Interview for Goldberg Ensemble, Malta

Russell Gilmour - Natural Trumpet

How were you introduced to your instrument?

I was born and bred on the Isle of Man, a place that is alive with music. In 1992, my elder sister started to play the flute at school. Eventually she was persuaded to play the cornet too and she joined a brass band, Onchan Silver Band, so she came home with a cornet. At the age of 5 I tried playing it and decided I wanted to learn to play it too. I had to persuade the bandmaster to let me start learning at such a young age. He allowed me to, and I started playing on the 17th of January 1993. I took up the trumpet a few years later. The fascination continued and I had free lessons in school - both primary and secondary - all with the same teacher, Steve Wortley. He was one of the most incredible musicians I could have hoped for. I started playing the natural trumpet while I was at the Royal Northern College of Music, studying with David Staff. Again, one couldn't have hoped for a better teacher.

Who are some of your favourite composers, musicians and bands from the past and present?

My musical tastes are extremely varied. I like listening to almost anything really. As long as it has been thoughtfully crafted, I can always find enjoyment of some kind or find something to learn from it. I love that music reminds us of a time or a place, and works like Monteverdi's L'Orfeo or Bach's Christmas Oratorio always bring back happy memories.

Is there a particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?

There are plenty of amazing musical moments that inspire me: the cascading flourish of trumpets half way through the Sinfonia of Bach's Easter Oratorio. This springs to mind as one of the most glorious moments in music, in my opinion. Also, I have a recording of Mozart's Gran Partita, played by the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century with Franz Brüggen directing. That is the most refined, rhetorical and stylish musicianship I have ever heard, so far.

What has been your most memorable musical experience?

In December 2010, towards the end of a lengthy tour, I played in a concert in Lorient in France. Afterwards we drove to Nantes Airport and stayed in a hotel nearby overnight. There had been a huge fall of snow that night. The orchestra left the hotel early in the morning and checked in to the flight to Lyon. The flight kept on getting delayed further and further until it was eventually cancelled. We waited for ages to get our bags back and then walked to the nearest train station en masse. The manager bought our tickets and we set off for Lyon, via Paris. We had to use the metro in Paris to get from the East Station to the Lyon Station. During that journey, the manager had her bag stolen, which had contained all of our tickets and the orchestra credit cards etc. We decided to board the train without tickets and to sit in one of the vestibules. The mood was fairly low! After departure, the ticket inspector came through the train and asked to see our tickets. We looked at each other with blank faces, when suddenly one of the soloists (who had studied French at Oxford University) charmingly explained our predicament to the guard. Thinking we would be in trouble, we were surprised to be welcomed to first class! The guard fortunately had 'the show must go on' kind of attitude. Anyway, when we arrived in Lyon we were very pushed for time. The audience were more or less arriving! We put up music stands, got changed and went on stage, without a seating or sound check. The resulting performance, against all the odds, was full of emotion and energy and featured some of the best live playing I can remember.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I wouldn't say I have a typical day, as such. I'm very lucky to be able to be the master of my own schedule. That said, my days often include some of the following: travel, touring, tea, trumpets, technology and teaching. I always have a project or two on the go, and that keeps me out of mischief!

How would you describe your perfect day?


My perfect day is a day when I get to explore a new place. It might be a city I haven't been to before or an unfamiliar country, town or part of the countryside. I find it very inspiring to travel and the way I usually get to travel naturally includes my favourite celebrations of culture which stimulate all the senses, these include: music, photography, people-watching and the incredible variations you can smell and taste in the local food. I love finding where the locals eat and I try to avoid the obvious tourist places. It's nice to take a place as you find it, rather than as they might want to display it to you.

What would your friends say they appreciate the most about you?

I guess this is a question that would be better to ask my friends. However, I'd like to think that they would say I am genuine, kind and fun to be around. But wouldn't we all like our friends to say that!

What is your most valued material possession?

My most valued material possessions are probably my instruments. I have lots. All have their own story. Several of them were handmade by craftsmen that I've had the privilege to know and I've had a certain degree of hands-on involvement in the creation of some of them too. I think that's special. Other non-musical things I value are my Uncle Jack's illustrations from the Second World War. He was in the Royal Engineers and he had an accident-prevention series of posters published in colour called 'Once is too often'. He also did political cartoons and later on, paintings of the Isle of Man, ships and places from his childhood. When I was young I asked him to do a painting of a spitfire for me, which I love. Also, I get so much joy from using my set of Japanese knives. They were handmade in the traditional way in a shop in the back streets of Fukuoka. I asked a friend of mine to buy them on my behalf and bring them back to the UK. They revolutionised my relationship with cooking and I look after them with care and dedication.

Who were you, or would you be nervous to meet?

I can't think of anyone alive that I would be nervous to meet, however, if it were possible, I'd be nervous to meet J. S. Bach. I'd have so many questions for him, which he would probably tire of quickly.

If you could blink your eyes and be in a favourite place right now, where would that place be?

Nearbyl Bay on the Isle of Man. The most beautiful coastal viewpoint I can think of. It's incredible on a calm day. If it was a rough sea I'd want to be in a fantastic pub, sitting in the snug by the fire, with good company, good beer and conversation in full flow.

Is there something you would like to do more of in the future?

I want to do more video photography in the near future. Videos are surely the best way of documenting or getting ideas across succinctly and repeatably. I would like to expand my skills as a stills photographer to include video. I've always made little films, but the technology is constantly changing and I need to update my skills. I've only just restarted and I'm learning a lot all the time!

Outside of music, tell us about one of your favourite things to do.

Well you probably guessed photography is quite high up the list. The other things I really enjoy are cooking and walking. I also have a slight obsession with making Vietnamese phō noodle soup. It's so refreshing and it's also fairly healthy!

Interview by: Goldberg Ensemble, Malta
Answers by: Russell Gilmour
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