Monday 8 January 2024

Slowly, through a process of osmosis, the piece and I are slowly becoming acquainted: horn player, Ben Goldscheider on Gavin Higgins' new Horn Concerto

Ben Goldscheider
Ben Goldscheider

Composer Gavin Higgins comes from a long lineage of working-class brass band musicians dating back to 1895 and his passion for this heritage has resulted in a number of vigorous, daring works for brass, including his Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra, which won a 2023 RPS award and a South Bank Sky Arts award. 

Gavin Higgins' instrument is the French Horn and he has written a new Horn Concerto (his first solo work for the instrument) for horn player Ben Goldscheider. Gavin Higgins is composer-in-association with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Ben Goldscheider will join Jaime Martin and the orchestra to premiere Gavin Higgins' Horn Concerto on Saturday 13 January 2024 at Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, with a second performance on Sunday 14 January 2024 at St David's Hall in Cardiff [further details]. 

The London premiere of the work will be on 7 February at Cadogan Hall, when Ben Goldscheider joins the London Chamber Orchestra and conductor  Christopher Warren Green [further details]

In this article, Ben Goldscheider has taken a break from learning the new piece to write a few words of introduction.

It has long been an ambition of mine to enrich the Horn repertoire with new, high quality works. Not only are we in dire need of more pieces to play, but I also believe strongly that audiences can be won over with the extraordinary versatility of this Instrument. A lot has happened to the Horn since the glory days of Mozart and Strauss, whose Concertos rightly occupy a sacred place at the heart of our repertoire. Mechanically as well as in regards to player technique, the capabilities of the Horn have advanced significantly and with a work of the quality inherent in Gavin Higgins’ new Horn Concerto, these developments can be enjoyed and experienced in abundance. Indeed, Gavin has written a work that is simultaneously a true Horn Concerto to its core - it explores many tropes associated with the instrument; an Eb Horn Choral reminiscent of Wagner’s Ring, a programmatic connection to Nature, lively fanfares and a virtuosic, joyful Rondo reminiscent of, well, most Horn Concertos! With that in mind, however, the work very much looks forward and breaks new ground. In terms of sheer scope, it may be the most significant contribution for quite some time - it lasts just under thirty minutes. This in itself poses one of the greatest challenges for the soloist, how to balance the necessity to give everything to the powerful, soaring lines at the beginning, navigate the delicacies of the second movement and still have some suppleness left in the lips for the finale. By comparison, the longest Mozart Concerto (including a cadenza) barely breaks a quarter of an hour.

I find the use of orchestration particularly interesting. Having the four orchestral horns operate in a concertante style against the soloist evokes the Schumann Konzertstück or, perhaps more relevantly, Ligeti’s Hamburg Concerto. It allows the material to morph between a collective, as in the opening where chords are built up and layered between the five Horns, as well as the five bouncing off one another, the sound of the Horn dominating and piercing through an already rich tapestry of orchestral colour.

As I write this I am deep in the learning process. Despite having had a lot of experience premiering new works, this will actually be the first large scale work for Horn and Orchestra that I have the pleasure of bringing to life. This in itself is fascinating for you have a totally blank canvas, no reference point or recordings and, as Leonard Bernstein suggested as an essential ingredient of the creative process, not quite enough time.

It is so enjoyable to sit with the score and, using nothing but the dots in front of you, bear the responsibility to extrapolate the essence of the music. You are forced to sit and ponder, to ask questions of yourself and the music and create connections as the material reveals itself to you. Slowly, through a process of osmosis, the piece and I are slowly becoming acquainted, I just hope that we become, and remain, friends!

Gavin Higgins
Gavin Higgins

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month