Review – Wynton Marsalis’s entertaining Trumpet Concerto makes for a captivating listen


Marsalis’s entertaining new work is exactly what classical needs right now

In an audacious piece of pre-publicity, Alison Balsom – the soloist giving the UK premier of Wynton Marsalis’s new trumpet concerto with the LSO in London said that she would over the next few weeks of performances “struggle to contain my excitement about this historic moment for my instrument.”

It’s not difficult to see why. Marsalis’s latest concerto (premiered last year the States) is a welcome return for the composer, building on the instantly likeable folksy violin concerto he wrote for Nicola Benedetti. The Marsalis trademark is evident here: appealing hooks, a mix of musical styles, and an easy to follow narrative that makes this work a delight on a first listen.

It sounds complex and offers little respite for the soloist. All manner of technical demands are made, multiple characters evoked, glittering decoration and silky smooth legatos abound. A bold military march opens the six movement 40 minute work, followed by a sensual almost seductive second movement, a toe-tapping South American infused dance, a moment of tranquility, and a whimsical flight of fancy, before a cacophonous crowd-pleasing finale, concluding with two ear-piercing elephant cries from Balsom’s trumpet that make you wonder what state her lips are when the final note sounds.

Balsom looked understandably exhausted at the end of it: the work makes all manner of demands on the stamina.

This work feels lighter in musical material compared to the violin concerto though that doesn’t make it less of a work. It is hugely entertaining with no movement overstaying its welcome. There’s a sense this is the product that meets the needs of the time: something written to challenge the soloist and whip the audience up, in this case into a mild (British) frenzy. Exactly what classical needs right now, especially here.

More performances of Wynton Marsalis’s Trumpet Concerto performed on

Friday 12 April, 7pm at Bristol Beacon, Bristol
Tuesday 23 April, 8pm at Philharmonie, Cologne
Tuesday 30 April, 8pm at Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg