Regarded as one of the world’s leading soloists, trumpet player Håkan Hardenberger will be performing at LSO St Luke's on Friday 27 May 6pm as part of the Artist Spotlight series in partnership with BBC Radio 3, and at the Barbican on Thursday 16 June. James Drury caught up with Håkan about his passion for the instrument and for innovative new music.
When virtuoso trumpet player Håkan Hardenberger steps onto the Barbican stage for his London Symphony Orchestra Artist Portrait concert in June, he’ll be playing French-American composer Betsy Jolas’ evocative Histoires vraies.The story behind this wonderful work is one of deep friendship: the trumpeter first met Jolas when she was a teacher at Paris Conservatoire in the 1970s. Hardenberger was a student there at the time, and Jolas’s son Antoine was in his class. The Jolas family and the Swedish trumpet player struck up a friendship, but after he left the Conservatoire, it dwindled.
Decades later, Hardenberger recalls performing with pianist Roger Muraro, and the two got on like a house on fire. Turning to each other, they said: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had something to play together? Something where the roles are more equal?’ Muraro suggested Jolas as someone who could write such a piece; the trumpet player recounted his early years with her, but said they’d not been in contact for a long time. ‘So we contacted her, and she loved the idea of writing something for us both, so we have this wonderful piece, Histoires vraies.’
Opening with the sounds of the orchestra tuning up, and including the piano lid being banged at various points through the performance, the extraordinary work features ‘the sounds we try not to hear,’ says the composer. ‘The music has a very specific language,’ says Hardenberger. ‘It couldn’t be anything other than French. But it also has a Second Viennese feel; it’s very expressive, like Alban Berg. I love it that as a trumpet player, I get to be the comforting voice. That’s very rare and unusual because we’re usually the protagonist – the noisy, terrible one. But in this piece, the piano is noisier.’
Hardenberger and Muraro are reunited for this concert with the London Symphony Orchestra, which celebrates (slightly belatedly, due to you-know-what) the trumpeter’s 60th birthday. Alongside the Jolas, the Orchestra will perform Wagner’s Lohengrin prelude and Ligeti’s mindexpanding Atmosphères, both of which break music down to its elements to create sonorities that defy the imagination. They make perfect partners for Brahms’ sunny Symphony No 2.
Hardenberger’s love affair with the trumpet began when he was given one as a Christmas gift aged eight. He says none of his family played music, and no one listened to classical music. ‘So I didn’t carry any baggage going into this. For me, everything was like a new discovery. The trumpet suited me, and I also might have suited the trumpet in that respect because of that lack of baggage. If I’d come from a family of doctors or lawyers, where the son is supposed to play a “cultured instrument” like the violin, then maybe all of this wouldn’t have happened.’
Hardenberger has a reputation for championing new music and a roaming mind that’s attracted to the novel. ‘Who knows, if the trumpet had four Beethoven concertos and a Brahms concerto, things might be different, but we don’t. We have the Haydn, we have some nice Bach, we have some great quality works, but we don’t have all that much. And we certainly have very little romantic music.
‘I saw very quickly that if I wanted to have stories to tell, I would have to look to something new, because it simply didn’t exist. So I started very early to look in that direction, with great help from people like Elgar Howarth and Harrison Birtwistle, whose work I performed in the mid-80s. At that time, it was quite sensational that a major composer in his prime decided to write a solo work for the trumpet. And then I saw that this was the way for me to go.’ So what’s kept him in love with the instrument for 52 years? ‘New works have always given me new energy, new thoughts and new ways to develop the instrument or my own playing, and I like that aspect very much. It’s like an adventure.’
Hardenberger further demonstrates this side of his work on Friday 27 May at LSO St Luke's during his early evening concert in the BBC Radio 3 Artist Portrait series. He is joined by percussionist Colin Currie, a regular collaborator for well over a decade, for works solely written in the 20th and 21st centuries: Joe Duddell, Tobias Broström, Toshio Hosokawa, Tōru Takemitsu, HK Gruber and Brett Dean, including a world premiere.
Watch Hardenberger perform Brett Dean's ...the scene of the crime… with his recital partner Colin Currie as part of the Artist Spotlight series.
Interview by James Drury, first published in the Barbican June Guide.
Friday 27 May 6pm | LSO St Luke's
Joe Duddell Catch
Tobias Broström Dream Variations
Toshio Hosokawa Reminiscence for solo marimba
Takemitsu Paths for solo trumpet
HK Gruber Passing the Buck (world premiere)
Brett Dean …the scene of the crime…
Håkan Hardenberger trumpet
Colin Currie percussion
Recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3
Thursday 16 June 7pm | Barbican
Wagner Prelude to ‘Lohengrin’
Betsy Jolas Histoires vraies
Brahms Symphony No 2
Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Håkan Hardenberger trumpet
Roger Muraro piano
London Symphony Orchestra