Summer Arts Weekend: Alison Balsom on Spine-Tingling Performances

By Kris Wilton

July 25, 2012

Alison Balsom

Trumpeter Alison Balsom is about as much of a pop sensation as a classical musician can be, having released six albums, won numerous honors, reached a broad television audience, and captured the attention of women’s magazine editors for bringing glamour back to the classical stage. In the U.S., she’s appeared on Letterman and topped critics’ lists; her performance at the Boston Summer Arts Weekend this Sunday marks her Boston debut. Balsom remarked that she’s been a fan of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since she was a kid.

Did you start playing really young?

I started trumpet when I was seven. It was my dream. My inspiration was Dizzy Gillespie.

That seems an unlikely role model for a seven-year-old girl.

My mum got me a Dizzy Gillespie cassette from the library, and I was blown away by it.

Do you also play jazz?

I wouldn’t call myself a jazz musician, but I have a deep love and respect for it, and it has indirectly influenced my classical style.

Your style is so clear and pristine, which seems very different from jazz, which can be dirtier.

I’m aiming for that emotion—it doesn’t have to just sound clean, it has to sound like an emotional experience. I’m making the trumpet sound like a voice; it’s an extension of my body.

When you play piccolo trumpet, especially, it almost sounds like a woodwind, it’s so clear.

When I play, especially stuff that’s originally for woodwinds, I try to imagine that I am that other instrument. I think you’re only limited by your imagination.

I’ve noticed you play a lot of pieces that were written for, say, oboe.

And violin or voice. The trumpet repertoire, though fabulous, is fairly small. I just want to play really good music, so I steal from other instruments.

What will you be performing in Boston?

I’ll be performing an oboe concerto by Albinoni, “Shenandoah,” an old Swedish folk song, and Piazzola’s “Libertango.” And Saturday I’m joining Suzanne Vega for her finale of “Tom’s Diner,” which will be fun for me, doing something non-classical.

That sounds fantastic! A lot of people say that young people don’t get or don’t enjoy classical music, but you seem to counter that stereotype.

I think all the superficial celebrity culture eventually wears thin. People are looking for a bit more depth, a bit more nourishment, in what they listen to, what they see. That’s why classical music will still be around in 50 years, when other things won’t. My frustration is when a classical concert is done without everyone putting their heart and soul into it. Because then of course people find it boring: it is boring. But another performance can be spine-tingling. That’s what I want to communicate to people who might be a bit reluctant. It isn’t boring if it’s done well.


About the Author
Kris Wilton Kris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post,,, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice,, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.


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