USA 2020 Part 3 (by Dan West)

After a vintage Septura schlep (my alarm was set for 5am in Baltimore) we arrived in Huntsville 10 hours later (via 2 flights & a solid 2-hour drive) for the start of the Texas leg of the tour. Considering our indulgences at the reception in Baltimore the previous evening (thanks again to the Rosenbergs for their soup-er hospitality) it could be claimed that group morale was not at its peak through our journey. Luckily we had a couple of hours downtime on arrival to soak in the scenery of a rainy Huntsville, Texas. 

Huntsville is a small town 70 miles north of Houston which is famed for being the home to one of the most celebrated heroes of Texan history: Major General, President of the Republic of Texas and US Senator Sam Houston. As we pulled in from Interstate 45 it was hard to miss the 70-foot statue of the famous general and politician, who played a key role in securing the enormous state’s independence from Mexico and subsequent annexation by the United States. Our venue for the tour’s first proper outing of the Borrowed Baroque programme was located on campus at Sam Houston State University. 

The hall in rainy Huntsville

With our metaphorical batteries charged we took to the stage to polish up some corners in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and bathed in the sonic warmth of another luxurious acoustic. As I’ve mentioned before, the wealth of stunning concert halls everywhere in the United States puts Britain to shame. The Stravinsky is by and large the most technically challenging piece we’ve brought with us on tour and I for one was looking forward to getting a performance under our belts in Texas. 

Inside – another stunning venue

As we stepped on stage for the concert I noticed a familiar face amongst the appreciative audience, in the form of a friend and colleague from my days at the University of North Texas: Aric Schneller. Aric was a doctoral trombone candidate at UNT while I belatedly finished my undergraduate studies in 2005 and is now the head of jazz studies at SMHU. Though we only crossed paths for a year or so at university, seeing him gave me a much needed boost of enthusiasm, which had flagged slightly after the rigours of the day’s travel. Despite our drained reserves of energy the whole group played a blinder and I think we set the bar pretty high for upcoming performances of the Baroque programme. The soloists in the Handel (suite from Rinaldo) were particular stars, and the Matts took showboating in the Prokofiev piano suite to new levels – they certainly kept me entertained. When it came to the Stravinsky I imagine the audience would never have guessed that it was Pete Smith’s first performance of the piece, and despite the difficulty of the arrangement it went remarkably well. The arrangement works really well and plays to the group’s strengths. I hope we get a chance to record it in the not-too-distant future. 

After the show we caught up with a few audience members, signed some CDs and then Aric showed us the infamous maximum security penitentiary which sits on the border of the SHSU campus and houses the execution facilities for the State of Texas. I’d personally be a bit unnerved doing my studies with a building full of convicted Death Row murderers only a few hundred yards from the university library, but the prison walls are reassuringly tall and perimeter patrol cars thoroughly scout the area for would-be prison breakers. That being said there have been the occasional escapee, one of whom pedalled his way onto the nearby Interstate on a stolen BMX before being returned to his cell. As there weren’t any sidewalks (pavements), the sight of 6 British musicians and 1 Canadian/British bass trombone operator must have looked pretty suspicious to the patrolmen and I thought I noticed them take an interest in us as we walked under the walls. Luckily it wasn’t a long walk to the town square which, in its heyday would have made a fairly typical backdrop for a spaghetti western shootout. We slid into a saloon and sampled some fine local craft beer before retiring to our beds back on campus, just over the road from Death Row.

Dan chose a nice local place for lunch

The following morning we cruised up the Interstate towards Fort Worth in our behemoth Chevy Suburban. I used to turn my nose up at people who drove these tank-sized comfort cruisers, hogging multiple lanes at any given time, but now I can see the appeal – especially in contrast to the latest Battle Bus we had in the Carolinas, a vehicle which lacked any charm (or suspension to speak of). A few of the lads drove a small Ford Hybrid while Pete, Coxy and I floated northwards on a 4-wheel-drive cushion of luxurious carbon emissions. 

As we entered Fort Worth our grumbling tummies (possibly stretched already by a week of American indulgence) navigated us towards a well-reviewed Tex-Mex restaurant for lunch before the group was due at Texas Wesleyan University for a Q & A with the students and faculty there. The students had some great questions for us and members of Septura provided some insights into the working mind of a British orchestral (or in my case ‘orchestral-ish’) brass player. We were asked to outline our philosophy towards individual practice, so I obviously deferred and allowed the group’s more committed practicers to respond. 

The second outing of Borrowed Baroque went well enough that we thought we deserved a couple of celebratory beverages, so we ventured into beautiful downtown Fort Worth to the Flying Saucer, which I have waxed lyrically about in a previous edition of this blog. There had been rumours that a legendary trumpet player (and fellow Canadian), Jens Lindemann, could be joining us for a drink since he was performing down the road at Texas Christian University the same night. Jens has been a hero of mine since he performed with my junior high school band in Calgary when I was just starting to learn the trombone. Soon after hearing him for the first time he became a member of Canadian Brass where his accomplishments there are widely acknowledged as some of the finest trumpet playing recorded to CD (in my humble opinion). Jens himself is a hurricane of energy & charisma, and he made a dramatic entrance by treating us to his best Game of Thrones-esque Northern accent whilst greeting his great friend Huw Morgan. Jens chatted with us about the direction of the group and what plans were currently in the pipeline. He even coached Knighty on the correct (North American) pronunciation of the term ‘baroque’ (bah-roake) which will come in handy as we continue on up the road to Oklahoma, Arkansas and then our return to Texas for the TMEA conference on Valentines Day. 

Our name up in lights at Texas Wesleyan

USA 2020 Part 2 (by Simon Cox)

Our drive to Davidson was a mere 90 minutes – child’s play compared to some of the epic voyages of our last trip Stateside. With plenty of space in the schedule we stopped off at California Dreaming for lunch, and couldn’t resist trying such local delicacies as onion ring loaf and fried crab claws. It’s a constant battle to maintain a healthy lifestyle when touring in this part of the world, so a few of our number ordered salads. Unfortunately they perhaps weren’t quite as low-cal as they were expecting (the croissants on the side were a particular surprise).

Failed attempt at healthy eating

Driving into Davidson it was clear that this was one of those rare American towns that has managed to avoid being dominated by the car. A lovely high street complete with book shops, cafés and restaurants all within walking distance of each other welcomed us, and we spent a while strolling around the nearby lake enjoying the scenery before heading to the United Methodist Church (venue for the next day’s concert) for a rehearsal. Kevin Turner, the church’s Pastor for Music and Worship and organiser of our concert, was on hand to greet us, and we were pleased to find a spacious room with high, vaulted ceiling and generous acoustics.

The church at Davidson

As ever rehearsal time had been tight prior to this trip, so this was our chance to polish up Stravinsky’s Pulcinella which features later in the tour. Matt Knight and I had made some tweaks to the arrangement since we last performed it 2 years ago in an attempt to make life a bit easier for the trumpets, and there was a real feeling of anticipation at the prospect of performing this superb music again.  A trip to a local Mexican eatery ensued (I backed up my triumph in the boxing ring with a comfortable edge in the unofficial extra-hot salsa eating contest), before it was off to meet the families who were providing our accommodation for the night.

The following morning we all spent time with our hosts, experiencing the legendary Southern hospitality in all its forms. Huw and I were staying with Jimmy and Charlotte (and their delightful dog Duff) in their beautiful home just outside Davidson, and were pleased to discover that he had a comprehensive tv sports package, even including access to the rugby back home. The rest of this paragraph was supposed to be about Wales continuing their unbeaten Six Nations run in their game against Ireland, but I’m running short on space so probably ought to skip ahead.

Simon and Huw’s companion, Duff

Alan and Pete were staying in Davidson itself with hosts Mary and Bob, who went out of their way to make sure their visitors were entertained for the full duration of their stay. It’s fair to say that they’re now the group’s resident experts on all things Davidson! Westy meanwhile so enjoyed his stay that he threatened to abandon the tour in favour of a new life in North Carolina, whilst Matt Gee was grappling with his need to avoid eating meat when in the home of an avowed carnivore. I think they reached some kind of understanding.

Alan’s bed for the night

Eventually we all drifted towards the UMC for our soundcheck, which was a little more thorough than we had planned due to the cancellation of our concert in Clemson. It’s always a challenge to perform a piece for the very first time, especially when it’s something as substantial as Clara Schumann’s Sonata in G minor, so we took the time we needed to really polish all the changes of tempo and character. Soon afterwards the audience began drifting in and we were pleased to see the locals had come out in force despite some bitterly cold weather. The concert even had to be delayed by a few minutes while Kevin printed out some extra programmes, always a welcome occurrence!

Everything went smoothly and soon enough we were into our usual post-concert routine of meeting audience members and signing CDs. It’s always gratifying to hear the lengths people have gone to to come and hear us live, and it was especially nice to meet some of the nearby brass professors and their students.  

The last few days have felt quite slow paced by our standards, but the tour gets going in earnest from now on. We have to be in Baltimore for a performance tomorrow afternoon, a mere 7-hour drive away, so with the battle bus packed we hit the road to make a dent  in the journey. Having all opted for a salad at tea time we’d by this point worked up a bit of an appetite, so a mammoth tub of cheesy puffs seemed the only sensible option. Racked with guilt and a little sleepy we pitched up at our hotel in Raleigh with the first evening concert of the tour finally under our now slightly loosened  belts.

Not even attempting healthy eating anymore

The morning found us driving through the pretty forests of Virginia in the bright sunshine. A couple of hours into the journey it emerged that our route was taking us through the heart of Washington, DC, so it seemed silly not to make a brief stop. A couple of photos and a slice or two of pizza later, we continued on our journey to Baltimore.

Septura in DC

By far my favourite tv show is The Wire, a 5-series epic set largely in inner-city Baltimore, and I was really looking forward to our visit. Unfortunately the nature of touring is that it’s very rarely possible to do much sightseeing in the places we visit, and given the tight schedule I had to accept that going to visit Orlando’s, the Pit and Kavanagh’s would have to wait for another time.

Our performance was at Goucher College, and we were to be the artists in the 60th annual Rosenberg lecture-performance. Flicking through the programme we saw a list of previous participants, and it gradually dawned on us what an honour it was to have been invited – we can now add our names to a list that includes Aaron Copland, Michael Tippett, Mstislav Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma! A 2nd outing of One Equal Music in less than 24 hours was the order of day, and we particularly enjoyed performing Clara Schumann’s sonata – it’s really bedding in now and it will be interesting to see how our interpretation develops in the coming weeks.

Full marks to our hosts for the post-concert reception. Excellent food and conversation with the series supporters (a particular highlight was Dan West being told he was a spitting image of someone’s 54-year-old son) was the perfect way to finish the day, and bed (via some boneless wings, obviously) soon followed. Tomorrow we’re up before the crack of dawn to head to Texas for part 2…

Tour stats:

Concerts: 3

Distance travelled: 4484 miles

Time on the bus: 11 hrs 30 mins

States driven through: 3

Tubs of cheeseballs: 1

USA 2020 Part 1 (by Matthew Gee)

It was two years since our last tour around the USA. The previous one – an epic ten day dash, many six hour drives, culminating in some remarkable, against-all-odds concerts – had left us with some great memories, but a little anxious as to what might be letting ourselves into this time. 

On paper it looked tough: three weeks, one day off, the biggest test of our stamina yet. The only time we could rehearse was on the morning of the flight, so we all braved rush hour laden with instruments, mutes and suitcases for a 9am start at a church near Gloucester Road. Pete unveiled his newly pimped tuba – a modification job gleaming in gold and sure to bring tuba aficionados flocking to Pete with questions throughout the tour.

I surprised everyone by announcing that I was going vegetarian for the month. ‘In America…no chance’, I hear. Peals of laughter, mocking and the general lack of support suggested that they were intent of breaking me. Well played them – trash talking me typically steadies my resolve, so their witty banter was actually doing me a favour. 

Huw making sure to keep his lips well hydrated with a gender-neutral lipstick on the plane

Happily the rest of the day went as you would expect. Ubers to London Heathrow, a quick Bloody Mary and then a nice quiet flight over to Atlanta. We obviously had to endure the usual palava when checking in Pete’s tuba, but that is just expected now. Upon arrival we picked up the first of our minibuses. Traditionally they don’t seem to fair too well in our hands, and sure enough a few miles into our journey to Clemson we lost part of the boot. A few hours later, tired and hungry, we arrived at our hotel. Some of us popped out for a slice of pizza and then all crashed for some much needed sleep.

The author sensibly catching up on some sleep before an action-packed few weeks
Picking up the 2020 battle bus at Atlanta airport

A few of the group woke in the night to colossal claps of thunder, and sure enough the morning brought with it phone alerts warning us of flooding and tornadoes in the area. Sure, it was raining quite hard, but we had all expirienced far worse during the British Summer! We went about our morning relaxing, exercising, catching-up with admin and chatting to family back home before heading down to the concert hall for our first concert. However, disaster was around the corner. Halfway through our rehearsal we were interrupted by some very glum faces. The gig was to be cancelled. The Brooks Center had been ordered to close because of the weather. We couldn’t believe it, it was a mere shower – I dread to think what a dusting of snow would do to the place. The group was upset. We had been looking forward to getting the tour started, and at the eleventh hour it had been snatched away from us. It was a shame for everyone, not least the expected seven-hundred strong audience, one of whom had flown in from Florida, and trumpet legend Phil Smith, who was planning to bring his entire trumpet class up from the University of Georgia. 

We hunkered down in the hotel after this warning arrived on our phones

So we did what any group would have done in these circumstances and retired to the safety of the pub. The promoter very kindly took us out for a meal which we washed down with some local beer, before popping across the road to a classic American bar, to assault our senses watching sport we don’t quite understand, playing pool and computer games. Simon surprised everyone (even himself) when his thin, feeble frame somehow managed to win most powerful punch on the boxing game. 

Simon’s winning punch
Dan had a slightly different approach

We got chatting to the uber driver on our way back to the hotel. He very proudly spoke of how back in the ‘70s he had played soccer for Chelsea. He moved to Leicester first – my hometown, ‘go on, tell us more’ – and was picked up by a scout having never played professionally. It was only right at the end of the conversation that he dropped in that it was just once… for the second team. 

The venue for our first 2020 performance

The next day dawned bright and sunny, and we departed the hotel around 8:30am to head for the Hartness Performing Arts Center where we were to perform a short forty-five minute concert to high school kids. We took the opportunity to give the other tour programme, ‘Borrowed Boroque’, an outing. Some of the audience from the previous night had heard about this short performance and managed to come along, so hopefully they have not left Clemsen too disappointed.

So the tour is up and running, Davidson in North Carolina is up next which, barring another force majeure, should see the first performance of our latest programme ‘One Equal Music’, which you can also catch in the Wigmore Hall on February 27.

Ossiach, Austria (by Dan West)

Day 3 started slowly, at least by Septura’s touring standards. We didn’t have an early airport call to contend with so a few of us began with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel in Bad Horn Meinberg. Others took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep or adhere to strict fitness regimes in the chilly German rain. Matt Knight even took advantage of the morning to serenade the entire hotel with his trademark trombone warm-up routine. After a busy couple of days on the embouchure I decided it was the mark of true courage to leave it in the case and allow my chops a day of recovery. We all looked forward to a (hopefully) relaxing day traveling to Ossiach in Austria, but as is often the case in these adventures abroad, you can never fully prepare for what the travel gods have in store for you! 

Leg 1 of the journey to Austria nearly began with a casualty. Our Artistic Director, 2nd B-flat trumpet (doubling flugelhorn and occasional percussion) and bus driver, Dr Simon ‘Traffic Cone Magnet’ Cox nearly ploughed into a sapling a mere 30 feet from the hotel whilst syncing navigation devices. To be fair to Coxy, the young tree had no business being planted in the middle of the lane, and I for one would be surprised if it were to survive to a leafy old age. The near-miss provided us with a rare opportunity to tease Simon about the infamous incident in Dallas where a traffic cone appeared out of thin air and propelled itself at a previous Cox-piloted battle bus. 

Our inimitable driver.

We were faultlessly driven along the congested but swift Autobahn tarmac to Düsseldorf airport, roughly 2 hours from our starting point. Our travel arrangements for this trip were thrown into disarray earlier this month as the airline which a few of our flights were booked with, Air Adria, filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations. In addition to making today’s travel a bit less convenient (involving different airports and more miles on the Autobahn than planned) I also have a less than straightforward journey to look forward to on Saturday when returning to London and my ‘day job’ in the West End. 

What followed was yet another edition of the traveling trombonist’s worst nightmare: our Austrian Airlines flight to Graz was on a Bombardier Q400 prop plane, and from experience as recent as our April tour in New Zealand I knew I had little to no hope of getting my precious and irreplaceable vintage bass trombone into the overhead bins. Heart rates accelerated, Pete Moore and Matt Knight boarded ahead of me and struggled unsuccessfully to load their own beloved hooters into the storage provided. I now knew I had no hope to get my girthy bass trombone bell into the overheads. With no flight crew cabinets available we knew we had to improvise or risk damaging the tools of our trade by surrendering them to the baggage handlers to stow in the hold. We quickly and calmly nestled our cases under our seats. Thankfully the air hostesses turned a blind eye and focussed their attention on Sasha’s tuba, and particularly its carry-on luggage (the pesky ever-present tuba mute). Another crisis averted, but another one potentially awaits me on my travels with the same airline on Saturday. 

Simon and Matt plugged away at their Dorico music notation software, using the time in the air to arrange music for some upcoming Septura projects. I diligently kept watch over their shoulders to ensure that Knighty (in particular) didn’t cheekily pawn off any overly difficult lines into the bass trombone part whilst allotting himself a luxurious amount of rests. The Austrian Alps cut a fine figure in the distance and, as the sun set brightly behind them, we descended to the tarmac. 

The stunning setting.

Shortly after landing in Graz we were back in another battle bus for the final leg of our journey to Ossiach. Just under 3 hours later we were unloaded in front of the Carinthian Music Academy, which for this engagement served as both the concert venue and as our accommodation. Though it was dark out it was apparent that Ossiach was a town with great natural beauty, nestled between mountains and a lake. The air was crisp and cleansing – a marked contrast to the stale battle bus air. 

Our humble accommodation in Ossiach.

We were directed to a seafood restaurant and spent the waning hours of Day 3 sampling local fare, including a delicious lake trout and a bottle or three of Roter Veltliner. 

Relaxing pre-concert.

Day 4, the final day of our tour, was sunny and brisk and highlighted the elegant aesthetic of our venue. The Carinthian Music Academy is built on the site of the Ossiach Abbey, and has existed in its current form since 2009. Our appearance here is part of their 2019 autumn brass festival, and our concert will be in the Alban Berg Concert Hall: a modern concert hall built across from the chapel on site. We were given access to the hall for the entire day, which made it quite convenient for individuals to visit its luxurious acoustic for practice and warm-up sessions before gathering for our afternoon rehearsal and soundcheck. While the bulk of the septet had lunch, coffees and apple strudel on the sunny lakeside Alan had an impressive 20k run around most of the lake. We gathered for rehearsal to go over the trickiest corners from the challenging ‘Human Nature’ programme, tonight being this edition’s second ever outing.

The Alban Berg hall.

The programme is what I might call a ‘slow burner’, with much of Blow’s Venus and Adonis being a funeral march and Skelbred’s Imprints featuring tragic themes centred around mass extinction. The audience appeared receptive and I hope we didn’t drive anyone to a deep depression! The second half starts with our most-streamed Spotify track, La Papillon et la Fleur, featuring Simon Cox and his trusty Flugelhorn ‘Frosty’. Safe to say, from that moment on we had the audience in the palm of our hand. The remaining Fauré mélodies feature much of the rest of the group as soloists, though Sasha and I remain very much in supporting roles throughout. Finally we end the programme with one of the latest arrangements in our repertoire, selections from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Some passages are incredibly challenging, and I find the Finale particularly difficult to execute at the end of a long programme. Having heard seven musicians on stage striving to master the most difficult music, the audience rewarded us with a standing ovation and we in turn treated them to a pair of classic encores from our back catalogue. All-in-all it was a very rewarding journey! 

As I put the finishing touches on this blog we’ve all dispersed to different airports and train stations to rush back to our various ‘day jobs’. We’ll next see each other in November for a week recording yet another volume of ‘Music for Brass Septet’ with Naxos. I think we’re all particularly excited about the American repertoire, having performed the Gershwin countless times around the world in the last two years. In the meantime I’m hoping the travel gods are kind to me and my trombone, and I am able to catch my connecting flight in Vienna, allowing me to arrive in London in time for my evening show at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Fingers and toes are firmly crossed. 

Detmold, Germany (by Matthew Knight)

Septura’s 2019 season started with a 6 a.m. check-in at Heathrow, as we made our way to Detmold (via Hannover) in Germany. Despite my calm and exacting instructions from the navigation seat, Simon Cox’s driving of the battle bus filled the group with trepidation – he requires constant reminding to drive on the right side of the road, and we had flashbacks of his terrifying traffic-cone near-miss in America 2018. 

We were staying outside Detmold in the sleepy and appropriately-named town of Bad-Horn. We lunched in a local tavern, where the arrival of seven Londoners seemed to come as a bit of an unwelcome surprise, eliciting a rather lukewarm reception, but nevertheless hearty German fodder. 

The concert hall at the Hochschule für Musik, Detmold

Our programme for the concert at the Detmold Hochschule für Musik was called ‘Human Nature’ and featured the first performance of a brand new commission – Imprints by the Norwegian composer Bjorn Skjelbred. With London in the grip of the Extinction Rebellion protests it seemed fitting that the subject of Bjorn’s piece was the destructive effect of humanity on the natural world. Despite this austere subject-matter, the piece highlights the lyrical side of the brass septet, and ends like the Farewell symphony, with players dropping out one-by-one. There was a concern in the performance that Sasha Koushk-Jalali was so immersed in the soundworld, revelling in it with his eyes closed, that the piece might in fact last forever. In the end Simon Cox brought proceedings to a close with his lone mournful trumpet, and the audience applauded enthusiastically as the composer himself joined Septura on stage.

Septura rehearsing on stage

The next day we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity of coaching some of the excellent brass students at the Hochschule. Passing on our particular approach to both solo and ensemble brass playing is always a joy, especially when the standard of playing is as high as this. Energised by the experience, we reconvened as a group in the evening to rehearse for another upcoming project. After the battering our lips had received in Septura’s version of Swan Lake the night before, it was a bit of a relief to turn our attention the slightly more transparent textures of Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  This was the first rehearsal for the American recording that will take place in November, and after months of hearing our Dorico software performing its electronic version, it was pleasing to hear the new arrangement brought to life so skilfully by the incredible musicians of Septura. 

The stunning Hochschule für Musik, Detmold

After a long day’s work we were glad to relax with a drink (the driver Simon Cox excepted) in the company of our convivial hosts – Klaus and Otmar, the trumpet and trombone professors of the Hochschule. After much chat and a couple of beers we retired to the hotel, ready to travel the next day to Austria.

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.


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


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