Jeroen Berwaerts and Konstantin Shamray: A Harmonious Fusion of Trumpet and Piano Mastery

by Madonna

Sydney, Australia – Sydney recently had the privilege of hosting the legendary Wynton Marsalis, a musical luminary who etched his name in history by clinching two Grammy Awards in the same year – one for jazz and another for his classical recording of the Haydn trumpet concertos. However, amidst the echoes of Marsalis’s triumph, another trumpeter, the Belgian virtuoso Jeroen Berwaerts, has been silently bridging the gap between these two genres, jazz and classical, with remarkable finesse.

Jeroen Berwaerts, acclaimed as the Principal Trumpet of the NDR Radio Symphony Hamburg and a distinguished member of illustrious ensembles like the Canadian Brass and Stockholm Chamber Brass, graced the stage of Sydney’s City Recital Hall, accompanied by the talented Russian pianist, Konstantin Shamray. Their collaboration in this exquisite acoustic setting enthralled the audience with a brilliant and captivating program.


Berwaerts’s musical journey began in brass bands, jazz, and funk groups, a unique path that sets him apart. “I hadn’t listened to any real classical music before I was 18!” he candidly admits. This unconventional journey is reflected in his eclectic approach to solo performances, where the compositions of Henry Purcell and Paul Hindemith harmoniously coexist with those of Chet Baker and Duke Ellington.


His musical philosophy is beautifully simple: “Music is music. This is how we widen our audience, putting good pieces alongside each other.” And, as witnessed in this one-of-a-kind concert, this approach works wonders.


Of course, it greatly benefits when a talented partner like Konstantin Shamray shares the stage. Shamray, who catapulted onto the concert scene in 2008 with a victory at the Sydney International Piano Competition, showcased his prowess by selecting two pieces by the renowned composer, Maurice Ravel – “Ondine” from Gaspard de la nuit and Pavane pour une infante défunte. His solos confirmed his status as one of Australia’s most compatible accompanists.

Berwaerts opened the concert with the arresting upward glissando of George Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue,” showcasing his flawless technique and golden tone. His performance, enriched with articulate runs, bluesy slides, and effortless trills, left the audience spellbound. Shamray’s piano accompaniment added a rocking pulse to the piece, while Berwaerts injected an array of effects, layering textures and colors onto Gershwin’s masterpiece.

Coincidentally, earlier in the day, the late Chick Corea’s rendition of this piece had been resonating in the airwaves. Corea, in his performance, had emphasized that Gershwin was, first and foremost, a jazz composer. Both Corea and the creator of “Porgy and Bess” would have undoubtedly reveled in this remarkable collaboration.

Following Shamray’s delicate touch in Ravel’s “Ondine,” Berwaerts introduced the Australian audience to a piece by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, titled “Im Nebel.” This 2013 composition, inspired by Hermann Hesse’s poem, weaves a narrative where the trumpet symbolizes humanity, the piano represents nature, and the mist envelops both. As the music unfolded, the trumpet’s muted notes traced a sinuous path. When tension escalated, the mute was removed, and the volume soared. The piece even saw Berwaerts removing the mouthpiece, creating a haunting vocal effect by singing into the instrument.

In his rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” made immortal by Chet Baker, Berwaerts transformed the vocal classic into a purely instrumental masterpiece. He turned away from the audience and gently played his trumpet into the depths of the Steinway piano, eliciting a subtle resonance from the strings. The performance evolved through variations on the familiar tune, seamlessly transitioning into Georges Enescu’s “Légende.” The piece featured piano virtuosity reminiscent of Rachmaninov, along with robust brass, before gradually fading into a muted finale.

Berwaerts, a dedicated practitioner of yoga for strength and breath control, put both these skills to the test in the longest work of the program, Paul Hindemith’s “Sonata for Trumpet and Piano.” This three-movement piece, characterized by a heroic opening and Shamray’s high-energy performance, led to an eruption of applause prompted by Berwaerts’s perfectly sustained high notes. The substantial third movement evoked moments of stark grandeur, reminiscent of Shostakovich’s wartime chamber works, leaving the audience yearning for more.

Shamray’s rendition of Ravel’s “Pavane” brought a touch of restraint and cool elegance to the evening, providing a perfect segue to the grand finale.

For their concluding act, Berwaerts and Shamray displayed their theatrical prowess with György Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre,” an extract from Ligeti’s “anti-anti opera,” “La Grande Macabre.” The performance oscillated between hilarity and unease as Shamray expertly juggled various instruments, including maracas and a whistle, and engaged in staccato dialogue and manic laughter. Berwaerts, too, demonstrated his burlesque skills, comically collapsing to the floor as his trumpet emitted its fading, gasping notes.

This evening bore witness to the virtuosity of two artists, perfectly attuned to each other, who blended their remarkable musical talents with a dash of showmanship and theatricality.

The harmonious fusion of trumpet and piano by Jeroen Berwaerts and Konstantin Shamray at Sydney’s City Recital Hall left the audience spellbound, a testament to the transcendent power of music and the extraordinary artistry of these two performers.


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