European 2002: Celebration Concert

9-May-2002

Brass Band Buizingen
Conductor: Luc Vertommen
Guest Soloist: Maurice Andre

Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels
Friday 3rd May 2002


Even legends and heroes have feet of clay. We are told throughout our lives that the great geniuses of the world are only human after all but we don't believe it do we?

It is not until you get to see them in the flesh or hear them talk, or play or compete, that reality grim reality in may cases, hits you between the eyes and the dreams and visions you had as a child or fan are blown away with a cruelty that makes you wince. Ever seen John McEnroe play tennis of late? Hear Frank Sinatra sing in the last few years of his life or watch Arnold Palmer play golf at the Masters? If you did you would know what we mean, and you would know what the large audience at the Palais des Beaux Arts felt on the Friday night, when the legendary trumpet player, Maurice Andre performed.

Maurice Andre has been an almost mystical figure for brass players, ever since he exploded onto the scene in the mid 1950's. His reputation as the greatest classical trumpet player of all time had been made secure by a series of concert and LP recordings that were talked about in almost sacred terms this was the player of all time.

Ask any cornet player of note to name his top ten players of all time and you will invariably her the name of the 69 year old near or at the top of the list. And that's been the problem. Few public appearances and a select number of recordings have kept him as a legendary figure, and so when it came to her him in the flesh on the Friday night, the level of expectation was immense.

The Friday night concert was a fine affair and started in tremendous style with the Final of the European Composer's competition, which was won, in great style by the young Cornish composer Simon Dobson. This however was just the aperitif to the main course, which was the performance of the Johann Hummel trumpet concerto by the great man himself.

He limped on stage in a manner that made him look even older than his 69 years and his portly physique made him appear even smaller than he actually was. He looked a very old man indeed and someone who had evidently enjoyed himself over the years. This was a portent to what was to come.

Great men don't have to tell the audience how great they are, yet Maurice Andre took the microphone to explain in French about himself and his son, who was also booked to play. We are reliably informed that at one point he remarked that although his son was a very fine player indeed, he wasn't as good as his father! How we laughed!

Victor Borge had the right idea about talking and playing. The great entertainer was a very fine pianist, but found that by telling jokes and doing more talking and less playing the more successful he became. Perhaps Maurice Andre had the same idea.

He had chosen to play the second and third movement of the Hummel trumpet concerto and right from the start you could tell that things were not going to plan. We don't know if the great man had taken the time to rehearse with the band, but within seconds it was obvious he was either lost or had just not bothered to check out the tempos. It was awful and within a few seconds he indicated to stop and had to start again. It was embarrassing to say the least. Not only that, but his sound was so weak and thin, his tonguing and production was awful and his technique in the last movement was so leaden and slow. It came to an end in a manner which you could only congratulate the MD, Luc Vertommen for having the skill and determination not to let the music stop. Monsieur Andre even finished playing before the last notes it was truly a horrible experience to listen to and the audience was stunned.

The second half was no better either and after a fine rendition of "Albion" by Buizingen it was back to the Andre family and the son Nicolas. Nepotism is not a great quality in any family but Nicholas was living proof that it is alive and well here. He chose "The Amazing Mr Arban" by Elgar Howarth and gave a performance that was only amazing in that he got through it. He was a decent player no doubt, but that was all and there can be no argument that every band in the top section the next day would have had a Principal Cornet the same or many degrees better than him. It wasn't good.

By this time however, the audience more than sensed things were going from bad to worse and even worse was to follow as both Andres then gave most lacklustre performances of works by Handel and finally Bennett that were embarrassing to the point of comical. Even "Ave Marie" was butchered by the older man as he came in two bars early at the start and carried on oblivious to the fact. Poor Mr Vertommen once again made the best of it with considerable skill and even had to signal on more than one occasion to the soloist to inform him where in the piece he was. It was awful.

At the end, Maurice Andre milked the applause as if nothing had happened and gave a slight shrug of the shoulders and limped off. It ended a truly cringing experience.

The band finished things off before the prize giving for the First Section and Composer's competition, but the audience was left with memories of an occasion when the hype and expectations were left in ruins. No blame can really be held at the organisers for this musical embarrassment, but surely someone knew that the once great man was no longer the force of old. It defied description at times.

There are times when the great must realise that time itself has caught up with them and they should retire. We hope Monseiur Andre realises this time has come for him too. It was rumoured that he was paid 6000 eruos for the concert it is hoped he gave a refund back.


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