The Crafting of a Concerto: Introducing new music from Helen Grime

Contemporary British composer Helen Grime has had an illustrious composing career since her debut in 2007. Described as a composer who 'writes as though her music needs to be told' (The Guardian), the world premiere of her Trumpet Concerto night-sky-blue, written for and performed by virtuoso Håkan Hardenberger on Sunday 3 April, is one you won't want to miss. We spoke to Helen about her music, her inspiration and what to expect from the concert. Read on to find out more.

How would you describe your music generally and your compositional style? 

This can be a difficult question as everyone will hear something different, but I can talk about some of the things that concern me most when composing.  I’ve always been drawn to melody and long lines, and this is something which is almost always present in my work. I like rich, expressive harmonies and these often have strong tonal references or have tonally oriented inflections. This can sometimes make the sound world almost romantic, at other times much more austere. I’m naturally drawn to detail, and I love to explore this in elaborate, sometimes filigree writing for various instruments or sections of the orchestra as well as focussing on instrumental colour and orchestration. I am also inspired by creating and balancing different layers in music, sometimes highly contrasted and sometimes related and subtly different. This is something which is fascinating to me and endlessly inspiring to play with in an orchestra.

Why did you want to write a piece to showcase the trumpet?

When Håkan approached me about the possibility of writing him a concerto, I was excited about it for numerous reasons, not least the opportunity to write a piece for one of the world’s greatest musicians. Håkan’s artistry is incredible and hugely inspiring.  He can and does play anything, so the possibilities are endless. I have always loved the trumpet and feel a kind of affinity to it as a former oboist somehow. They have much in common in terms of range.

'Håkan’s artistry is incredible and hugely inspiring.  He can and does play anything … '

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Håkan Hardenberger © Marco Borgrevve

Can you talk us through the inspiration behind the Concerto?

The starting point for the Concerto was the theme of night, in particular gardens at night.  Last year I visited the wonderful gardens at Sissinghurst. I’d been a few times before, but I was struck this time by the White Garden. This was a garden that was planted to be appreciated at twilight and later as well as in the day. It takes on a kind of magical transformation at night, which is something I can only imagine and see from pictures. Following this I came across a book called The English Garden at Night by Linda Rutenberg, which is a series of photos of gardens after darkness has fallen. Nocturnal life and organic growth were foremost in my mind, and I knew I wanted to write a piece that was in a state of constant transformation.

Sissinghurst 1   
Helen's photo of Sissinghurst                

How does it feel to come back to the LSO, and this time with Håkan Hardenberger premiering your music?

It is an honour and a joy to return to the LSO for this premiere. I’m very lucky to have worked with this great orchestra on a few occasions now and it is truly exciting to come back with Håkan Hardenberger to give life to this piece. I feel very lucky indeed!

What can the audience expect to hear on the night?

The piece is in one continuous movement and in a constant state of flux. The opening is quite still and hushed and the trumpet enters with a long melodic line. Each time the trumpet line is heard it becomes more elaborate and impassioned. The second section is much more virtuosic with lots of interplay between soloist and orchestra. Alternating sections of more percussive repeated notes and dreamlike music lead to cadenza-like passages for the trumpet, each time accompanied by humming harp and vibraphone. These freer sections are interlinked with very fast music, which features very virtuosic writing for the trumpet. The piece ends with a brief window into the transformed world of the opening.

Did the pandemic affect your work and your way of thinking?

The pandemic has definitely affected my work, in some ways that are unknown to me right now. It has been strange to have written quite a few pieces that have not been heard. I see my music as something which is constantly evolving, so it can be hard to move on creatively after spending six months on a piece and never hearing it in real life. This will be my first premiere (apart from a short carol and piece in lockdown) since 2019. I think the structure of the concerto is influenced by my sense of time and uncertainty/state of flux during the pandemic. 

On Sunday 3 April the greatest of storytellers join forces to celebrate the vibrant music that the 21st century has to offer. LSO Principal Guest Conductor François-Xavier Roth conducts trumpet legend Håkan Hardenberger in Helen Grime's new work, alongside premieres by Joel Järventausta and Francisco Coll.

Sunday 3 April 7pm, Barbican

Joel Järventausta Sunfall (world premiere)*
Strauss Till Eulenspiegel
Helen Grime Trumpet Concerto: night-sky-blue (world premiere)‡
Francisco Coll Violin Concerto (UK premiere)†
Strauss Death and Transfiguration

François-Xavier Roth conductor
Patricia Kopatchinskaja violin
Håkan Hardenberger trumpet
London Symphony Orchestra

LSO Futures is generously supported by Lady Hamlyn and The Helen Hamlyn Trust.

‡ Commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation, Library of Congress, London Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra.

* Commissioned through the LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme, generously supported by Lady Hamlyn and The Helen Hamlyn Trust.

† Commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg & Philharmonie Luxembourg, Seattle Symphony, the NTR ZaterdagMatinee, Radio 4’s concert series in the Concertgebouw and Bamberger Symphoniker, with the support of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation.

Tickets: £60 £48 £35 £24 £18

Wildcard tickets available for just £10 or £15. More information here.


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