“Ensemble playing of the highest quality” – Bachtrack

Our 2017-18 season came to an end with the final performance of our Kleptomania series at St John’s Smith Square, London. It’s been a fantastic season for Septura, full of firsts – our first US and Germany tours, first visits to lots of fantastic UK venues and festivals, and of course, our first concert series, performed in London and Cambridge.

Kleptomania has been an important artistic step for the group – a chance to gain performance experience of lots of our existing repertoire, as well as to play several brand new large-scale arrangements. We’re delighted that the final concert, Song Swag, received a 4* review on Bachtrack, which called it “ensemble playing of the highest quality”, and noted that “if you thought an ensemble of trumpets and trombones would be limited in tonal colour, you could not be more wrong”. You can read the full review here.

We’re looking forward to an even more exciting season in 2018-19. Details will be published towards the end of the summer, so watch this space!

Altmark Festival, Germany (by Sasha Koushk-Jalali)

The Altmark Festival was Septura’s first German destination of 2018, and we met early on Saturday morning to polish up our Borrowed Baroque programme. We have performed this a number of times in the UK recently, and merely had to bring James Fountain up to speed on our newest piece, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite.

After working our way through the programme with satisfying efficiency (James is rather good at the trumpet), we headed off to St. Pancras to catch a train to Gatwick. The airport ritual was fairly fluid, thanks to EasyJet priority boarding (#thedream), and awaiting the group at Berlin airport was our transport for the weekend, a maroon battle bus and driver Mr Müller. After a brief game of instrument Tetris, I ended up taking one for the team and sitting in the slightly space deficient front seat, allowing me to showcase my limited GCSE german conversational skills, which were soon outstripped by the SatNav and BB RADIO (a relentless stream of euro/dance hits). After two fairly long hours of sitting at a 25 degree angle, we arrived at Ratswaage Hotel in Magdeburg, a city 30 km or so from the concert venue for the following day. Accommodation sorted, brief and restrained frivolities ensued, consisting of a few good quality german beers, and a surprisingly excellent late night meal at Gorillas Restaurant & Grill in the centre of Magdeburg.

The following day the members of Septura arrived chipper and refreshed for breakfast, where only Dan West managed to clock the bespoke omelette option (the group envy was palpable). Mr Müller and his lovely maroon bus awaited and whisked us away to the beautiful Schlosskirche Letzlingen, which sat opposite a  lavish castle. After discussion with the church vicar, we discovered the castle was built in 1843 to be used once or twice a year by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV as a hunting retreat.


The Castle in Letzlingen

Following a brief warmup we knuckled down and sound-checked the programme for the concert. As with many churches, the shape seemed to amplify the tuba heavily, and diminish a fair amount of clarity among the trombones, meaning the majority of the rehearsal was used to find an acceptable balance between us. The rehearsal over, we headed out and enjoyed a generous picnic, including ice cream dessert, kindly provided by the festival.

Enjoying an Ice Cream

The concert itself was a great success, certified by the crisp, incredibly regular applause. A particular highlight was James Fountain playing his solo in Handel’s RinaldoLascia ch’io pianga, from the pulpit, despite his initial trepidation at the idea. We were persuaded into playing two encores by the appreciative audience and enjoyed a lengthy standing ovation.

After a quick beer and a chat with the vicar we were on our way back to Magdeburg, where we began celebrations on a job well done. It being a Sunday night we were afraid that Magdeburg wouldn’t offer us adequate meal options. However, we ended up with a varied diet: starters at an Italian restaurant, and then a dangerously large Schweinshaxe at a separate establishment. Despite our best intentions to get an early night, time flew and it was heading ominously towards the small hours when the merriment came to a close. Subsequently, the 6 am start the following day was only loosely adhered to by the tuba player, much to the ire of his disgruntled colleagues. Nevertheless, we made our flight and travelled safely back to London.

All-in-all the mini tour was a successful outing, and we can only hope to return to the wonderful Altmark Festival in the future.


Tour stats:

Days : 2.5

Concerts: 1

Hours of sleep:  < 10

Irritating Tuba Mutes Carried: 1

Distance traveled: 2464 km

Getting to grips with Pulcinella (by Huw Morgan)

Just over two months since our triumphant return from the USA, and with the group’s members all looking a little leaner as a result(!), it was back to work for our third series of Kleptomania concerts: this time, “Borrowed Baroque”. Among the programme of core brass septet classics (selections from Rameau’s Dardanus, Prokofiev’s Suite and Handel’s Rinaldo), one work stood out: Matt and Simon’s arrangement of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, the vibrant ballet music originally attributed to the 18th century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and orchestrated in 1920 for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the same Parisian company which premiered many iconic scores, including The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring.

A poster for Pulcinella at the Ballets Russes

Looking through any Septura piece for the first time is always an exhilarating but daunting experience, wondering how far our technical and musical limits have been stretched, and whether there’s enough space in the orchestra schedule to squeeze in the practice it undoubtedly requires before our first rehearsal. This time, however, what struck my eye was the new presentation and layout, which looked even more professional than usual, and was thanks to our recent collaboration with Dorico notation software (more of which soon, I’m sure). Unfortunately, despite the upgraded programme, our arrangers still hadn’t managed to locate the “rests button”, and as I tentatively thumbed through my part I wondered how my chops would be holding up come 9:30pm on 1st May!

Still, the great thing about Septura is that everyone knows they are in the same boat in this regard, and works their socks off to achieve the best result. Pulcinella is particularly tricky, since there’s a lot of doubling: Matt Gee with both alto and tenor trombones, Alan with trumpets in B-flat, C and D, Simon on trumpet and Flugelhorn, and me with the E-flat and B-flat piccolo. Of course, re-imagining such a vivid piece in true Septura style would not be complete without an abundance of mutes, and this work was no different. In fact, we introduced a new colour to our audiences – hat mutes – which, although conceived for jazz and big band music, veils the sound in an uniquely expressive way. A big “Dankeschön” to my colleagues in the Sinfonieorchester Basel for allowing the trumpets to borrow them for this project, and whilst the trombones are looking forward to getting their own set for our next concerts, Sasha’s desire to join in with a tuba hat might have to go unheeded (unless, of course, we can convince Matt Gee’s Dad to rig something up!)

Huw’s view of the rehearsal, featuring one of the hats!

As with our premieres of the Walton Sonata for Strings and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in St. John’s Smith Square during our previous Kleptomania concerts, the frisson of excitement in tackling such a formidable work was palpable, although one particular patron did try to scupper the atmosphere by allowing his mobile phone to go off twice in the space of 10 minutes (surely that’s the dictionary definition of inexcusable?!) SJSS provides a rather generous acoustic for us brass players, and while our second venue a few days later – West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge – is always a more intimate experience for both performer and listener, it allows the clarity and virtuosity of the arrangements to come to the fore. It also offered Matt Knight a chance of redemption: after he had inimitably “humanised” our previous performance there (an event which has gone down in Septura folklore), it was a particular relief that all members, mutes, AND their instruments made it onto the platform for the second half!

Tomorrow we repeat the same programme in Champs Hill, Sussex, and this weekend we’re also revisiting Elgar, Walton and Mussorgsky in readiness for our performance on 22nd May at the Newbury Festival. And fear not: if you’d like to catch Pulcinella before the summer is out, you can hear it again on 27th June as part of the “Proms at St. Jude” in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. In the meantime, do follow all our latest happenings here on the blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter, and if you’re attending one of our concerts, please come and say hello: we love to meet our audiences!

Proms at St Jude’s – BOOK NOW!

We’re delighted to be making our debut at the wonderful Proms at St Jude’s in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London on 27 June.

St Jude’s is an iconic building well-known to all of the members of the group, because London orchestras and chamber ensembles often record there. I know the church even better than the others because my wife is from the Suburb, and we were married in St Jude’s, so I’m really looking forward to performing there for the first time.

We’ll be playing our lively Borrowed Baroque programme, which contains some fantastically energetic and beautifully lyrical music by Rameau, Handel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. It’s sure to sound great in a beautifully resonant acoustic that is just perfect for brass instruments.

Booking is now open to the public, and more information can be found here. If you can’t wait until 27 June, then here’s a clip of us playing the overture to Rameau‘s opera Dardanus:

Septura stealing spree leads chamber revival

New nationwide YouGov research, widely reported in the British press, has revealed that 62% of British adults want to broaden their musical horizons, and classical chamber music is the genre that tops the list.

The YouGov poll revealed that almost a quarter of Britons want to discover more about classical music – more than any other genre. The poll was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and so naturally reporting has focused on the implications for the future of orchestral music. But actually the greatest number (almost half) of those interested in classical were drawn to chamber music, more even than orchestral music.

It’s inspiring for us that there is such a healthy appetite for classical chamber music in this country, and we feel that Septura is particularly well-placed to capitalise on this nationwide enthusiasm. The unique sound of the brass septet gives it an especially broad appeal, combining the power of a symphony orchestra with the intimacy of a solo recital. And our broad range of transcriptions “stolen” from other instruments – encompassing works originally for strings, solo piano, chamber orchestra, and voice – enables us to span every period and genre of classical music.

Keep an eye on your valuables.

Don’t just take our word for it though – you can judge for yourself in our Kleptomania series, which presents our prize pickings of “stolen” transcriptions in concerts at St John’s Smith Square, London and West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. The next concert, Borrowed Baroque, is on 1 May in London and 4 May in Cambridge, and features a brand new arrangement of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella alongside works by Rameau, Handel and Prokofiev.

KLEPTOMANIA: behind the scenes

Our concert programmes are always built around particular concepts and themes, as we believe this can really enhance the live experience for our audience members, particularly when the music is less familiar to them. The programmes themselves have varied quite a lot over the last few years – from the ever-popular Seven Deadly Sins to How are the mighty fall’n (exploring the historic association of brass instruments with war) – but we have long harboured the desire to present a concert series, allowing us to focus on broader themes across several performances. This year we are doing just that for the first time with KLEPTOMANIA (kleptomania.septura.org), which as you might have guessed is based on our thievery of music originally written for other instruments. Each of the programmes in the four-concert series is devoted to a particular instrumentation – we began last September with Stolen Strings and music by Elgar, Walton and Shostakovich, and last week it was time for Pilfered Piano with Rachmaninov, Debussy and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Our decision to arrange the Mussorgsky has certainly raised a few eyebrows. It’s understandable: if you’re familiar with Ravel’s orchestration, or indeed Elgar Howarth’s version for symphonic brass, the idea of performing the piece with just seven players must seem like madness. What’s interesting however is that Mussorgsky’s original for solo piano is very much a work of chamber proportions – the textures are far more transparent and the writing less grandiose than the orchestrations which have followed, and we were therefore confident that our version would work well.

The Great Gate of Kiev – not as grand as you might think…

Rehearsals began immediately after our US tour, and continued a week later. We normally find it’s useful to have a gap like this between rehearsals when we’re learning new music due to the need to make adjustments to the arrangements (for example when we’ve realised that some players have barely any rests, or a particular effect isn’t coming across quite how we envisaged it would). As usual, the most tricky bits to figure out related to ensemble (changes of tempo, balancing of dynamics) – we’re very lucky with the players we have that most technical challenges are overcome quickly.

The first concert took place at St John’s Smith Square in London last Tuesday. This is a wonderful venue to play in for us, giving a good balance of clarity and bloom to the overall sound, and a very attentive audience contributed to a special atmosphere as we made our way through the first half. We had already performed the Debussy Preludes 10 times in the run up to this concert, however this time we had a change of personnel (Pete Moore on trombone in place of Matthew Gee) so we had to have our wits about us and make sure we stuck with any differences in phrasing and nuance compared to what we were used to. Performing a substantial piece for the first time is always a bit nerve-racking, but everything held together nicely in Pictures and the audience seemed to think it had been a success, so who are we to argue? We’ve been especially pleased to see lots of students and colleagues at our London concerts this season, so it was good to meet them all afterwards (over some refreshments, of course) and hear what they thought.

In full flow at West Road Concert Hall (phtoto: Tony Hawkins)

Five days later we were in Cambridge at West Road Concert Hall for the same programme. Despite some drama early in the day (Pete Moore woke up suffering from a blocked ear which made it very uncomfortable to play and impossible to hear properly, although he gamely soldiered on), we all felt a lot more relaxed the second time around (which may or may not come across in the performance – one audience member who came to both concerts reckoned they sounded identical!) I should say however that this relaxed atmosphere was shattered half way through the second half, when Matt Knight realised he was about to play a euphonium solo…with no euphonium on the stage. A brief-ish departure into the wings (he had to actually find the instrument apparently) and he was back, delivering a remarkably composed solo in Bydlo. Afterwards we got the chance to meet a number of local brass players, many of whom were familiar with Elgar Howarth’s arrangement of Pictures for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, so had been curious to hear our take on it. I’m glad to say they all seemed to enjoy it, and we’re looking forward to seeing them at our next concert.

KLEPTOMANIA continues with Borrowed Baroque on 1st May (London) and 4th May (Cambridge).


Pictures rehearsals and Ilkley Concert Club (by Alan Thomas)

No sooner had we touched down on British soil following our successful tour to the US, we were straight back together the following evening rehearsing for four concerts we have coming up during the next two weeks back in good old Blighty.

Slightly bleary eyed and with a minor personnel change (Peter Moore in for Matt Gee), we set to work on the brand new Pictures at an Exhibition for brass septet. This is programmed in our next KLEPTOMANIA concert ‘Pilfered Piano’ at St John Smith’s Square in London on the 20th February, and West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on the 25th. It’s important to mention that this arrangement is conceived from Mussorgsky’s original solo piano composition, not the more famous orchestration by Ravel. There are already several arrangements of this work for brass (most notably Elgar Howarth’s epic arrangement for symphonic 16-piece ensemble), however Septura’s version will be completely different – head to kleptomania.septura.org to get your tickets!

Keep an eye on your valuables

After a Septura day off (during which Pete Smith and myself were rehearsing Mahler 5 in two different London orchestras, and Matt Gee was diligently practicing for a double concerto with Dame Evelyn Glennie no less – 17th February 7.30pm Dora Skoutzker Hall, Cardiff), we were all heading north for a recital at Ilkley Concert Club in the beautifully ornate Kings Hall, Ilkley.

The Kings Hall in Ilkley

Welcomed with a piping hot cup of Yorkshire tea, this was the first outing of our ‘Bridging la Manche’ programme, exploring the compositional differences between Britain and its closest European neighbour.

We were informed that the Ilkley Concert Club has a membership of around 475, and is so oversubscribed there is actually a waiting list! Despite Yorkshire having such a rich brass heritage, we were privileged to be the first brass chamber group to perform in this well-established series.

To a full house, the first outing of this programme was incredibly well received. It was a pleasure to meet such a wide spectrum of subscribers in the interval. Young budding brass players, string players, local music teachers and non-music playing concert goers who simply enjoy top class classical music in their home town.

Following rapturous applause we treated them all to an encore of the exhilarating second movement of Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet. After we released a very popular YouTube clip of us recording this it has become quite a calling card for the group. Needless to say, following the concert we were soon sold out of the our Naxos Russian disc, Music for Brass Septet 3. Organisations like Ilkley Concert Club rely on the generosity of their members to continue their good work, and we were very grateful to our wonderful hosts for putting us up overnight – the drive back to London would have been a bit far!

One of our stranger photoshoots

Next stop, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, Friday 16th February, 1.15pm, Dora Stoutzker Hall.

America Day 11 (by Simon Cox)

The last day of our tour began with the welcome confirmation that we would perform in Chicago after all – the snowy weather had subsided, and our scheduled masterclass at Northeastern Illinois University would now be a concert instead.

The morning afforded us a rare chance to catch up on some sleep, which was especially welcome following our sampling of the delights of Chicago (or Skokie to be exact).

Our final venue, in snowy Chicago

Battle bus 6.0 followed on from 5.0 in that it came with a driver, but unfortunately this one had no luggage space, so there was a very real risk of the tuba mute doubling up as an errant missile at various points.  We reached the venue without casualties for our usual pre-concert ritual of warm ups and sound checks, before we got underway at lunchtime. Ticket holders for our cancelled Friday performance were informed that the concert had been rescheduled, with a decent number showing up, combining with local high school students to fill the hall and create a wonderful atmosphere. The acoustic was possibly the best of the tour, and helped us to deliver an unforgettable performance of Ravel’s Mother Goose (if you haven’t heard our recording of The Enchanted Garden, check it out! – https://goo.gl/xCYS1P)

A Q&A session with students following our performance

We spoke to lots of enthusiastic audience members afterwards, many of whom were amateur brass players and had been following the group for a while – it’s a slightly surreal feeling to know that our recordings and videos are reaching people so far away, but certainly a welcome one.

An audience member drew this portrait of the group

Time was tight for our two trombonist Matts, who were travelling back to the UK earlier than the rest of us, but they still managed to squeeze in a Q&A with students before bidding us farewell. They had by now clocked up 32 days in the States during their combined Septura and Royal Philharmonic tours, so were understandably keen to get home to their wives (and to eat some vegetables).

The rest of us finally had the opportunity to do some sightseeing and experience some of the culture and architecture that Chicago has to offer, but we decided to just go and eat burgers instead…there’s always next time.

A final meal on tour before we get home to a strict detox health regime

By this stage energy levels were getting dangerously low (I swear Huw fell asleep standing up at one point), so after boarding the aircraft with instruments safely stowed in the cabin (the final potential organisational pitfall of the tour) most of us drifted off to sleep as we finally headed home.

In the UK we perhaps tend to view America through the prism of politics or show business, but this trip has allowed us to travel through the heartlands and really see a different side to the country, receiving a generous welcome from everyone we’ve met (even airport staff, who generally were able to mask their horror at needing to perform a security check on a tuba). Despite the heavy schedule, we managed to deliver our best concerts to date, and are looking forward to hopefully returning to some of the places we visited during our next trip there in 2020.

There’s always a feeling of nostalgia after a trip like this, but it’s tempered somewhat by the fact that we all see each other tomorrow for our first Pictures at an Exhibition rehearsal (preceded in Alan’s case by six hours on Mahler 5), and then concerts in Ilkley and Cardiff later in the week. It’s a good job we get on with each other…

Final tour stats:

Concerts: 10 (just)

Standing ovations: 10

Distance travelled: 14,324 miles

Time on the bus: 43 hrs 52 mins

Time on planes: 26 hrs 46 mins

Septura members still speaking to each other: 7

America: Day 10 (by Matthew Knight)

Bagels on the bus at 6 am and we were on the way to our final destination with mixed emotions. 10 inches of snow overnight had meant that our much-anticipated Chicago concert had been cancelled, which was a bitter disappointment (Chicago is a bit of a brass-players’ Mecca). On the other hand, after 9 concerts on the trot, the possibility of a night off was undeniably appealing.

Our flight was still on time when we arrived at Austin International Airport in Texas, and so we planned a leisurely day. We would arrive in Chicago, have some time to ourselves, rehearse for a couple of hours to get ahead on the programmes for Ilkley and Kleptomania, and then go out for dinner. The Denis Wick studio in Chicago had kindly agreed to host our rehearsal.

Whiling away the hours at Austin airport

As we arrived at the gate to embark the departure time slipped back – first by half an hour, then an hour, then 2, then 5. The delay was actually quite handy for me – I had finally got hold of the music for an arrangement I needed to do for concerts next week, so I sat on my own and worked on my laptop.

When we finally made it on to the plane

Alan’s reading material for the day

The others had a more sociable time, and were in gregarious form as we piled onto the plane, and stowed all of our instruments in the overhead lockers. This is always a slightly stressful moment (Will there be space? Will they all fit? Or will they try and make us check them in?). The tuba has its own seat, and the rest of the instruments go overhead, but it is always at the discretion of the cabin crew. We haven’t had any problems this trip, but in the past over-zealous staff have flatly refused to allow our instruments on-board. Wary of this, Matt Gee has actually designed a special flight-case from scratch for this tour – his trombone, suit and other clothes actually all go in one big suitcase, dubbed the ‘Gee Force 1’.

Gee Force 1

Packing 2 trombones inside

Although our new tour bus, MKV, was a great improvement (luxuriously spacious even in Huw’s hole, and crucially coming with a driver), we were a little underwhelmed when we finally arrived in Chicago. The snow had been very efficiently cleared, and so rather than the post-apocalyptic chaos that we had been led to expect, we were greeted by completely clear roads and normal traffic, with knee-high snow on the pavements alone.

The Septura tour bus MKV

We were pleased to discover that our concert was not cancelled, but merely postponed until the next morning (when we had been due to give a masterclass at Northeastern Illinois University), and so although it was now too late to rehearse, we all headed to our hotel rooms for a bit of private practice in preparation (luckily Denis Wick USA had provided the trombones with practice mutes for just such an eventuality). Practice completed we watched some of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony (in a bizarre Scottish-themed bar) before heading into town for a dinner of traditional Chicago deep-dish pizza.

Tour stats:

Concerts: 9

Distance travelled: 10,379 miles

Time on the bus: 43 hrs 52 mins

Time on planes: 19 hrs 11 mins

Time in Austin airport: 6 hrs 30 mins

America: Day 9 (by Huw Morgan)

8am, Fayetteville: after a few post-breakfast gulps of fresh Arkansas air and with the battle bus loaded, we headed onto the interstate for the last major road trip of the tour – 7 hours to Belton, Texas. Driving conditions were pretty much perfect, with clear blue skies and open carriageways allowing us to quickly rack up the miles, driver Dan West showcasing his endurance with a tour-best 5 hour 50 minute shift behind the wheel.

Great to be back in Texas!


Regular readers of this blog will also know that Dan’s local knowledge has proved invaluable in a myriad of scenarios, from explaining the intricacies of American sports to driving etiquette and craft ales. A self-confessed foodie, he excelled himself en route, a deft manipulation of the sat-nav leading us to Rudy’s Country Store & BBQ, one of his favourite student haunts, the added 25 minute journey time incurring the ire of a particularly implacable (or, as it turned out, simply hungry) artistic director.

Fantastic lunch stop at Rudy’s BBQ. The moist brisket gets the Septura seal of approval.

Stomachs satiated, Alan took the last driving stint of the day and I returned to my usual spot in ‘The Hole’. Remarkably -after more than 40 hours in this confined environment, and with our battle bus travels almost at an end – I felt just a little sentimental, which I suppose goes to show that even without many traditional home comforts, good company, good food and good music can go an awfully long way (though my colleagues have suggested this could be an acute case of Septura Stockholm Syndrome!)

The I35 is not the most scenic drive. This was about the most interesting thing that we saw.

Two hours away from our destination and Simon broke the news that due to a severe weather warning, Friday’s concert had at best been postponed, and at worst been cancelled. While we were all looking forward to performing in Chicago, which is regarded as a real Mecca for American brass-playing, it gave the evening’s concert at Mary-Hardin Baylor University an extra frisson of excitement, knowing that this could possibly be the last stop of the tour.

Our usual condensed hotel check-in over (I now have it down to a fine art: unpack, charge electrical devices, re-pack suit, couple of FaceTime calls, shower, head out), we arrived at the Sue & Frank Mayborn Performing Arts Center, a brand new, state of the art facility which would be the envy of many British universities.

Yet another fantastic, and brand new venue for the evening.

Greeted by a large and enthusiastic public of all ages, our programme gained plaudits from students and local concert goers alike, a particularly ebullient attendee’s exclamation of ‘Wow!’ before the applause descended after our version of American in Paris proving particularly satisfying. The only disappointment was an over-zealous theatre technician raising the house lights before we had the chance to perform our encore – much to the audience’s chagrin.

Our programme for the tour up in lights

As has become customary, our post-concert ritual involved a local hostelry and some typical Southern food in the company of our generous host, Nils Landsberg. It proved to be an early night, however, with a 6am start the next morning, and the beginning of a valiant attempt to brave the elements and make it to snow-laden Chicago…

Tour stats:

Concerts: 9

Standing ovations: 9

Distance travelled: 9148 miles

Time on the bus: 42 hrs 52 mins

States driven through: 10