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He was a pupil at Malvern College and organ scholar of, and studied music at, King's College, Cambridge. He also studied under Marie-Claire Alain, winning the Prix de Virtuosité in her class. He won first prize in the interpretation competition at the St Albans International Organ Festival in 1979 and made his debut in London’s Royal Festival Hall the following year. He was appointed Birmingham City Organist in 1983, succeeding Sir George Thalben-Ball.
In May 2001 he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society award for Best Instrumentalist, the first organist to win this award. In July 2003 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Central England.
In Birmingham he plays regularly in the city's Symphony Hall and Town Hall, usually including contemporary compositions in his recitals. He is also noted for playing transcriptions of orchestral music, something which is a tradition at St Margaret's, Westminster, where he is organist.
He has performed and been recorded around the world, and is much sought-after as a soloist in orchestral partnerships. He has performed with conductors Sir Simon Rattle, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly and Sir Charles Mackerras, as joint soloist with performers including Evelyn Glennie, and has given recitals in the Berlin Philharmonie, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Musikverein, Vienna and Konzerthaus, Vienna and London’s Royal Festival Hall.
He has given the commissioning recital on new or restored organs in places such as Cleveland’s Severance Hall (Ohio), Princeton University Chapel (New Jersey), the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, St David's Hall, Cardiff, and most recently, the Royal Albert Hall in London, following the extensive refurbishment of the organ by Mander Organs completed in 2005.
Trotter has also been invited to perform on major historic instruments such as those at St. Ouen in Rouen, St. Bavo’s in Haarlem (Netherlands), Weingarten Abbey in Germany and Woolsey Hall at Yale University and he appears at the festivals of Salzburg, Berlin, Vienna, Edinburgh and London’s BBC Proms.
Trotter's recordings of Messiaen and Mozart have been named "Critics Choice" by The Gramophone magazine, and he received a Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of music by Franz Liszt in 1995. He was consultant for the new Marcussen organ in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and also for the organ in Birmingham's Symphony Hall.
He has released seven recordings on the Regent Records label: the complete organ works of Elgar from Salisbury Cathedral (REGCD256), released for the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth (2007); Restored to Glory (REGCD265), released to commemorate the re-opening of the Town Hall and re-inauguration of its organ in October 2007; Sounds of St Giles (REGCD302), on the new Mander East organ of St Giles Cripplegate in 2008 (Gramophone Critics' Choice); CPE Bach Organ Works (REGCD314) released in December 2009; Schumann: Complete Works for Organ (REGCD347 - Editor's Choice, Gramophone Magazine, January 2011), recorded on the historic Ladegast organ of Merseburg Cathedral, Germany, and Grand Organ Prom (REGCD322 - Editor's Choice, Organists' Review, August 2011), transcriptions and original works from the Victorian concert hall tradition, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall, London. All have received outstanding critical response.
His latest recording on Regent (September 2011) and first DVD is The Town Hall Tradition (REGDVD001 - DVD Video and CD), recorded on the organ of Town Hall, Birmingham.
Trotter also performed at the last service in St Mary's church Quarry Hill in Leeds.