It was with great sadness this week that I learned of the death of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Having performed a couple of his works for trumpet, I decided that I wanted to offer my own tribute and take you on a journey of my experience of such a great man and pioneering composer.
The first time I came across the music of Peter Maxwell Davies, I was 16 and was preparing for my performance in the Kingston Young Musician Competition. I was putting my programme together and decided I would play a piece of new music, in a bid to hopefully win the extra £50 contemporary music prize!! My Dad found Maxwell Davies' Sonatina for Solo Trumpet in a book of contemporary trumpet music and suggested that I try it out.
To start with, I must admit, I hated it... It was the first time I had ever played an unaccompanied piece, especially one without an obvious tune and with extended techniques like flutter tonguing. My Dad typed the part into Sibelius so that I could listen and play along to it and, eventually, I started to be able to sing it and know it like a tune. I actually began to really love the piece - though this was probably helped by the fact that I did in fact win the £50 prize by playing it!!
When I was preparing for my Royal Academy of Music audition a year later, I chose to use the Sonatina as my contrasting piece. I played it to Jim Watson (then Head of Brass) in a consultation lesson before my audition and it was one of the best hours of my life. Jim gave me brilliant advice on how I could really get the most out of the piece and what I could do to enhance my performance. A month later I played the Sonatina in my Academy audition and the panel then asked me to play it again in a second-round audition - I believe that it was this performance that earned me a place at RAM.
Three weeks into my first term at the Academy, aged 18, I was given a slot in a masterclass with visiting professor and soloist Reinhold Friedrich. I chose to perform the Sonatina again. This was the first time Reinhold was going to hear me play, so I was keen for it to go well, but I was feeling a bit guilty about playing something that I already knew so well! It turned out to be a good decision, however, because Reinhold seemed to really love my interpretation of the three short movements and spoke about his own experiences of - and admiration for - the music of Peter Maxwell Davies.
A student watching the class then remarked that Maxwell Davies himself was actually teaching a composition class in the same building. Reinhold was beside himself with excitement and demanded that someone go and fetch him, so that I could perform my piece again, this time to the composer himself!! When Peter Maxwell Davies eventually arrived, I'd had a nervous hour of waiting, but I stood up and played the Sonatina once more. Max (as he was affectionately known by many of his friends and colleagues) was very generous with his time and told us all about how he'd written the piece for a boy in Australia, whose mother had got in touch with him after worrying that her son didn't have a short contemporary piece to play in an audition. Max said he'd enjoyed my performance very much and thanked me for playing to him. It was an incredible moment for me, especially so early on in my Academy career, and one that I'll always remember.
Later that year, the brass department announced that they would be auditioning for a trumpeter to play Maxwell Davies' Sonata in D for Trumpet and Piano. This work is notoriously difficult - so much so that it was actually deemed impossible when it was first written!! However it is tackled a bit more often nowadays, and I decided to put myself forward for the audition. I didn't win the performance opportunity that time, but I was delighted that I'd challenged myself and learnt a piece which so many people tend to avoid! The panel from the audition suggested that I continue working on the Sonata with the chosen pianist, Christina McMaster, and perform it at a later date. Christina and I played the Sonata at a recital at the Chapel Royal, Brighton in November 2013 and it is a performance that I remember very fondly and proudly.
I hope to perform more of Peter Maxwell Davies' music in the future, and to continue to exhibit these pieces of his that I know and like so much. He was always the person I would get most excited about when I'd spot him around the Academy (I couldn't believe that I could eat my lunch on a table right next to him in the RAM canteen!) and I feel honoured to have met, and performed to, such an important and influential musical figure.