with it. The last few days have demonstrated that if anything we don’t worry about it enough. We had been eagerly anticipating our debut in the Sounds of the Dolomites festival, which would see us trek high into the mountains for an outdoor performance. The scenic backdrop promised to be spectacular, and it was sure to be a concert to remember. Alas, with just three days to go word came through that, due to the weather forecast, the concert had been moved to an indoor venue. Oh well we thought, that was always a possibility, and lightning and metal instruments probably don’t make good bedfellows at high altitude.

This would have been where we performed – there’s always next time!

What we weren’t anticipating was a text message from British Airways telling us that our flights had been cancelled with 24 hours notice. Various possible reasons were put forward, including thunderstorms and problems at air traffic control. Whatever the cause, we had to find a way to get to Italy – if you’re running a music festival you can’t really sub in an entirely different act for a concert that large numbers of people have bought tickets for, so for us as the artists it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you get there.

Being the height of the summer holidays, replacement options were thin on the ground. It quickly became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to fly to an airport anywhere near the concert venue in northern Italy, so it was time to cast the net a little wider – would there be time to drive there from Rome? Munich? Zurich? Could we get the train or drive the whole way? Eventually, after seven hours of phone calls and Skyscanner searches, and more than one loss of temper (once again, sincere apologies to Jessica at BA) a solution was found: a 7am flight to Frankfurt, and a further flight from there to Milan. The only question that remained was how we were going to get the tuba there. I won’t bore you with the details, but after a few hours sleep and more phone calls (and another loss of temper, sorry to Ingrid at Lufthansa) we were all set.

Brutal

Our alarms set for 3.40am the following morning, we headed to bed, glad that we were still going to make the trip, but with some trepidation at the day ahead of us. The journey itself went fairly smoothly (although if you can understand the signage in Frankfurt airport you’re a better person than me). Eventually we landed at Milan Malpensa, already with 10 hours of travel under our belts, and a further 4 to come on the bus to Trentino. We arrived at the Auditorium del Polo Scolastico di Cles about two hours before the concert was due to start, and after a quick sandwich and shower (thanks to our Italian agent Rosalba for bringing the towels – an absolute godsend) we headed into a rehearsal. This was the first time we were to perform our new arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite, so we did a thorough check of the musical ‘corners’ that were most likely to pose problems – generally involving changes of tempo or character. The other works in the programme, Debussy’s Préludes and Gershwin’s An American in Paris, are very familiar to us so didn’t need much rehearsal, which we were grateful for given the time pressure.

14 hours of travel and morale is still high

I should take a moment here to point out that only five of us had to endure this gruelling schedule. Trombonist Pete Moore was already in Italy taking part in another festival, and Matt Knight had flown out a day early to pick him up and drive him north to our hotel. The good news is that they were very supportive, and no mention was made of their day spent in a mountain chalet, enjoying a walk by the nearby pristine lake, and a leisurely three-course meal at a local hostelry, followed by a much-needed 2-hour nap.

I’m often amazed by what my fellow Septura members are able to deliver in difficult circumstances, but never more so than on stage during this concert. Swan Lake is a great addition to our repertoire, and much like our recently-recorded version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, we found that his music works incredibly well for brass.

Huw models the festival merchandise

After the concert we were whisked off to a local pizzeria for a meal with Rosalba, then it was back to our hotel to finally get some sleep. Tomorrow we head to Lithuania which means dealing with more airline staff, but surely we’re due some good karma…?

Young Arts Festival, Poland (by Matthew Gee)

I don’t know anyone for whom getting to Luton airport is convenient, and an 8:40 flight required alarms to be set for 4-something-am throughout the group. It was the start of a long but exciting day. Rupert swung by to pick me up and chat immediately turned to England’s Cricket World Cup semi-final vs Australia.

Luton airport was buzzing, largely with holiday makers, stags and hens, a group of whom were on our flight to Krakow. Their slurred speech and non-sensical banter suggested impressively high ‘levels’ for such an early hour – bacon rolls, decaf coffee and yoghurt fuelled our own excitement, and while perhaps not quite to the level of these gentlemen, I imagine the audience will appreciate our restraint come 8pm tonight. But being out of the country, how would we keep up to date with the cricket? Dubious websites were discussed, VPN’s downloaded… would Sky Go work in Poland? It was important stuff for our cricket-loving group.

Upon landing we quickly dived onto our phones to find that England had reduced the Aussies to 14-3! What a start. Remove the unorthodox Smith and we could really get stuck into them. 

A two hour transfer to Krosno gave us time to sit back, relax and enjoy some multi-screen cricket watching. A slight delay between screens made for some amusing celebrations, as the England bowlers put in a fine display. The innings was drawing to a close just as we arrived in in Krosno. Needing 224 to win it was all smiles as we devoured soup and pork roulade which had very kindly been provided at the beautiful hotel and spa that was to be our home for the next few hours.

Our bus to Krosno, resembling a sports bar

Off to rehearsal, phones off, and it was time to get serious for a couple of hours. On tour we usually take 30 minutes at the start of a rehearsal to warm up or do some private practice. My own accompanied Jason Roy smearing Nathan Lyon’s first delivery for a huge six down the ground, followed by a reverse sweep for four a few balls later.

The stunning Holy Trinity Church in Krosno

Unfortunately the England batsmen dismantled the Aussie bowling attack in almost the exact same time as it took us to top and tail that evening’s programme. It was a mixture of music from discs 2 and 4 of our Naxos series – an early music programme combing Handel, Rameau, Victoria, Gabrieli and finishing with Lassus’s astonishing final work ‘Lagrime de San Pietro’.  It’s great to get so immersed in such special music, and the imitative writing throughout really allows the septet formation to blossom. For once there were only a handful of mutes required by the group, so there were plenty of moments for us to enjoy the full, rich and blended sound of the septet in full flight.

Milling around backstage

The church for the evening’s performance was the perfect setting, the lively acoustic slightly dampened by a full, enthusiastic house, some of whom had to resort to standing in the aisles. The concert was very well received, with two encores demanded followed by a lengthy CD signing and photo session. 

We were taken to a local restaurant to re-hydrate with the festival organisers and a few audience members, some of whom had travelled from Warsaw to see us play – a round trip of 10 hours!. There was a lot to celebrate – Buttler’s ‘nutmeg’ run-out of Steve Smith, Woakes removing the ever-popular Warner, Archer nonchalantly bowling 90mph howitzers, oh and Septura’s Polish debut!

Getting to know our new Polish friends!

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…

Auckland (by Simon Cox)

[Matt Gee]: The sun was out for our last morning in Wellington (and the last day of the tour). We all popped into Lamson, our new favourite hipster coffee joint, to sip Peruvian syphon coffee and devour kimchee and bacon scones just like the locals. A short but scenic trip to the airport led to another leisurely check-in – New Zealand airports are a much more relaxed affair than their UK counterparts. In fact, today was one of the few times we actually encountered a security scanner!

A Peruvian syphon coffee

[Simon Cox]: As soon as we landed in Auckland it was apparent that this was a very different city to those we’ve visited so far – with around one third of New Zealand’s approximately 4.7 million people living here, it feels more like a bustling, multicultural metropolis than the more relaxed Wellington and Christchurch.

We checked into the Scenic hotel, right opposite Auckland Town Hall, the venue for our concert that evening. The rooms were some of the nicest we’ve encountered so far, however when Dan West attempted to catch up on some sleep it soon became apparent why – the hotel is in the midst of a full-scale refurbishment, and it seems that pneumatic drills really are the only tools for the job. He therefore had no choice but to join the rest of us at the excellent Depot Eatery, which was just as well – we were surprised to hear earlier in the tour that he had never eaten an oyster before, a shocking fact for someone so passionate about the pleasures of food and drink, so this was our opportunity to put things right. There was some concern that the traditional side effect of eating oysters (food poisoning, not the other one) would put our concert at risk, but under the circumstances we decided the rewards outweighed the risks, and we were glad to see that Dan appears to be a convert.

The exterior of Auckland Town Hall

Next it was off to our soundcheck at the hall, where we did our usual ‘top and tail’ of Pictures at an Exhibition, allowing Radio New Zealand to check levels, as they were once again recording the concert for deferred broadcast. We were also joined at this point by a group of kindergarten children, and it was great to be able to introduce them to the sound of the brass septet, and the ways in which we try to capture the wonderfully vivid imagery of Mussorgsky’s music. Another touch tour ensued, something that we’ve really enjoyed doing and hope to do more of in future. This time our audience included 3 guide dogs, one of which was particularly effusive in its praise (at least that’s how we interpreted the howling).

Alan demonstrating his valves

As we took to the stage and began to play, we knew this was going to be a special concert. Auckland Town Hall is surely the most perfect acoustic for brass that we’ve played in, giving us the confidence to take musical risks in the knowledge that they will always come off. It’s been great to return to Pictures during this tour, and we especially enjoyed filling the room with our sound during the Great Gate of Kiev, something that works so well for septet. The audience seemed to agree, demanding two encores.

After the concert we enjoyed chatting to audience members as ever, including some remarkable local brass personalities, and our good friend Grant Sinclair, a trombonist who we all know from his time in the UK. We headed to the highly-recommended Federal Delicatessen for some delicious food and a couple of beers, before continuing to what was surely to be the highlight of the evening – a couple of cocktails and fiercely competitive games of ten-pin bowling at Dr. Rudi’s Brewery. Having been disappointed on a couple of occasions at our preferred post-concert venues not being open, we made sure that our plan was fool proof. My girlfriend Elise (who is also in New Zealand working with the NZSO, and who my fellow Septura members have taken to calling Yoko, I assume affectionately) had selected this venue due to it being open until 4am every day of the week, according to their website. And TripAdvisor. And Google. Apparently ‘4am’ actually means ’12.40am’ here however, so the bowling never materialised, and we were forced to move on. It’s probably for the best, as I’m not sure how well a brutal beating at the hands of the group’s founder would have affected morale.

Luckily one final bar was willing to open its doors to us, and the competitive edge returned as we spotted a Street Fighter 2 arcade game in the corner. It was interesting to see Matt Knight, usually so vocal in his warnings of the perils of computer gaming, take to it like a duck to water, only narrowly going down to yours truly (he’ll know better than to choose Sagat next time…)

That felt like an appropriate moment to round off proceedings, as the dreaded 8,000 hour (approx.) flight home awaited most of the group the following day.

Our sincere thanks go to Chamber Music New Zealand and Dave Bremner for all their hard work in making this tour happen, and for making us feel so very welcome. It’s been the most wonderful experience for us in so many different ways, and it’s going to be very difficult for us to leave tomorrow. Well, not for me. I’m staying on for a holiday.