America: Day 1 (by Matthew Gee)

Our debut USA tour opened at Oklahoma State University (OSU), home of the Cowboys (Go Pokes!).

The group met up in Dallas Fort Worth Airport, with Matt Knight and I having flown down from San Francisco on the back of a 3-week tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We squeezed onto a tiny plane bound for Stillwater, Oklahoma: getting the tuba on board shocked a few of the locals, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and 40 minutes later we were disembarking into the smallest arrivals ‘lounge’ I’ve ever seen.

Disembarking at Stillwater Regional Airport

Not too hi-tech baggage reclaim

Our wonderful hosts for the first concert, Paul and Lanette Compton, met us at the airport and transferred us to the Atherton Hotel, OSU’s flagship hotel – comfy beds, great bar and restaurant. We were well looked after. By this point Huw – flying from Switzerland to the USA – had been up for twenty-seven hours, so it was high time for some kip.

Jet-lag dealt with, the next morning was spent at leisure, with a surprising number of people hitting the gym, before rehearsal started at 3pm. On arrival we picked up a large shipment of mutes courtesy of Denis Wick USA who have very kindly provided them for the tour (if you’ve ever been to one of our concerts you’ll know that we use a lot of mutes).

All the trombone mutes we need for this programme

Can you guess which is the tuba mute? Thanks to Denis Wick USA

As yet, the second half of this programme – Gershwin Preludes, Songbook and An American in Paris – had never been performed, apart from an informal run-through for our Friends and Supporters at the Wigmore Hall earlier in the month. There were a number of corners which required attention, including the first outing for Simon doubling on taxi-horn – which, being so loud, is going to assist in getting any late, lazy members out of their slumber in the mornings.

The standing ovation reflected on a concert which went down extremely well, attended by people from Oklahoma City and as far as Texas. A strong cohort of students were keen to take pictures and chat with us post-concert, and as well as the usual brass chat, we discussed the building of OSU’s fantastic new performance centre and the possibility of us returning in a couple of years.

The evening was rounded off in true American style in Buffalo Wild Wings, with most of us ordering chicken wings which were both too hot and too large for our appetite. When we’d finished sweating we headed to bed. Tomorrow we pick up our tour bus and begin our road-trip in earnest, as we travel to our second concert at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.

Tour stats:

Concerts: 1

Standing ovations: 1

Distance travelled: 5015 miles

Time on planes: 11 hrs 31 mins

Septura in the USA

We’re looking forward to our first US tour in just a few weeks’ time. All of the info about where we’re going can be found on this page – it’s going to be quite a busy couple of weeks, with 10 concerts in 10 days in 8 different states.

We’re playing a brand new programme called “American in Paris”, which explores a great transatlantic relationship – between Ravel and Gershwin.

We’re very grateful to the Royal Academy of Music and Denis Wick London for supporting this tour.

Our first rehearsal of 2018 took place this week, polishing up the new arrangements for the tour. Perhaps the best rehearsal venue we’ve ever had – London’s Wigmore Hall.

Christmas with Septura

We’ve just had our first rehearsal for this year’s Christmas concerts, and things are shaping up nicely for the first concert in Scotland in a few weeks’ time.

Christmas has been the inspiration for so many great musical masterpieces, and brass instruments are a vital part of this festive musical fabric. In these concerts we’ll focus on some of the highlights of the rich Christmas canon, but where the years of repetition may have dulled their impact, we hope to illuminate them afresh, casting them in a brand new light through the unique sound of the brass septet.

This year our big new piece is Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker — a sizeable chunk of the ballet makes up the second half of the concert. Growing up listening to the symphonies, I was never very keen on Tchaikovsky’s music, which seemed to veer between schmaltzy sentimentality and overindulgent bombast. It was only when I heard the ballet scores, and The Nutcracker in particular, that I began to realise his true genius. This is a score so rich in wit and elegance, and so full of life and colour, that its enduring popularity is no surprise. It’s simply a joy to revisit each year, and many happy hours were spent arranging it from Tchaikovsky’s piano score this summer.

Some of what we play will be familiar from the orchestral  suite — the Miniature Overture, March, and the dances from Act II. Less well-known perhaps are the scenes from Act I, but these contain some of the best music in the ballet. They’re also crucial to the plot, and this will be important because the whole performance will be tied together with a narration — performed by Clemency Burton-Hill in Kings Place, and Brian Kay in Burford. The narration is based on the beautifully-written original Dumas story, and will hopefully make the musical performance even more vivid.

The Nutcracker is one of the most significant secular pieces of Christmas music, but of course there is a rich sacred repertoire. In the first half of the concert we’ll play excerpts from two of the most important pieces: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah. These are now well established in our repertoire — we recorded them last year — but we never tire of playing them. They give us an opportunity to feature soloists from within the group: piccolo trumpet in the final chorus from the Christmas Oratorio, and bass trombone in The Trumpet Shall Sound from the Messiah.

This is where we’ll be and when, so get your tickets now, and we’ll see you there!

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Septura sign with Ikon Arts

Septura are delighted to have signed with forward-thinking music management partnership Ikon Arts-Edition Peters for general management.

Ikon boast an enviable roster of artists, with a particular specialism in vocal and chamber groups, and so are perfectly placed to help Septura in the next stage of the group’s development.

Artistic Director Simon Cox says:

Ikon have the expertise and vision to take Septura to the next level as we continue on our artistic journey, bringing our unique approach to brass chamber music to more and more people, both in the UK and internationally. We are really looking forward to working with the whole team at Ikon, especially Hannah Marsden who will manage Septura.

Find out more.

French recording released

Music for Brass Septet 5 – Fauré, Debussy and Ravel – is released today!

Our latest recording has been quite a long time coming – we actually recorded it 2 years ago in November 2015. Hopefully you’ll think it’s worth the wait – we certainly enjoyed recording it, and this music has proved to be a fantastic addition to our concert repertoire over the past two years.

Our recordings generally focus on a specific period and group of composers, and this allows us to spend lot of time really getting into a particular style. The incredible music on this disc presented some challenges: lots of it is piano music, which is always tricky. The effect of the sustain pedal is a very difficult thing to imitate on other instruments. Perhaps more significantly though, we have to reproduce the work of a single pianist using seven individual musicians. This means that it is incredibly important that we’re all exactly of one mind musically, especially in music like this that requires a lot of rubato – the ebb and flow that a pianist would naturally give to the music. We have to take great care in the arrangements and in rehearsal to make sure that we have a united musical intention. Luckily Septura’s members have honed their chamber music skills – the most important of which is listening – over many years, and so progress is always pretty speedy.

Septura’s players are also all active as soloists, and so it was great to be able to feature a lot of them on this disc as soloists in various Fauré songs. We believe that brass instruments are fundamentally vocal in nature, and so these mélodies seemed to be a natural fit. Even so, it’s a great challenge to pull off convincing renditions of some of Fauré’s best-known songs. Although we’ve stripped the originals of their texts, our aim is always to retain all of the nuance and colour, and most importantly to capture the musical essence.

This recording was made possible thanks to funding from the Rayne Trust, and supported by B&S as part of Buffet Crampon.

Peter Moore joins Septura

We’re very pleased to announce that the outstanding trombonist Peter Moore has become a member of Septura, in addition to the existing tenor trombones Matthew Gee and Matthew Knight. Co-Principal Trombone of the London Symphony Orchestra, Peter has a flourishing career as a soloist, and is currently a BBC New Generation Artist. He recently worked with the group on our latest recording for Naxos of string and choral music by Elgar, Finzi, Parry and Walton, which will be released next year. Peter comments:

I’m delighted to be joining Septura. I’ve been listening regularly to the group’s recordings over the last few years, and their artistic approach really appeals to me – here’s to plenty of exciting concerts!

Click here to find out more.

Recording on home turf

We’ve just finished recording a new disc for Naxos (our 7th). This latest one is the longest we’ve ever undertaken, and also probably technically the hardest. But the music holds a special place in our hearts because it brings us on to home turf. Our recordings so far have taken us to Germany and Austria, Russia, Italy, and France. But this one is decidedly British: Elgar, Parry, Finzi and Walton.

The process actually began about a year ago. We’d just finished recording Christmas with Septura, and so were looking to the next volume. Our series is broadly planned out (we can tell you roughly what we want to play on volume 25!), so we knew that we wanted to pay a visit to 20th-century England. But the particular composers and the specific pieces were agreed only in the autumn of 2016, after a summer of very English listening. Early on we decided that we’d stolen enough choral and keyboard works for the time being, and it was time to plough another particularly fertile furrow: music for strings. Elgar’s beloved Serenade, Finzi’s Prelude and Romance, and Walton’s Sonata all fitted the bill, and most importantly we could immediately hear them as pieces for brass. Ultimately though we couldn’t resist including some masterpieces from the rich English choral tradition: Finzi’s rousing anthem “God is gone up” is such a natural fit for brass (“The Lord with sounding trumpets’ melodies”); and the first four of Parry’s Songs of Farewell have long been an ambition for the group.

Repertoire set, there was the small issue of divvying it up and actually arranging it, as well as getting permission for the works in copyright. I bagsied the Elgar and Parry, which was lucky because Simon was keen to do the Walton – he had first heard it 10 years beforehand at La Mortella, the composer’s home in the Bay of Naples. With a deadline of mid-May, we set to work. After comparing notes, incorporating a few suggestions, and pinching some ideas from our Royal Academy students, the scores were ready just a week before the first read-through in June.

The first read-through is always a slightly dispiriting experience. Having spent months immersed in this music, imagining every detail of its glorious reincarnation for brass, it’s slightly worrying when – despite the unparalleled sight-reading of Septura’s members – it doesn’t quite sound as you’d expected. Simon’s Walton in particular is very hard – totally un-sight-readable. “Will it be ok? Have we bitten off more than we can chew this time?”, I ask nervously. “Relax, it’ll be fine – it’s always like this the first day”, Simon reassures me. Sure enough, when we meet again a couple of weeks later, after a bit of frantic private practice (not least for me), everything comes together. We hone our new versions over the next few weeks – aided by performing the Elgar at the Gregynog Festival in Wales – and then we’re ready for the red light of the recording studio.

The recording itself is always very intense – we do two three-hour sessions a day, three days in a row. Normally we aim to get 20 minutes of music a day (and just about manage) but because of the length of this disc we needed 23. We felt better prepared than ever before though, and, in the familiar surroundings of St Paul’s New Southgate, we sailed through the Elgar on the first day, with our Producers Phil Rowlands and Jim Unwin expertly guiding us through the musical rigours of recording. Day 2 was the big one: the Walton. And for the first time in our recording history disaster struck. Its form: an oil leak, leaving Alan stranded at the side of the M40 as the session was due to start. A two-and-a-half hour delay put us on the back foot, but the group rallied and we ended the day weary at 11.15 pm, but relieved to have the Walton in the can. The final day is always a bit of a challenge – tired faces plus time pressure make for an intense race to the finish. This time the Finzi and Parry were actually fairly straightforward, and we made it to our favoured watering hole, The Charles Lamb, in plenty of time for last orders.

Now Phil and Jim have the unenviable task of piecing the takes together. Meanwhile Simon and I are planning disc number 8 – so watch this space!

Announcing Kleptomania

Septura are delighted to announce the group’s debut concert series, Kleptomania. The four concerts will present the prize pickings of music that the group has “stolen” through transcription for brass septet: plunder from string ensembles, pianists, chamber orchestras and singers. The series will take place at both St John’s Smith Square, London and West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge.

The brass septet is a brand new invention, and therein lies the root of our compulsion to steal: we have no canon of repertoire, no grand history of great compositions. And so we’re inventing one. Like musical Robin Hoods we thieve from the richest ensembles to create a counterfactual history — a parallel universe in which, in the world of chamber music, the brass septet rules.

 

Artistic Director Matthew Knight explains:
“It’s long been an ambition for Septura to perform a concert series. We want to develop our programming over a longer span than a single concert, and really explore the depth and breadth of the vast musical possibilities available to this versatile ensemble. Audiences are always pleasantly surprised by the huge range of colours and expression that the brass septet can create, and so we hope to cast all these works – some familiar, some perhaps not – in an intriguingly new light.”

There is a brand new micro-site just for the series – check it out at kleptomania.septura.org

 

Kleptomania at a glance:

Stolen Strings – Elgar Serenade, Walton Sonata, Shostakovich 8th Quartet
19 September 2017, 7.30 pm (London), 5 October 2017, 7.30 pm (Cambridge)

Pilfered Piano – Debussy Préludes, Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition
20 February 2018, 7.30 pm (London), 25 February 2018, 7.30 pm (Cambridge)

Borrowed Baroque – Rameau Dardanus, Handel Rinaldo, Stravinsky Pulcinella
1 May 2018, 7.30 pm (London), 4 May 2018, 7.30 pm (Cambridge)

Song Swag – Ravel Mother Goose, Fauré Mélodies, Gershwin Piano Preludes, Songbook, An American in Paris
9 July 2018, 7.30 pm (Cambridge), 10 July 2018, 7.30 pm (London)

Christmas disc reviews

In our latest recording for Naxos, Christmas with Septura, we re-imagine some of the musical masterpieces that Christmas has inspired. The album reached the top 5 of the Specialist Classical Chart in its first week on sale.

This is what the press have had to say about it:

 

If you like a shot of brass to set the festive ambiance, this new anthology by Septura, an elite group drawing on the finest players in London, is just the ticket.

Three rousing numbers from Handel’s Messiah cap a recital so entertaining that the missing words don’t matter.

BBC Music Magazine (Performance ★★★★, Recording ★★★★)

 

Septura’s new disc is a classy, erudite affair…The arrangements are beautifully done; who’d have thought that individual movements from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio would sound so idiomatic played by a brass septet?

In a pair of movements from Rachmaninov’s Vespers, the players’ impeccable intonation [lends] the richer harmonies a thrilling physicality which can be missing from wobbly vocal performances.

An enchanting disc, brilliantly recorded and a steal at this price.

The Arts Desk –2016’s Best Seasonal Discs

 

While this might be a disc firmly targeted at the Seasonal market…the quality of the music, arranging and playing is worthy of all-year listening.

I thoroughly enjoyed this disc from first to last. The programme skilfully balances familiar and unusual music and is drawn together by the considerable skill of the arranging and playing. The sound of Septura is exceptionally beautiful – warm and rounded but with dazzling brilliance too when required…this is a beautiful sounding disc.

Throughout the programme, these are musically as well as technically satisfying performances. In fact the perfection of ensemble, balance and intonation is striking.

Nick Barnard, Musicweb International

 

Christmas with Septura (Naxos) features an excellent bass septet performing arrangements of music by Bach, Handel, Rachmaninov, and Warlock. The arrangement of “Ich freue mich in dir” (“I am delighted in thee”) is a joy to listen to. This is a great one to play in the background to lift everyone’s spirits.

Jason Victor Serinus, The Bay Area Reporter

 

The playing is sublime throughout the recording…the musical arrangements, all compiled by Septura artistic directors Simon Cox and Matthew Knight, are additionally first-rate.

A serious disc of serious classical festive-themed repertoire and featuring brass performance of the highest calibre, which should be high on the Christmas wish list of every seasoned fan of brass.

Craig Roberts, Brass Band World (Performance ★★★★★   Recording ★★★★★)

 

Throughout the playing is refined and silky smooth as befits the music, the balance between instruments ideally blended…a disc we will get out each Christmas to savour this fabulous brass playing that has been atmospherically recorded.

David Denton

Septura at Classic FM