In this post I already mentioned this weekend’s 40th anniversary season opener with the Monroe Symphony Orchestra, but I thought I’d share a few more thoughts now that the concert is over. Overall the program went very well, with some great playing from everyone in the orchestra. Special congrats go to the rest of the horn section for some fantastic tutti and solo playing all around! The brass section in general is quite strong this year, and I’m looking forward to future concerts together. When you are fortunate to play in a good horn (and brass) section it makes everything easier, especially when intonation and style are basically taken care of through listening and adjustment. Though there were some extra-musical difficulties in putting the program together, the orchestra rose to the challenge and pulled off a very fine opening concert.
For anyone interested in some horn-specific details, I’ll give a bit of a run-down on the program. Beethoven’s Egmont Overture is well known, which makes it all that more important that the orchestra get things “right.” Audiences know this piece, and will definitely notice if things do not go according to plan. The horn writing isn’t that spectacular, although there are some nice section solis and of course the brass section fanfares near the end. It is especially important in the section solis to make sure that the “quarter-note, quarter-note, eighth-rest, eighth-note” rhythms are played precisely together, with good balance and intonation. At the end accuracy and intonation benefit greatly by resisting the temptation to play full out. Play loudly, but not at the maximum. Prior to preparing for this program I was unfamiliar with Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for solo violin and orchestra, but the piece is really quite nice, with some fun brass writing and a couple of short lyrical solos for the first horn. The soloist for this concert was first-rate, easy to work with, and of course a brilliant player. And now, on to the second half, Brahms 2. Brahms’s writing for the horn is really something special – idiomatic, musically satisfying, and fun to play. That being said, there are some challenges with this piece, not least of which is pacing, especially without an assistant. I would also offer this one piece of advice concerning the solo at the end of the first movement: practice it much slower than you feel comfortable, paying careful attention to phrasing and breath control. It is of course the conductor’s prerogative to go at a more leisurely pace, and you must be ready to accommodate. Also note that the written high A-flat is only marked “forte,” not “fortissimo.” Simply taking note of this marking did wonders for my approach to the solo, and made for much smoother going.