by Kate Pritchett
The theme of the 45th International Horn Symposium, hosted by Dan Phillips at the University of Memphis was “Horn and Song.” It was an excellent theme and was evident in every recital and concert program at the symposium and in many of the other presentations and lectures.
The University of Memphis campus is moderately large and attractive. The events did not take place in the Music building but rather two venues that were just across from each other – the Michael Rose Theater and University of Memphis’s University Center (student union). The larger Rose Theater could seat more than the 700 participants who came but, with the less resonant acoustics of a theater, the performers found they needed to play from near the front of the stage and some of us found that sitting close to the stage allowed for a better acoustical experience. In contrast, the small hall in the University Center had very nice acoustics but limited seating. Even the tiny grand in that hall sounded fine.
The University Center’s upper floors housed the exhibits in several rooms, some with many exhibitors and a few with one or two. The layout seemed well organized and there was enough time during the day to visit the exhibits repeatedly.
Typical of the majority of recent International Horn Symposia, often two or three events were scheduled simultaneously so we all had to select carefully until the single evening performance. For example, on the first morning I chose to hear Engelbert Schmid’s lecture on horn acoustics (where he performed a work after about 25 years of just making horns). Jeff and Nina Nelsen and Luiz Garcia shared an afternoon recital that included very nice works well performed. Carmen’s Toreador Song for soprano and horn duet may have been the hit of the show. That evening Frank Lloyd and his wife, Rachel Robins, and tenor Randal Rushing performed a variety of works, including the rarely heard Heart of the Matter by Britten.
On Tuesday morning I chose to hear Karl Kemm’s lecture on the history of brass and the horn, and I was very glad that I did – it was a superb presentation with instruments, slides, and live performance on a variety of historical ancestors. After an enjoyable participants’ recital in the same hall, we went off to lunch.
Each day two or three horn ensembles performed at lunchtime in the cafeterias. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the programming and playing on these events was much tastier and imaginative than the food – the chef must own a can opener and be able to also open frozen vegetable packages and boil the contents. When meatloaf is the star of the week.... And the huge plastic glasses for soft drinks were the ones that NYC’s major was trying to ban not long ago! And boiled okra?
At 1 pm, Liz Freimuth (principal, Cincinnati) and Jasper de Waal (principal, Concertgebouw) performed some opera duets on the first half of the program and Jonathan Boen (principal, Chicago Lyric Opera) performed an entire transcription of Scriabin’s piano etudes. Although this was probably too much music from one composer, his legendary technique was well demonstrated.
Afternoon lectures were well done and the prelude to the evening concert was billed as the Chicago Horn Consort, which it was, but some of us wrongly anticipated some of the symphony or opera section to be members. The evening’s concert featured a first half performed by Eric Ruske. Ruske’s stage presence was exemplary – he performed his entire set from memory, and remained on stage and introduced works while his pianist, then harpist, the pianist came and went. After intermission came the premiere of Cantata No. 4: Canticum Sacrum, “Canticle of Zechariah” by Robert Bradshaw featuring Bill VerMeulen, horn soloist, also with a vocal soloist, strings, horn quartet, percussion, and off-stage trumpet (performed by Mark Boren who commissioned the work). Kudos to Bill and the horn quartet for nailing the parts!
Each day began with a warm-up session featuring various teachers, followed by a selection of lectures, recitals, and/or master classes. I tended to go to the recitals where I could often hear new music (to me). At least 20 works were premiered during the symposium!
Joan Watson’s recital of songs my mother taught me that afternoon was enjoyable. After reading her bio in the program booklet, I expected the presentation to be more substantive.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was take up by a trip to the Redbirds minor league baseball game where a group of some 200 hornists performed the National Anthem. Following this was a barbeque and the game watched from high in the bleachers outside third bass. Fortunately, the game didn’t go into extra innings (the Redbirds lost in the final inning). The trip was fun for all although I personally expected the barbecued ribs to be more outstanding.
Highlights of Thursday included an afternoon recital featuring hornists Abel Pereira and Jasper de Waal. A faculty bassoonist joined Pereira in works for the two (with piano). Pereira is a wonderful player but the literature did not show his abilities very well. Jasper de Waal’s Brahms Trio performance was a highlight of the week (as was his Mozart Concerto No. 3 later in the week).
The prologue to the evening’s concert was a half-hour performance by The Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse, whose well-oiled and humorous presentation earned them a standing ovation. The following concert was “unique.” Angela Barnes, second horn of the London Symphony presented a very solid performance of several standards from memory. The ensuing performance with a men’s choir and horn quartet from the Memphis Symphony was enjoyable. The final work of the evening, the premiere of Walden at Evening for choir, horn solo (Boen), and percussion by Pamela Marshall was well received; I am not sure that it will ever be performed again, but the premiere was very well prepared and executed by all.
The Friday afternoon recital featured music of Eric Ewazen, who was in attendance, conducted his works and led composer discussions during the week. Ewazen’s jolly nature is infectious! Bruce Richards performed on Wagner tuba in that recital and we heard a horn quartet that had won an IHS Commissioning Assistance award. This was an interesting recital.
The Friday evening concert was designed to be the artistic peak of the week and was. Following a fine performance of Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide was the premiere of a horn concerto by Tinoco, with Abel Pereira as soloist and we got to hear him for really the first time. There was Britten’s In Memoriam Dennis Brain performed by The Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse. A horn trio (Boen, Luff, Watson) performed Beethoven’s “Abscheulicher” recitative and aria from Fidelo with soprano. Following intermission we heard two marvelous performances of Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 (de Waal) and Britten’s Serenade (Lloyd and School of Music Director, Randal Rushing, tenor).
The final Saturday’s morning events included the annual IHS General Meeting, surrounded by the guided warm-ups, lectures, and a contributing artist recital. The afternoon was the time for the participant choirs conducted by Nguyen and Faust as well as an “All-Star Horn Big Band” conducted by Matlick. After a prelude by the Florida State University horn choir, the evening “performance” was supposed to be a humorous departing event featuring Prof. I.M. Gestopftmitscheist (Kendall Betts) and company in “world premieres,” including the music of Otto Fisch (first introduced at the Symposium in Manchester, UK), and a surprise visit from Elvis. Let’s just say that the Florida State University Horn Choir was the highlight of the evening.
Thanks to Dan Phillips for organizing a wonderful Symposium and his students who made it run smoothly. Special thanks to all the collaborative musicians (pianists, singers, instrumentalists) who contributed their time and musical excellence in making the performances first class.