John Foster is a leading exponent of performance on historical trumpets and cornetto as well as being a former member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. John is a former classmate of mine from the Royal College of Music, and talks to me here about trumpets, trumpeting and his recent collaborations with Pickett Brass.
What first drew you to the trumpet? Any early musical influences?
My earliest musical recollections came from listening to my grandmother singing and playing the organ in far North Queensland, and after that my next encounter with music really came through the primary school system. At school I played piano, violin, recorder, percussion, and then eventually by age 10, I was given a trumpet. Probably the first time I was acutely aware of music for the trumpet was when I was 12 years old and heard my first recording of Maurice Andre.
Can you talk a little about your trumpet education and how that has influenced what you are doing now?
All of my early music education on the Trumpet came through I would say an American style of Trumpet teaching. My teacher at age 12 was Yoram Levy (Israel Philharmonic) a former student of Vincent Cichowitz and Adolf Herseth, and all the usual Trumpet methods that went along with the ‘Chicago school’ including the Arban Method, Cichowitz studies, Rochut, Schlossberg, Louis Davidson, Vassily Brandt and several other methods.
After receiving a thorough grounding in orchestra on solo studies on the modern Trumpet I moved to the United Kingdom, to the Royal College of music in London where I studied baroque trumpet with the wonderful Professor Michael Laird (Academy of St Martin’s in the Field) and Mark Bennett, and further formal, modern trumpet studies with Paul Beniston (London Philharmonic). I also benefitted greatly at this time by taking private studies with Ian Balmain (Covent Garden) and Rod Franks (London Symphony). During these formative years I was also very privileged to spend quite a bit of time with Swedish trumpet soloist Håkan Hardenberger.
What trumpeters do you most admire and enjoy listening to?
What a great inspiration is always been French trumpet virtuoso Maurice Andre, his magnificent sound and sensitive approach to music making always seem to transcend the fact he was even playing the trumpet.
These days Reinhold Friedrich is also one of my favorite players to listen to. In a similar way to Maurice Andre he manages to always ensure that the audience feels the emotions he conveys in his playing.
In the 21st-century we are truly spoiled with choice from so many wonderful artists and so many fine recordings being made in the last 50 years. Some other artists (past and present) that spring to mind are Adolf Herseth, Maurice Murphy, Håkan Hardenberger, Thomas Stevens, Vincent DiMartino, Doc Severinsen, Serge Nakariakov, Giuliano Sommerhalder, David Gurrier, Niklas Eklund, Matthias Hoffs, Yigal Melzer, Marc Ulrich, Gabrieli Cassone, Michael Laird, Mark Bennett, Crispian Steele-Perkins, David Blackadder, Neil Brough, Edward H. Tarr, Friedemann Immer, Geoffrey Payne, Gordon Webb, Omar Tomasoni, Michael Sach, and so many more…..
At what point did you make the decision to move away from an orchestral career to focus on early music?
By the time I reached my mid 30s I had already spent the better part of 20 years playing in professional orchestras (the last 12 years of those with the Sydney Symphony). Whilst I adore the orchestral repertoire and performing orchestrally (and will probably never fully divest from playing in orchestras) my true passion has always been with the trumpet/cornetto repertoire from the 16th – 19th centuries. I’m also very involved in directing and conducting now as well.
I hear that you have quite the instrument collection! Can you tell me about a few highlights?
I have over 100 historical instruments pertaining to the trumpet family. Some highlights would include:
• Original English Slide Trumpet by F.Besson c.1860 • Hand-Stopped Natural Trumpet in D by Georg Öttensteiner c.1850 • MacFarlane’s ‘Clapper Key’ Cornopean by Charles Pace c.1850 • B flat Keyed Bugle by Charles Pace c.1840 • E flat Keyed Bugle by George Smith c.1835 • Coach Horn (House of the Duke of Glouster) by Kohler of London c.1796
How does the future look for period instrument performance?
I think the future for period Instrument performance is incredibly bright. Here in Australia (as like never before) universities and Conservatories are embracing early music and historically informed performance practices by adding resources to the departments in order to properly train young musicians.
Any advice for aspiring players who are interested in getting into early brass?
The classical music industry is both a very challenging and rewarding one. Firstly I would advise any aspiring Brass players to definitely become involved in early brass playing. Fundamentally (particularly in the case of the trumpet and horn) the Natural Trumpet/Baroque Trumpet gives the best possible foundation to any serious brass player’s fundamentals, being that everything you perform is based on the natural harmonic series, sounds must be extremely well-connected, with great support and air-flow, as well as there being an absence of ‘force’ in the blowing. Musically, the playing of historical instruments also gives a wonderful foundation into developing ‘ensemble listening skills’. In particular listening to the other instruments and vocalist (not just the immediate Brass colleagues). The softer dynamic range of early brass instruments allows for much more sensitive listening and acute awareness to other ensemble members, and indeed in many cases it also allows more readily to the imitation of style.
From a practical point of view; with the size of the classical music industry seemily shrinking, and with more and more players graduating from leading universities, being able to except work on historical Instruments only allows for one more avenue of work for players. Anything today I see historical instrument playing seeping more and more into the regular working life of symphonic players as well.
How about ATA? Any plans for future course?
Indeed the Australasian Trumpet Academy hopes to have many more courses in the future, once international travel is readily available again (post the current pandemic).
Can you talk a little about your relationship with Pickett Brass and the process of designing your mouthpieces?
Certainly. I have worked with several instrument makers and mouthpiece designers over the past 20 years but upon meeting Peter Pickett (from Pickett Brass) I was immediately impressed. Peter has a wonderful mind for engineering and matches that with all the skill and precision you would expect from a 21st century mouthpiece maker,however what sets him apart is that Peter Pickett is also a real trumpet player. I found it such a great advantage when describing to Peter what I wanted in my signature John Foster Baroque Trumpet Mouthpiece, that not only did he understand what I wanted from the technical specifications, he also knows forensically from the players point of view what will work. The results speak for themselves I love the mouthpieces Peter makes for me and I’d recommend them to anyone. https://www.pickettblackburn.com/signature-series-trumpet-models-c-107_115_200/john-foster-p-1647.html
What does 2021 hold for you?
Lots of Golf and Trumpet Practice at the moment awaiting the end of COVID 19 lockdowns.
What instruments do you use?
Trumpet in C/D (A = 415hz/430hz/ 440hz) – ‘Foster Model’ (2016), based on an instrument by Johann Kodisch (Nürnberg ca.1700)
Baroque Mouthpiece – ‘John Foster’ Signature Model by Pickett Brass
Tromba di tirasi in C/D (A = 415hz) made by my own construction (reproduction bell after J.W. Haas c.1720)
Cornetto (Soprano A = 440hz) – Phillip McCann (2005)
Cornettino – Christopher Monk (c.1970) Mute Cornetto – maker anonymous (UK)
Keyed Trumpet in E flat (A = 430hz, 440hz) My own construction (2006).
Demilune Trumpet in F/E/Eb/D/C/Bb by Stephen Giordano, based on original instrument by Anon (Strasbourg ca. 1805)
Keyed Bugle in B flat ‘New Improved’ by Charles Pace (ca.1840)
Keyed Bugle in E flat by George Smith (ca.1830)
English Slide Trumpet in F/E/Eb/ D/C by F. Besson (c.1880)
Posthorn in A by Kohler and Sons (c.1880)
Cornet in G/Ab/A/Bb ‘Levy Model’ by Courtois (c.1875)
Cornet in Ab/A/Bb by Thiboulville- Lamy (in high pitch, 1890)
• B flat Trumpet by Vincent Bach Model #37
• C Trumpet by Vincent Bach, 25H leadpipe 229 bell.
• Eb/D Trumpet by Schilke
• Piccolo Trumpet by Schilke P5-4
• ‘The Baroque Trumpet Revival’ by John Foster (Publisher David Hickman, Hickman Music) • ‘The Natural Trumpet’ and other related instruments. by John Foster (published by Kookaburra Music).
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