Busy trumpeter making stop at Krannert
In early March, monster trumpeter Arturo Sandoval sent a tweet to a younger but equally awesome trumpeter, Alison Balsom:
"Italian Concertos. Congratulations, dear Alison, you are simply amazing."
He then suggested the two of them play duets. Looks like that might happen.
Balsom, who will perform with the Scottish Ensemble on Thursday night at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, said she and Sandoval planned to have dinner in Los Angeles to talk about making an album together.
Known primarily as a trumpeter who plays classical music, Balsom enjoys playing many kinds of music, including jazz.
"Up to now, my career has been basically classical," the English trumpet soloist said. "That's my training. I love jazz, and my next four records will be on Blue Note. It's an exciting departure for me, but I will always play classical."
"Balsom, of course, is a phenom in the world of brass playing," said a critic for WQXR, New York's classical music station. "She has brought a touch of feminine glamor to an instrument sometimes associated (fairly or not) with jocks and frat boys.
"While she's still far better known in the U.K. and Europe, that may change: She's already appeared on David Letterman's show and is slated to debut at the Hollywood Bowl in August (2012)."
Letterman was driving to work one day when he heard Balsom on the radio.
"He just said, 'Come and play something.' I said, 'Yes, definitely,'" said Balsom, who after her performance did not sit for an interview with Letterman, who can be irascible. "That's the best way to go on that show. It might be a bit stressful. But he was absolutely charming to me."
That television appearance, she said, was a big deal for her career. But for her the "holy grail" is performing as well as she can at a "big concert."
"I did the Hollywood Bowl this past summer, which I absolutely loved," she said. "That was a great moment."
Balsom, 34, who grew up in Cambridge, England, took up the trumpet at an early age, when she was given the chance in primary school to choose from different instruments.
"I immediately fell in love with the trumpet," she said. "Either you can't or can make a note on it. Obviously I could, and it became an activity I did with my friends. I always loved it."
Unlike other girls when they hit adolescence, Balsom stuck with the brass instrument.
"I didn't fall away," she said. "By the time boys started showing interest, I had already been playing for so long that I was committed to it."
It helped that all of her best friends at the time played musical instruments, too.
"It was my social life," she said. "Even when I didn't see my friends, it was something I could do. I also loved the fact it was a little bit different.
"There was never a point when I thought I didn't want to do it. That doesn't mean that every day I felt, 'Oh, I want to play the trumpet.' Sometimes I didn't want to practice."
It also helped that Balsom had great teachers — and is among the 50 percent of humans who have the right armature (mouth formation) to play the trumpet.
"I just had that going for me," she said. "And aside from learning and thinking as a musician, it's about keeping the armature strong and not putting too much stress on it, etc. It's about constantly finding a balance where you build up some stamina but you haven't overdone it."
Though she applied herself when young, Balsom said she wasn't a child star.
"I was quite the opposite. I was very shy when I was a kid," she said. "I loved playing my music, but I was not a natural for being on stage. I still get nervous, but the music drives me on to continue because I enjoy it so much."
Becoming a standout on classical trumpet has been a slow build, which is the way it happens in the classical world.
"If you love what you do, it runs on its own time," she said. "It might take 15 years to build a career. But once you're up there, you have a long career."
A classical trumpeter who produces a clarion call and beautiful tone, Balsom doesn't specialize in the music of any certain composer, but rather plays music that touches her emotionally.
"I'm willing to play almost any song if it's good," she said. "There's not tons of classical music written for the trumpet. There is some and what there is is actually fantastic."
Because of that, Balsom ends up arranging and transcribing some of the classical music she plays, including on her albums. She's released at least 10 so far, most of them on the EMI Classics label.
In addition to making music and touring — the current tour with the Scottish Ensemble is their first in the United States — Balsom has commissioned and is producing the show, "Gabriel," which will debut this summer at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.
"It will be classical music with a company of Shakespearean actors," she said. "It will be a new play about the trumpet, about me playing the trumpet, written by Samuel Adamson, who was involved in the creation of 'War Horse.' We will perform it all summer in London and hopefully take it on tour around the world in the future."
If you go
What: trumpeter Alison Balsom and the Scottish Ensemble
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U
Tickets: $38 for adults; $33 for seniors; $15 for students; (tickets for the choral balcony are $15 for adults and $10 for UI students and youths)