I have, as many of you will know, held the idea for some time that Maurice Andre, as trumpeters go, is, on the whole, not at all bad.
And it struck me (about thirty years ago, actually) that going to one of his concerts to see him live might be a good idea. Well, I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say that it has taken me a few years to track down venue and ticket, and after a great deal of trouble and trauma, I sorted it out.
Two days ago, on 15 October, 1997, I went over to Paris and heard him play a concert for trumpet and organ, live, in Saint Eustache, (one of the nicer venues for that sort of thing.
So how was it? It was pretty damn good, actually. I won't give you a note by note account, because that would be very boring (at least my wife said it was boring when I got back and told her about it.) but I would like to give you a couple of impressions.
The biggest impression was the sound quality. I was expecting good, I got - amazing. Effortless, delicate yet powerful. Astoundingly beautiful.
And, as I was expecting, very musical. The early pieces he played were a bit routine (hey, but routine by his standards - still better than anyone else I have heard) and at the end of the concert he played the Tartini quite wonderfully, and then did two encores, both in the same slow melodic style, the "Ave Maria" of Schubert (a piece which, up till now, I have always loathed) and "Jesu joy of man's desiring" by Bach. They were inexpressably beautiful, and I don't expect to hear better playing in my lifetime! (or better afterwards, for that matter).
There were a couple of surprises : first, he had to restart one movement of a concerto because his valve stuck!! (I cannot tell you how encouraging I found this. He stopped, laughed it off, and went on again from the top. No one cared.) second, he sat down for the whole concert (I suppose he's feeling his age? I know I'm starting to feel the effects of anno domini in my playing!) which meant that he was to all intents and purposes out of sight for most of the audience most of the time. No one cared.
There were a couple of unexpected bonuses - some better than others. First, at the end of concert, he had his pupils (and I suspect some of the competitors in the Maurice Andre competition which is on now) line up and play the Grand March from Aida (conducted by one of his former pupils, Monsieur Langlais?) and bumped up by some older players - the only one I recognised was Eric Aubier). There were about twenty-five players in all. I was expecting something magic here, and it was frankly very average. (They got to play it twice, and I had arrived early enough to catch the rehearsal, so I gave them a fair hearing, catching the piece three times. I think they got to do the encore because the audince was well packed with their parents.)
What was good about it? Well, the sound was nice and crisp and in tune. What was surprisingly average about it was first that rhythmically it was all over the place, and rather lacking in precision (I don't want to sound chauvinistic here, but these were all trumpeters who could have learned a lot from spending a couple of years in a good old british Brass Band, and learning some real ensemble playing). Secondly, it wasn't very loud. When I saw I was staring down the bells of twenty-odd Bach Strads (or equivalent) I seriously thought of moving back to a safe distance. I needn't have bothered : lots of effort (red faces) and not much noise. What do they teach these kids?
A much better bonus was at the end of the concert : I found out by interrogating the concert manager!) that one of my "all time greats" was in the audience. I have met Roger Voisin !!!!! (By way of background, his reocrding of the Haydn and some other things was the very first record of trumpet music I ever heard, thirty years ago. I still have it - I still enjoy it. But I never thought that I would ever meet him, much less by chance. He was very pleasant, and introduced me to Mrs Voisin (a very charming lady indeed), as well as to another well known trumpeter, who was charming until he found out that I was not one of the invited dignitaries, nor a professional player, when he managed to convey the strong impression that he had more important things to do, so why didn't I just bugger off. Every silver lining has its cloud.
However, the silver lining can be gold inlaid. As I said, I arrived quite early for the concert (I wanted a good seat) and I was standing about at the front, idly talking to a couple of the Andre pupils when I saw someone standing beside me. I thought he looked vaguley familiar, and, yes, it was Maurice Andre.
Yes, I have met, spoken to, and shaken hands with Maurice Andre, who is, as far as I can tell not only every bit as good a trumpeter as I thought (if not better) but a very agreeable, nice, pleasant, altogether "ordinary" sort of man. It was a good time to meet him, because he was on his way to warm up, so didn't have a lot of time (it's so embarrassing when you run out of things to say!) and as he was surrounded after the concert by friends and "professionals" it would have been impossible to say hello at a later stage.
So, was it worth it, going all that way and enduring the ghastly french, (including, I might say, a train strike on the way back to the airport!) just to go to one concert?
On the whole, yes. If I had to pick the two trumpeters I would most like to meet, it would have been Andre (the best in my record collection) and Voisin (the first in my record collection). And I did. And it wasn't a disappointment.
On the other hand, and this surprised me, it wasn't trumpeters heaven either. I've revised my own, personal, view on this. I have realised that what I enjoy the most is playing the trumpet, not listening to it. So although listening to it is still fun (and believe me, Andre playing live is a magical experience) playing it yourself is much better, even if the musical outcome is not as good.
But, when I am out tomorrow doing Handels "Messiah" I have a much better picture in my head of what I would like it to sound like.