The brass section of a symphony orchestra typically is an all-boys club. An old-fashioned assumption has been that women cannot meet the physical demands presented by playing instruments like trumpets, trombones and tubas.
Perhaps that is because, when she began playing her chosen instrument at age 7, she did not have to look far to find an inspiring example of a woman in the top brass.
“My mom actually plays the trumpet, as well,” said the 26-year-old Oslo native in a recent phone interview. “When I started 20 years ago, it was very normal. No one ever told me it was impossible. I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. It was all very natural. I didn’t know it was unusual until I started traveling abroad.”
But, while she acknowledges that female trumpeters are somewhat rare in classical music, she stresses that she is not the only one.
“There are a lot of girls around the world playing the trumpet and all the instruments in the brass section,” said Helseth, who played piano before switching to trumpet. “When they come up and say that I inspire them, that is the most amazing thing to hear. But it happens also with a lot of guys. I think it is great to be able to show young boys and young girls that it is possible to do whatever you want.”
And, in addition to being an in-demand solo artist, Helseth also fronts tenThing — a 10-member, all-female brass ensemble that, like Helseth, also maintains a busy performance schedule. She started the group in 2007 with three other trumpet-playing conservatory friends, later adding six more female players on various brass instruments.
“It wasn’t really a statement in any way,” she said, “but of course it is a good thing to show off some girl power now and then. But we would never allow a guy in there now because it is us now.”
Helseth, who will be making her first visit to Texas for the upcoming concerts, has performed with a number of major orchestras in Scandinavia and throughout Europe. Among the major conductors with whom she has worked is Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who, in addition to his duties as music director of the FWSO, is also the chief conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
“We have played together a couple of times [with the NRO],” Helseth said.
Their most recent collaboration in Norway happened last month, when Harth-Bedoya was on the podium for the debut of a concerto by Norwegian composer Alfred Janson, which was commissioned for Helseth.
In her performances at Bass Hall, Helseth will present two very different works: a trumpet concerto by Joseph Haydn from 1796, and a much less familiar concerto by Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian, which dates from 1950.
“I’m glad I will be able to show off two different sides of my instrument,” she said. “[The Arutiunian work] is written in kind of folkloric style with lots of melodies and catchy tunes.”
But for Helseth, it is not the particular piece, or even the instrument, that matters most.
“As an audience member, I always enjoy an artist who tells me something, who takes me on a journey,” she said. “It is the music that I really love. Trumpet just happens to be my instrument. The important thing is to have a voice and have something to say.”