Bach - B Minor Mass - ‘Breaking the Silence’

It has been three months since my last performance, which took place in York in December 2020. I am fortunate enough to have performed even this 'recently'; despite all adversity, just enough performing work has come my way to keep me physically and mentally agile as a trumpet player. I am also fortunate to be healthy, and physically unscathed by the coronavirus.

Recent months seem to have passed by both quickly and slowly. The ubiquity of everyday life in lockdown, without noticeable milestones (even something as banal as visiting the barbers) seems to have blurred the margins of time. Days can feel long, yet weeks can feel somehow short. There has been time to think, reflect, and to take a step back; breathing room is an ironic consequence of a pandemic brought by this catastrophic respiratory disease. For some this has involved huge life changes, but for me it has heightened my resolve to continue doing what I love (and to develop my instrument making techniques). I have certainly missed performing, social contact with colleagues and, of course, live music. It was with a great feeling of relief that I had the chance to break the latest bout of silence, and it was only when I returned to this project that I realised how much I had been missing performing and the wonderful chaos, if I may call it that, of freelancing.

This project was entitled 'Breaking the Silence - Bach's B minor mass' and it featured the orchestra and choir from the Oxford Bach Soloists with their director Tom Hammond-Davies. The performance will be available online, given in four weekly episodes starting on 9th April 2021. 

This ambitious project jumped straight in at the deep end, with the well-oiled tech team from Positive Note Productions video recording Bach's B minor mass in Oxford Oratory. They also captured footage using a video camera attached to a radio-controlled drone. I had the pleasure of playing first trumpet, with Stephen Keavy (2nd trumpet), Robert Vanryne (3rd trumpet) and Tristan Fry (timpani.) From a trumpet player's point of view, the B minor mass was quite a foreboding piece to come back to, but in actuality it didn't take long to remaster swimming in the 'deep end'. The first session began with the Quoniam and Cum Sancto Spiritu - so we certainly started in the extreme; a great way to break the silence. This reminded me of a quote from Christopher Hitchens, who acknowledged that he had been 'for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light'.

The capture of the video recording took place between 3rd and 5th March 2021, and the team will be continuing to capture footage to facilitate collaborations with various other well-known vocalists. I even (metaphorically, due to social distancing) bumped into an old friend and trumpet player from our Royal College of Music days, who took my temperature at the door. I've missed these kind of chance meetings. This had all the wonderful chaos that a project needs, with a festival-like feeling.

I'm looking forward to returning to play with Oxford Bach Soloists next week as part of another recording project.

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.