The Sound Of London

A Local Musician Plays From The Heart
Award-winning trumpeter, Alison Balsom, shares her favorite London hangouts.
Alison Balsom, O.B.E.
Award-Winning Trumpeter, Arts Ambassador

Alison Balsom isn't one to toot her own horn, though she should be. Perhaps Britain’s most beloved contemporary classical musician, she is fast becoming one of the most sought-after soloists in the world, bringing attention to the beauty of an instrument that's historically been dominated by male artists.

But no longer is the trumpet the domain of male brass musicians. Balsom has single-handedly squashed the stereotype of the trumpet playing jazz man playing a shiny horn in a low-lit nightclub. The 38-year-old from Hertfordshire is very much an English rose, whose tall, striking blonde appearance and classical repertoire are better suited to Europe’s grandest concert halls than an after-hours cabaret stage.

Alison Balsom fell in love with the trumpet after attending a Håkan Hardenberger performance at London's Barbican Theater arts complex.
Top Brass
Born To Play The Horn

For Balsom, the world is full of possibilities, whether it's a young girl dreaming of being a trumpeter, or breaking the glass ceiling in any male-dominated field. And it’s this potential that drives her to connect the world with her music.

She knows what it's like to have big dreams. Born to play music, she fell in love with the trumpet when her father took her to London’s multi-arts concert venue, the Barbican Theater, to see Swedish trumpet virtuoso, Håkan Hardenberger. It was a life-changing moment, as Hardenberger’s technique and crystal-clear high notes cut through the enormous orchestration.

Another of Balsom's earliest influences? The late, great, Dizzy Gillespie.
Paving The Way
Influenced By The Greats

Another of her artistic inspirations? The virtuosity of Dizzy Gillespie, who mystified her with his music. This was an individual who didn't just play the trumpet, he made it sing. Now it was her turn.

After studying at some of the UK's best music conservatories, including the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama, she went on to the Paris Conservatoire, where she trained with none other than a source of her early inspiration, Hardenberger himself.

Balsom on stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
On A Mission
Leaving A Musical Legacy

Masterclasses, led by Balsom for up-and-coming musicians around the world, fill up nearly as soon as they are announced. Selected to participate in the 2014 TEDMED "Imagining the Future of Medicine" conference at the Royal Albert Hall, Balsom captivated a packed house with her presentation on "Music as a Healer."

These are just two examples of her continuing mission to prove to the world that, regardless of instrument, medium, or gender, music and musicians have the power to change lives.

Local Recommendations

A Symphony For The Senses

Alison Balsom finds her relationship with London much like the one she shares with her trumpet. Intriguing. The city is as loud as it is sophisticated, and as impactful as it is subtle.

From the architecture of one of the city’s greatest music halls, to her favorite food and drink hangouts, Alison Balsom shares the razzmatazz of London that influences and inspires her every single day.

Hidden Gems

Travel Back In Time At Wilton's Music Hall

Tucked away on a back street in Whitechapel, Wilton’s Music Hall (1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel; +44-20-7702-2789) is the oldest music hall in the world, with entertainment that runs the gamut from dance, opera, and classical music, to plays, puppet theater, magic shows, and cabaret.

The music hall’s history dates back to 1690, when it began life as five individual houses, which were then combined to create a pub serving Scandinavian sea captains in the 1700s. In 1839, a concert room was built behind the pub, adding to its appeal and cementing its status as an entertainment venue. After a number of incarnations, then upon threat of demolition, the hall was saved. Though several attempts at restoration failed, eventually the space was returned to its former glory. Despite a multi-million-dollar revamp, much of the original character remains, including crumbling plaster for authenticity's sake. Monday tours take visitors through the nooks and crannies of the historical hall.

Perfect Acoustics

Sound's The Thing At Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall (36 Wigmore St., Marylebone; +44-20-7935-2141) isn't as scrappy as Wilton. Far from it. A renowned venue for chamber music, it was designed with a special, barrel roof that affords the best acoustics for classical music. Created by Gerald Moira, the stunning Arts and Crafts cupola over the stage depicts the Soul of Music gazing up at the ball of fire, known as the Genius of Harmony—its rays reaching across the world.
At nearly 115 years old, Wigmore Hall is more entertaining than ever, presenting over 450 concerts each year. In 2016, Balsom presented a residency series The Trumpet Shall Sound at Wigmore. Check the venue’s calendar upon your next visit to London as it isn't unusual to see Balsom on the bill in programs ranging from Baroque to jazz performances.

Candlelight Theater

The World's A Stage At Shakespeare’s Globe

Balsom knows Shakespeare's Globe theater (21 New Globe Walk, London; +44-20-7902-1400) well. In 2013, she created an original project entitled Gabriel, that fused Baroque trumpet playing with live theater, and performed it on the Globe stage. This isn't the original Shakespeare theater which was demolished in 1664, but a replica built approximately 230 meters from the original. While Balsom is mesmerized by the open-air attraction, which is a must-visit, there's a new player in the complex—the three-year-old indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a re-creation of a 17th-century Jacobean theater, which uses only candlelight to illuminate the stage. Candles in sconces surround the theater, and a flamed candelabra casts an orange glow from the ceiling. The 340-seat oak-framed space is so intimate, performers can almost reach out and touch the audience.

Bring The Noise

A Modern Club With An Old-School Vibe

Balsom didn’t end up at Effra Social (89 Effra Road, Brixton; +44-20-7737-6800) on purpose the first time. But after attempting to pick up a friend from the club, she was quickly convinced to come inside for a drink. After that, she was hooked. Formerly a local Conservative Club and members-only for 100 years, the venue reopened as Effra Social, a modern hangout with an old-school vibe. Some of the walls are still lined with fabric, painted Tory blue, and decorated with Conservative Club notices. But today, the only political banter found here happens on Monday nights when comedy takes over, and Tuesdays during pub trivia. Otherwise, it's all about the party—world-class DJs and some of the best hip hop in London. Behind the stage is a cozy restaurant serving what the chef touts as modern British cooking during the week. On Sundays, naturally, it's traditional roast dinners.

Sounds Delicious

Adventures In Eating

For business meetings or midweek lunches with friends, Balsom heads to Caravan King's Cross in the Granary Building (1 Granary Square, King's Cross; +44-20-7101-7661) for adventurous small plates like deep-fried duck eggs with babaganoush and crispy shallots, or savory grits, collard greens and brown shrimp with bourbon butter. If weather permits, dine outside on the terrace, which overlooks the fountains of Granary Square. For an evening meal, Balsom’s first choice is Roast inside Borough Market (The Floral Hall, Stoney Street), London’s culinary hub. Deliciously British is their motto, and the menu is a tribute to the local farmers, fishermen, growers, and wine makers, who inspire chef Stuart Cauldwell’s delectable dishes.