Saturday 15 April 2023

The trumpet being reimagined: trumpeter Lucy Humphris chats about her debut disc, Obscurus,

Lucy Humphris & Harry Rylance (Photo
Lucy Humphris & Harry Rylance (Photo

Trumpeter Lucy Humphris' debut disc, Obscurus, on Rubicon Classics with pianist Harry Rylance, features music by Janáček, Maxwell Davies, Messiaen, Filippos Raskovic, Respighi and Takemitsu, in what is described as an exploration of the obscured; a programme which showcases some of the most incredible trumpet writing of the 20th and 21st century, as well as several re-imaginings of older, more mainstream works for other instruments. Lucy was recently selected as a Rising Star by Classic FM and named as One to Watch by Scala Radio.

Lucy Humphris
Lucy Humphris

Lucy enjoys creating recitals that have a theme, particularly one of a more abstract nature. Obscurus features pieces that are all staples of her recital programmes, but all of them also link to the idea of something veiled or hidden, either hidden in the mists or worn away by time. Indeed, the disc started simply as a selection of pieces she loved but she then realised that they were connected. 

There is also another structure, the two arrangements (of Janacek's In the Mists and Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances) are with piano whilst the rest are for solo trumpet. Again, something she realised after creating the programme and rather liked. The Janacek and Respighi are her own arrangements. She finds that so many pieces for trumpet and piano have a particular sound, with the piano relegated to the background. With her arrangements, she tries to feature the piano more.

The standard repertoire for the trumpet is rather curious, there is lots of fantastic Baroque repertoire and then nothing during the Classical and Romantic eras, but the late 20th-century and 21st centuries have become something of a new golden age, there is so much wonderful music; there are trumpet concertos by Maxwell Davies, Turnage and H K Gruber. Contemporary repertoire is her bread and butter, it is what she performs, and she finds it interesting to see the trumpet being reimagined.

Contemporary music, however, can be tricky to programme. She tends to include just one contemporary work in a recital, as she does not want to alienate the audience. But she often gets positive responses, such as 'Gosh, I didn't know the trumpet could sound like that', and many are surprised at how much they enjoyed the contemporary piece in a programme. And she comments that it is easy to be scared of programming contemporary pieces, but you shouldn't be. There needs to be something the audience can grasp, to make things easier for them. And Lucy is a big fan of talking to the audience, she finds this helps enormously.

When it comes to arrangements, she doesn't want to take something and ruin it. She likes to take music that the trumpet could shed light on. With Romantic repertoire, she doesn't know whether the trumpet adds to it. The sound world of the trumpet isn't the sound world of a lot of 19th-century composers.

She does all her own arrangements and has done so since she was a teenager. She chooses works to be arranged by listening to pieces she loves. She likes changing her sound for the pieces, so she fits their sound world, imagining how a trumpet could fit the sound world of the original. She likes it not being an obvious choice of piece, so that the trumpet is subsumed into the piece, rather than the piece made to fit the trumpet. She enjoys the challenge.

When doing arrangements with piano, she workshops the piece a lot, and there is a lot of work on the balance between piano and trumpet. In the Respighi, she had put a lot of right hand in the piano, but as the piece uses a piccolo trumpet there was too much treble, so after workshopping they added more bass and now the piccolo trumpet floats over the piano. She isn't a pianist and it helps enormously to have Harry Rylance to try things out.

The Greek composer Filippos Raskovic studied at the Royal Academy of Music at the same time as Lucy. She did a lot of contemporary music there and would chat with him about extended techniques. He wrote the piece for her in 2018, and she performed it at a recital at the International Trumpet Guild Conference. The piece uses a lot of extended techniques; his music generally uses a lot of electronics so in Ostria they were aiming at using distortion to bring this sort of richness to the sound. The title, Ostria, is a Greek naval term for a wind that brings rain and dust from the Sahara. The piece uses double buzz (also known as split tone), where there are multiple points of vibration on the lips which she admits makes it sound as if you can't play the trumpet, so it is very much an experiment with sound.

Looking ahead, Lucy is working with several young and up-and-coming composers on a group of studies, where all she has said is 'challenge me'! One of the pieces on Obscurus is Peter Maxwell Davies' Litany, his homage to a ruined chapel in the Orkney Islands. For the album, she went to Orkney to record a video for the track, and a lot of Orkney music seems to be linked to place. Inspired by this, she is doing more site-specific pieces, pairing composers with ruined or historical sites, and filming the pieces written for the site.

As if this wasn't enough she is also making a documentary about Litany, interviewing Peter Maxwell Davies' friends and contemporary. She admits that it is a lot of work, but it is something she wants to do being as she is involved with Litany herself. And not many people play it; it is an incredible piece, and only two or three recordings.

Rubicon RCD1105 Obscurus - Lucy Humphris & Harry Rylance

When she was in her last year at the Royal Academy of Music, the Southbank Centre's Imagine Festival was looking for a female trumpet player to do a children's show. The result was The Secret Life of the Trumpet, 40 minutes of acting and playing, telling a story to three to seven-year-olds. She describes it as great fun, but also the most tired she's ever been as it was a very physical show. There was just her, a director, a writer and a puppeteer (who had worked on Warhorse). She also used the trumpet as a puppet, and the entire focus of the show was on the trumpet/puppet. The show wasn't at all patronising to children, and it included snippets of music that she'd never heard of. She would like to bring it back.

She was a very musical child and thinks that she would have played any instrument around at the time. But brass lessons were the only ones offered at her primary school and the trumpet was shiny! Whilst she always wanted to be a musician, she is glad that she picked the trumpet. When I ask about sexism, she feels that whilst it has got better, most female brass players have encountered it. When she was a child, there were other girls and the Hampshire Music Service was good at not being sexist, and the Hampshire County Band was well-balanced. But the brass world is a little way behind everyone; because of the nature of the instrument, there tends to be the idea that women could not play loud or high! Things are improving slowly, but there is still work to be done. And people like Alison Balsom are paving the way.

Obscurus - Janacek: In the Mists, Peter Maxwell Davies: Litany for a Ruined Chapel between Sheep and Shore, Messiaen: Vocalise-Étude, Filippos Raskovic: Ostria, Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances, Tōru Takemitsu: Paths - Lucy Humphris, Harry Rylance - Rubicon Classics

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Andrew Parrott's The Pursuit of Musick: an exploration of music and music's place in society over 500 years looked at through the words and images of contemporaries - book review
  • What came after: Schütz' telling of the Resurrection story in Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi proves masterly - record review
  • Filmic vividness: Bjørn Morten Christophersen's Darwin-inspired oratorio The Lapse of Time is a complex, large-scale piece of writing - record review
  • A joyous Easter celebration from Florilegium at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • A tale of two passions: Sebastiani's St Matthew Passion at Wigmore Hall and Bach's St John Passion at St Martin in the Fields - concert review
  • A multiplicity of possibilities: pianist Edna Stern on Bach and the art of Zen - interview
  • The sheer sense of engagement from the young choral singers was a joy: Bach's St Matthew Passion from Choir of King's College, London at St John's Smith Square - concert review
  • Clarity & suppleness: Frank Martin's Mass & Maurice Duruflé's Requiem from the Maîtrise de Toulouse - record review
  • Hindemith & beyond: Trio Brax's debut disc takes the Trio for Viola, Tenor Saxophone & Piano as starting point for an imaginative recital  - record review
  • Imaginative programme & unusual repertoire: The Fourth Choir's The Only Planet at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - concert review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month