Saturday, 13 February 2010

Joined a new orchestra

I've now joined the Hillingdon Philharmonic as a regular player. I've deputised for them a couple of times before, most recently at the concert in Coventry Cathedral in October.

The regular first horn there has very decently invited me in as joint principal horn, and we've come to an amicable agreement that he and I will divide up music between us so that for each concert so we each play first for some of the time.

The next concert is at the end of this month, and consists of the Brahms Academic Festival Overture, William Walton's ballet suite The Wise Virgins, (which is an arrangement and re-orchestration of various Bach pieces, including Sheep May Safely Graze, and one of the chorales from the St. Matthew Passion), the Bach Concerto for 2 violins (no horns in that), and finally Brahms 2nd Symphony.

He's invited me to do 1st for the symphony, while he plays 1st for the other half of the concert. Both halves of the concert have some wonderful solo moments for the horn, so I would have been very happy with either half.

The symphony if famous among horn players, in that it has a prominent solo in the slow movement for "Horn in H", which is German for horn in B natural basso. It is the most awkward possible transposition, down a diminished 5th. So you have to read down 2 lines, and put a sharp in front of every note except B.

That would be reasonably challenging if the part were a straightforward Mozart-style part sticking basically to the harmonic series written in C major. But Brahms expects the horns to be far more chromatic than that, and includes A flats, B flats, E flats and D flats in the part. (You can see it at the IMSLP website).

This next bit is addressed to high school students who hope to become professional horn players one day. You must learn your transpositions. This particular movement is so famous that I know of some people who have written out the part in F. But horn in B natural, while relatively rare, is by no means unheard of (I've also played Schumann's Rhenish Symphony which also has passages for horn in B natural).

Professional orchestras are chronically short of money, so it is entirely possible that you would have to play a standard of the romantic repertoire with just a single rehearsal on the day. That means you either have to know the piece well beforhand, or be able just to play it, transpositions and all, as well as people who have been around for 20 years and have played that solo a dozen times or more. You cannot afford to be flummoxed by transpositions.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! That sounds like a great arrangement for you. Wishing you all success.