With so much classic older repertoire out there for the horn, it’s easy to forget that great composers today are producing lots of wonderful new music for the instrument. One of these composers is James Beckel, who also happens to be Principal Trombone in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. I must confess that I don’t know Beckel’s music that well, although I am familiar with his most well known work for horn, The Glass Bead Game. I recently received a very nice flyer and demo CD in the mail advertising Beckel’s works for horn, including In the Mind’s Eye, which the brochure (see above left) described as a “new Konzertstück” for 4 or 5 horns and orchestra (or piano). Though not a new approach to marketing, I thought the flyer and CD were very well done, and I’m definitely interested in getting to know Beckel’s music better. The CD (shown here) includes a demo recording of his new piece, along with several of his other works for horn, including The Glass Bead Game. In addition, you can listen online to a live recording of In the Mind’s Eye with the Indianapolis Symphony. The premise of this piece is that it was inspired by five works of art, which can also be viewed by following a link on the recording site. On first listening the piece works very well, and seems very accessible to general audiences. I don’t know if the horn parts are as challenging as Robert Schumann’s Konzertstück, but the piece is certainly infused with lots of energy and rhythmic drive. If you want to listen to more of James Beckel’s music, simply search for his name on www.instantencore.com , which will bring up a substantial list of his works. One very handy thing about the brochure is that it lists all of Beckel’s music for horn, which I’ve summarized below.
- In the Mind’s Eye for 4 or 5 horns and orchestra (piano reduction)
- The Glass Bead Game for solo horn and orchestra (or band, piano, or a chamber version)
- Primitive Modern for solo horn and synthesized sounds (optional percussion)
- Portraits of the American West for 12 horns and optional percussion, recorded by the Texas Horns on this CD.
- Music for Winds, Piano, and Percussion (flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, piano, and percussion)
I’m sure these are all very fine works, and I encourage you to check them out – I certainly will! Of all the pieces, The Glass Bead Game and Primitive Modern are most appealing to me because they don’t require as many performing forces as the others – however if you’re looking for music for horn ensemble or a large wind chamber group, find out more about the other pieces as well. Coincidentally, I attended the Brevard Music Center several years ago with Mr. Beckel’s daughter Julie, who is now a member of the Indianapolis Symphony’s horn section and is featured on the recording of In the Mind’s Eye.