Award-winning trumpeter Alison Balsom talks to Christopher Morley about why she has become an ambassador for musical education
She has become one of the world's most renowned female trumpet players and now Alison Balsom is keen to pass on her experience to the next generation.
The Classical Brit award winner will perform her first solo show at Birmingham's Town Hall next week but she has already been in the Midlands as part of her work with schools.
The 36 year old visited St Martin's C of E Primary School in Tipton last month to lead a music class for children as part of her work with Warwick Music Group.
"I think the most significant thing I can say, as loudly as possible, is that I have seen first hand how the power of music education can transform young people's lives," she explains.
"I try to get this message across as much as possible and not just preaching to the converted but at the levels where change is actually executed.
"It almost feels like a duty as someone who has benefited so greatly from music in countless ways."
Chris Fower, director of education at Warwick Music Group, which donated 25 plastic trumpets to the Tipton class, said it was fantastic that Alison was spearheading such an important initiative.
"Alison is one of the world's finest trumpet soloists. She is inspirational and is playing a huge role in bringing brass music to a broader audience," he said.
"The children at St Martin's C of E Primary School were enthused by her infectious approach. I am delighted that Alison is directly engaging with the next generation of brass players through these projects."
Alison is part of a whole raft of young female wind-players currently garnering attention, with the Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth and the Australian saxophonist Amy Dickson also enjoying world-wide success.
Does she thing there is growing interest in women wind soloists?
"I'm not sure there is a huge surge in interest," she says.
"Instead, in the past there was generally much more sexism in the world and stereotyping in every walk of life.
"Happily, as a classical musician, you are judged on your musicianship (at least after the first 15 minutes of fame) so being only as good as your last gig serves you well if you can play!"
Both Alison and Amy Dickson had some of their earliest professional engagements at festivals such as the annual one at Presteigne. How much do such events figure in their career development?
"If you play a more unusual instrument in the classical world, it's a little bit of a double-edged sword," says Alison.
"It's quite a novelty to be playing that instrument, and can gain attention, but due to the relatively limited classical repertoire it is then up to the musician to keep hold of the listener's attention without a Beethoven or Mozart concerto to wow them with.
"The early years of my career were all about finding repertoire that had artistic integrity but also was interesting and entertaining for all types of audiences - both those who are discerning classical music lovers, and also those who have never been to a concert in their lives - and I still try to appeal to both these audiences now, so every chance I had to gain experience was treasured and a valuable lesson learned."
With the trumpet offering a huge field to contemporary composers, I ask Alison to tell me about some such works she particularly enjoy performing - and any works she's commissioned?
"I love playing anything that feels like it's expanding the horizons for the trumpet to make more people discover and love it.
"I just played a new Chinese concerto at the Proms, and I really enjoy playing James MacMillan's piece he wrote for me, but I also love making new arrangements of existing music and experimenting with sounds people know but in a new context."
As well as running a busy professional career, Alison looks after her young son Charlie, whose father is conductor Edward Gardner.
He has just finished his stint as principal guest conductor with the CBSO. The couple separated in 2011 after two years together.
"I've become extremely organised, and efficient with my time and don't socialise as much as I used to, as I'm always catching up with stuff at 11pm," says Alison on juggling child care with her career.
And now she is looking forward to stopping in Birmingham as part of her UK solo tour.
" I cannot wait to play in Birmingham Town Hall for the first time - I've heard from so many people that it's a really spectacular acoustic for the trumpet," she adds enthusiastically.
*Alison Balsom performs at Birmingham Town Hall on Tuesday, October 14, 7.30pm. Details on 0121 780 3333.