#6: Ben Reeve

Following our fabulously well-attended concert in March, Principal Trumpet Ben Reeve, relives his studious past and looks forward to his wife taking centre stage at our next concert.

Every so often SELO throws up a ‘blast from the (my) past’ – whether it be a re-acquaintance with, for example, an old brass teacher (who’s now a regular in our fabulous horn section) or a piece that holds a place in my memory from my time as bright-eyed young trumpeter at Bromley Youth Music Trust.

This time ‘The Firebird’ conjured up memories of practicing orchestral excerpts in a dingy basement practice room at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (back in the day…). At GSMD we’d prepare for, as you’d imagine, recitals and chamber performances graded by our profs. But we’d also have gulp ‘mid-years’, which were essentially like taking an ABRSM grade exam. These technical mid-years involved bizarre scales/arpeggios (Octatonic, anyone?!), transposition, sight-reading and ORCHESTRAL EXCERPTS. Times have certainly changed, but back then we’d tend to prepare for these the week before(!) and struggle to find copies of the orchestral excerpts to prepare with. I was lucky in that my Grandpa was previously a professor of trumpet at the RCM, and gifted me his extensive collection of excerpt books before I set off for music college. That should have meant that I diligently practiced these excerpts weeks in advance of my mid-years… alas, I never managed to organise myself in such a way – not sure what I was doing instead, my memory is a little hazy…

Anyway, ‘The Firebird’ was one of the few excerpts that was a whole page long (a rare occurrence for a trumpet part in the majority of orchestral repertoire), and as such required a bit more practice. It was also a real belter of a part – exposed, angular entries spanning a wide range. I remember it fondly as one of the few excerpts that was genuinely enjoyable to play, but I’d never actually had the experience of playing it with an orchestra… until now!

So it turns out the piece is more than a page long. It’s also very, very difficult (and not just for the trumpets). More practice was required…! Thankfully, the damp/dark/dingy basement practice rooms of GSMD have now been replaced with a cosy living room (and tolerant neighbours!). The only problem now is that my chops just aren’t what they used to be (even if the fingers are still waggling away happily).

Technical failures aside, it was such a nostalgic treat for me to be playing this marvelous piece once more. I want to be playing challenging music (though I’ll play tonic-dominant Brahms parts through gritted teeth if I have to) as it inspires you to rise to that challenge. I feel that SELO collectively rose to that challenge in the performance of this programme – I was beaming with satisfaction after the gig!

I’d encountered Hindemith before (he wrote a cracking trumpet Sonata) but I imagine there’d be many who haven’t heard of him. My learned section-member Ben (great name) informed me that Hindemith wrote a sonata for every instrument in the orchestra (and apparently he could play most instruments too – what a talented chap!) but they didn’t go down with the punters nearly as well as his ‘Symphonic Metamorphosis’, which is considered his most famous work. It’s one of those pieces where you just can’t switch off, everyone has an important melody to play at some point, and it’s his incredible modern contrapuntal score that makes it such an impressive piece. I really enjoyed listening to each section of the orchestra having the chance to showcase their talents – we really have some fantastic players in SELO and it’s exciting to hear our musicians’ confidence shining through when playing a piece like this.

So yes, well done all for another fabulous concert. I’m looking forward to tackling some Mahler in the summer (maybe one day Dave will even let me/us loose on Mahler 5 – now THAT’S an orchestral excerpt!), but in the meantime I’ll be listening to my wife, Jenn, practicing Mozart in preparation for our next concert in May. She and her good friend Fede (on harp) are going to blow your socks off!