James Decker (1921-2013)

decker2.jpgJames Decker has been involved in many diverse aspects of the horn. His career has spanned symphony orchestras from Washington DC to Los Angeles, conductors from classical icons to popular figures, studio work from contracts through a strike to free-lancing, and teaching at universities to creating the IVASI video system.

Jim was born in 1921 in Venice CA. His mother was a singer who performed on radio broadcasts. When Jim was nine years old, an infection in his right ear led to a mastoid operation that resulted in deafness in that ear. Another operation in the 1950s partially restored that hearing.

Jim started playing the cornet in school, switching to horn at age 16 at the request of the school orchestra director. Soon he was playing in Leopold Stokowski's National Youth Administration Orchestra, the Long Beach Community Orchestra, and Peter Meremblum's Youth Orchestra and taking lessons from James Stagliano.

His first truly professional positions – at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC (1942-43), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1943-44), Fox Studios, and Kansas City (1946-47) – were offered without audition. Returning to Los Angeles after Kansas City, he "auditioned" for principal horn at Columbia Studios by recording a sound track. His former teacher, Stagliano, didn't want to play a concert and asked Jim to play principal horn; this was his introduction to Otto Klemperer and Igor Stravinsky, conducting Tchaikovsky's Fifth and Firebird Suite, respectively.

As a contracted studio player (in the Hollywood studios at Columbia, Fox, Paramount, and CBS television), Jim had days (and sometimes weeks) without work, so he and friends started a rehearsal  orchestra that used the many musicians under contract in the studios as well as free-lance musicians hoping to play in the studios. He asked Hollywood composers/conductors – Frantz Waxman, Lalo Schifrin, Miklos Rosza, Johnny Green, Bernard Hermann, Carman Dragon, Nelson Riddle – to conduct. When the manager of the faltering Glendale Symphony, a local community orchestra, proposed that they would sponsor a series of concerts if we could do our rehearsals there. It was agreed. He held new auditions and began an all union orchestra that became the new Glendale Symphony.

Jim was the vice president of the newly formed LA Horn Club; Alfred Brain (uncle of Denis Brain) was President; Wendell Hoss, Secretary; and Arthur Frantz, Treasurer. Jim was co-host of the IHS workshop held at the University of Southern California in 1979 and a clinician at the IHS workshop in Claremont CA in 1983, He was elected an Honorary Member in 2003 and has attended most of the workshops in the United States and the international workshops in Munich, Germany and in Banff, Canada.

Because of the actions of the AFM president, many of the prominent studio players, including Jim, went on strike against the studios. This led to studio work going overseas Many of the most successful musicians, including Jim, formed a musicians Guild. After the strike was over, the Guild won all the contracts with the studios. Jim had steady work at Paramount, but then was hired (with Vince DeRosa, Jack Cave, Sinclair Lott, and Rich Perissi) to make recordings of Wagner, Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, and others with Erich Leinsdorf and Bruno Walter – "the highlight of my career," according to Jim, was playing principal under Stravinsky in many of the composer's most famous works. According to Robert Craft, Stravinsky’s assistant, Jim was one of three orchestra musicians most favored and requested by Stravinsky.

Commercial work with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini, David Rose, Percy Faith and many others led to a very busy schedule. Jim also was principal horn of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under Sir Neville Marriner, played chamber music with Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky, and recorded countless movie and television soundtracks. In those days, studio players could play three sessions in a day; "Now you can hardly do two dates with all the traffic."

Jim was Professor of Horn at the University of Southern California (USC) for 40 years. He also taught horn at the University of California Long Beach and was the horn instructor at the Music Academy of the West for eighteen years. He was the horn teacher and chamber music instructor at the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival for five years and was a member of  NARAS, the board for the National Association of the Recording Arts and Sciences that awards the GRAMMYS. He served as judge for the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts in Miami, Florida (the organization that selects the annual awards of the Presidential Scholars) from 1990-1995.

For many years Jim and his family owned a landmark castle in the Hollywood hills where they entertained musicians from the world over. During the cold war, when the Moscow Symphony from Russia toured the United States, the LA Horn Club invited the brass section to a reception at the castle. It was the only home in the United States they were allowed to visit. Needless to say, the many Russian musicians living in Hollywood seized on the opportunity to meet with the visitors. It started out as a very formal affair but gradually, after many vodka toasts were exchanged, it turned it into a gala polka dancing event. The Russians couldn’t believe this castle was owned by a musician but were convinced after his wife took them upstairs to the sleeping kids' bedrooms. Later Jim met many of these same musicians in Moscow, including Timothy Dokshitsor and Valeriy Polekh. Jim kept in touch with the Polekh family for many years and authorized an English translation of his life story, "Your Valeriy Polekh," for The Horn Call.

Jim's devotion to teaching is evidenced by his book The Master Series for Horn, which includes demonstrations of many exercises, conducted excerpts of famous audition requests, and a master class group series of drills. Along with his son Douglas, he developed the IVASI system (Interactive Video Audition Systems International), which consists of conducted DVDs. The DVDs use a conductor leading an orchestra in standard repertoire to help students learn in a realistic situation of preparing for auditions.

This interview with James Decker was given in the mid 1990s with a public radio station in Maine.

Radovan Vlatković

vlatkovicRadovan Vlatković (born 1962) is widely considered to be one of the world's most exceptional horn players. He grew up in Zagreb, Croatia and studied with Prerad Detiček at the Zagreb Academy of Music and Michael Höltzel at the Music Academy in Detmold, Germany. He was principal horn of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (1982-1990), a post he left to devote himself to a solo career. He has been professor of horn at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria since 1998 and also teaches at the Escuela Superior de Musica Reina Sofia in Madrid. Radovan is a senior artist at the Marlboro Music Festival and has performed in chamber music and solo recitals for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.

As a student Radovan already won prizes at the International Horn Competition in Liége, Belgium, at the 12th Yugoslavian Music Competition, and at the International Competition "Premo Ancona" in Italy. Especially noteworthy was First Prize at the ARD International Competition in Munich in 1983; the prize had not been awarded to a horn player in 14 years.

As soloist Radovan has travelled most of the European continent, America, Canada, Mexico, Israel, the Near East, East Africa, Japan, and Australia. Among his appearances he played with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin, the Bavarian Radio Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra London, English Chamber Orchestra, Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields, Camerata Academica des Mozarteums, in Japan with the Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra, and the NHK Symphony Orchestra, and at IHS symposiums. He was Artistic Director of the September Chamber Music Festival in Maribor, Slovenia (2000-2003).

Radovan has an especially wide repertoire, reaching from the Ba roque to the 20th century. He has recorded for EMI Classics, with the English Chamber Orchestra under Jeffrey Tate, all the concertos by Mozart and Strauss. His recording of the Mozart concertos was awarded the German Recording Critics Prize. He received the Croatian Porin Award for his Life's Work in 2012 and the IHS Honorary Membership in 2013.

Vincent DeRosa


photo courtesy of Walter Hecht

"It's true that I played in thousands of movies, but that was what we did in those days. It would be impossible today, with the current traffic situation, to play as many sessions in a day - often three and sometimes four - as we did then, when we could get anywhere is Los Angeles in half an hour. One day I got a call. I said I could come by on my lunch hour. The studio was near where I played a morning session, so I walked over at noon. On a stand was music with just two notes. They wanted me to play them strongly, so I did, then asked what else they wanted. That was it! And the recording with those two notes became a great hit!"

"I learned the Mozart and Strauss, but the studio business required something different. The music was always new, never seen before; you played it and they recorded it. You never knew what you were going to get. Fortunately, I didn't have problems with that, so I became a well-known player in commercial work. Alfred Brain said, never practice on the stage, and that's what the business was like."

Vince DeRosa was born in 1920 into a musical family in Kansas City. His father played clarinet and his mother was a singer. The family moved to Chicago, where Vince started horn with P. Delecce, and then later the family moved to Los Angeles. Vince studied briefly with his uncle Vincent DeRubertis (who was on staff as a horn player at Paramount Studios), and the legendary Alfred Brain (uncle of Dennis Brain, and Principal Horn at 20th Century Fox Studios), and started his professional career at the age of seventeen in the horn section at 20th Century Fox. During World War II, he played in an Army recording orchestra based in Santa Ana. After obtaining his release from the Army, Vince decided to try freelance recording in Los Angeles. His first jobs were playing live radio broadcasts, and he was successful at this type of work.

As a young horn player, Vince gained playing experience through numerous freelance opportunities while most of the studio players were restricted by contract to playing in only one studio. Before long, Vince successfully established himself as the "first-call" horn player in the recording industry. Many film composers were attracted to Vince's warm and beautiful tone color and began to write prominent horn solos in their scores. Vince's impact on the business brought along with it a new standard for studio horn parts.

Over six decades, Vince played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in the LA Horn Club, and for Henry Mancini, Alfred Newman, Lalo Schifrin, and John Williams, among many others. He can be heard in motion pictures (such as ET, Days of Wine and Roses, Cowboys, Rocky, Robin Hood), television, and records for hundreds of artists (including Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra).

In the late 1950s, Vince started playing a Conn 8D. Composers all loved the sound, and more and more horn players switched to the 8D, creating a more unified sound that was recognized and respected as the LA horn sound. Over his career, Vince has worked on horn designs with various craftsmen and horn makers, including the Paxman model 40L with Merewether and the Heritage horn with Hoyer.

As an educator, Vince was a faculty member at the University of Southern California for 30 years (1974-2005), and his students can be heard professionally around the world in every facet of horn playing from jazz to symphonic to chamber music to recording solo and studio playing. Among his students were his cousin Henry Sigismonti (Principal Horn of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta), George Price (long time third Horn of the Los Angeles Philharmonic), and his nephew Jeffrey DeRosa (a busy studio horn player).

A Vince DeRosa Scholarship Fund was established in 2003 (currently supporting the IHS Solo Contest), and Vince was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 2004.

Kaoru Chiba (1928-2008)

photo courtesy of the Kumamoto Horn Ensemble, Takeshi Takahashi, Director

Kaoru Chiba was a leader of horn players and other musicians in Japan, a teacher to a generation of horn players, and revered for his beautiful singing style on the horn. He was affectionately known as "Bachi" by everyone and was famous for his warmth and humor, as a chef, and for his hospitality, inviting touring horn sections to parties at his home.

Bachi was born in 1928 in Beppu, Ohita Prefecture and grew up in Tokyo. Both his parents were graduates of Ueno Conservatory of Music. Bachi started on violin at age seven, but he didn't like its high sound. Entering junior high school in 1940, he encountered an alto horn.

Bachi failed his first entrance exam at the Tokyo Conservatory of Music – he told the story of being unable to write about a famous dramatic writer, Chikamatsu – but he passed the same exam a year later, in April 1945. Life changed in Japan after the end of World War II (August 1945), and Bachi took up guitar and jazz, earning money at the US Officer's Club in Tokyo.

Dr. Daigoro Arima, Secretary-General of the Nippon Symphony Orchestra (now the NHK Symphony Orchestra) invited Bachi to become an apprentice of the orchestra while studying at the Tokyo Conservatory with Professor Nagata. Bachi became a regular member of the orchestra when he graduated from the conservatory.

In the autumn of 1956, Bachi traveled to England and Germany to study. The first time he met Dennis Brain, at a recording session, Brain was very surprised to see him talking amiably with Karajan, who had been a guest conductor of the NHK orchestra two years before. Brain agreed to give Bachi lessons, but when Bachi returned from Germany, where he had studied with G. Neudecker and M. Strupp, he discovered in the newspaper that Brain had died in an automobile accident the night before. In 1966 von Karajan invited Bachi to the Berlin Philharmonic, but Bachi famously turned him down because, "In Berlin I can not find any fresh and delicious sushi."

His colleague Chiyo Matsubara recalls that Bachi started playing on a single F horn with the bell on his leg. But after he returned from England and Germany, he played an Alexander single B-flat horn with the bell off the leg. Many conductors praised his playing.

Bachi was principal horn of the NHK Symphony Orchestra for 36 years, until mandatory retirement age in 1983. In 1982, he received the first Arima Prize, given to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the orchestra. After retiring, Bachi played in the New Japan Philharmonic (1983-1997).

Bachi taught at the Kunitachi Academy of Music, the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (formerly the Tokyo Conservatory of Music), Toho School of Music, Yamagata University, Japan University, and Nagoya Music University. He was also President of the Tokyo Horn Club and a member of the board of directors for both the Japan Federation of Musicians and Affinis Arts Foundation. In 1993 he received a Special Prize in Music given by the Nippon Steel Company. He also served as artistic advisor to Yamaha.

Bachi was a member of the IHS Advisory Council from 1986-89 and elected an Honorary Member in 1989. He was one of the hosts for the 1995 IHS Symposium in Yamagata.

Georges Barboteu (1924-2006)

barb.jpgGeorges Barboteu was the leading horn player in France and wrote etudes and other compositions for the horn that are staples of the repertoire and have been used as examination pieces at the Paris Conservatoire. He was "loved and appreciated for his charisma, his steadfast good humor, and his immense cordiality."

Barboteu was born in Algiers in 1924. His family was originally from Catalan but had lived in Algeria for generations. His father, Joseph Barboteu, was a professional horn player and professor at the Conservatoire d'Algiers. Georges started horn with his father at age nine and at age twelve was awarded a premier prix at the conservatory. At age 14 he played next to his father at the Grand Casino in Biarritz, France.

In 1939, Georges auditioned for the Paris Conservatoire, but World War II broke out and both Barboteus returned to Algeria. Georges played next to his father in the orchestra of Radio Algiers, then after three years his father turned the solo position over to his son. During this time, Georges also studied harmony and counterpoint, learned to play double bass, and wrote his first compositions.

After the war, in 1948, Barboteu returned to France and joined the Orchestre National (Radio France) under Charles Munch. In 1950 he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire, and in 1951 he won the premier prix, soon thereafter winning first prize at the Geneva International Competition.

Barboteu played in the Orchestre del Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (the future Orchestre de Paris), solo horn with the Opera Comique, and in 1969 with the Orchestre de Paris. He was horn professor at the Paris Conservatoire from 1969-1989 and founder of the Quintette Ars Nova.

Barboteu was a member of the IHS Advisory Council from 1976 to 1979 and appeared as a featured artist at many symposiums. He was elected an Honorary Member in 1998.

Barboteu was a consummate musician. He was involved in all styles of music, from baroque to contemporary, including jazz (recording with Duke Ellington). He was a master at inspiring jazz and theatrical arrangers and composers to include horns in their orchestrations, from Franck Pourcel to Claude Bolling.

His recordings include an early recording of Schumann's Konzertstück, which was reissued in 1994 with other solo performances on The Magic of the French Horn.

A tribute to Barboteu by his friend and colleague Daniel Borgue appears in both French and English in the February 2007 issue of The Horn Call.

John Barrows (1913-1974)

barrows.jpgJohn R. Barrows was known for his elegant playing, his impeccable musicianship, his dedicated teaching, and his friendship with composer Alec Wilder, who once said that when his music was played by John Barrows it somehow came back sounding better than he had thought it could.

Barrows was born in 1913 in Glendale CA. His early years were spent in Montana, where he played euphonium. During his high school years in San Diego, he studied cello and later, horn. He attended the Eastman School of Music (1930-1932), San Diego State Teachers College (1933-1934), and Yale University (1934-1938). His teachers included Richard Donovan and David Smith.

Barrows joined the Minneapolis Symphony in 1938, then served as assistant leader of the Army Air Forces Band during World War II, and afterwards moved to New York and played with the City Opera (1946-1949) and the City Ballet (1952-1955). He also appeared in San Juan PR with the Casals Festival Orchestra (1958-1961) and occasionally worked with such artists as Woody Herman, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday.

Chamber music was important to Barrows. He performed with such ensembles as the Budapest String Quartet and the Pasquier Trio before co-founding the New York Woodwind Quintet in 1952. Barrows made few recordings, but those with the quintet are among his best. Many reviewers have called the quintet the finest woodwind quintet in the world, and Barrows' horn playing was crucial to its success. He also performed regularly with the Fine Arts Quartet in Milwaukee. Barrows wrote, "There is no other musical experience that can quite equal playing chamber music in intensity of self-expression and yet within the framework of cooperative effort."

Barrows wrote several chamber works and made numerous arrangements for band. He was concerned about the limited repertoire for horn, so he performed little known works. Wilder's three sonatas and one suite were written for him, and the singing melodies in Wilder's works brought out Barrows' best playing.

Barrows taught at Yale (1957-1961), New York University (1958-1961), and finally at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1961-1974), where he taught all levels although he could have accepted only the most advanced students. His influence, through his sense of humor and high artistic standards, won the admiration of audiences, the respect of students, and the devotion of friends.

Barrows was elected an Honorary Member in 1989. Tributes appear in the May 1974 issue of The Horn Call. The John Barrows Memorial Scholarship was established at the University of Wisconsin in 1974.

Vitaly Bujanovsky (1928-1993)

bujanovsky2.jpgVitaly Mikhailovich Bujanovsky was a leader in the Russian school of wind playing, principal horn in the Leningrad Philharmonic, a soloist and chamber musician, composer and arranger of music for horn, and taught a generation of players, both Russian and from around the world. He taught that technique is not a goal in itself. Frøydis Ree Wekre, who studied with him in Leningrad, wrote, "Through his interpretive style one realizes that the horn has as many artistic possibilities as any of the traditional solo instruments."

Bujanovsky was born in 1928 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) into a family of artists and musicians. His grandfather was a violinist to the Czar, and his father, Michael Nicolaevich Bujanovsky, was principal horn of the Kirov Opera Orchestra and professor at the Rimsky-Korsakov Leningrad Conservatory. Bujanovsky's first lessons were with his father, and he joined his father's section at the Kirov in 1946.

Bujanovsky won the International Reicha Competition in Prague (1953) and the gold medal at the International Competition in Vienna (1959). The latter victory brought world-wide fame and respect and recognition for the Russian school of wind playing, which until then had been dismissed by critics. In 1951, Bujanovsky started teaching at the Leningrad Conservatory (now the Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory), where he was appointed Honored Artist (1963) and artist of the People (1978). He also taught at the Music High School and was essentially responsible for all horn instruction in Leningrad. Lessons were taught in an informal master class setting.

In his instruction, Bujanovsky emphasized an understanding of the composer's intent, the national characteristics that influenced his work, and the human voice as a model for interpretation. He had an extensive collection of Russian sacred music and felt that this genre was a point of departure for understanding Russian composers before Shostakovich.

Bujanovsky appeared widely as a soloist. On one memorable occasion in 1970, he played all the Mozart works for solo horn and orchestra - the four concerti, the Concert Rondo and the E major fragment - in one concert. He also recorded these and some three dozen other works. His style for the Mozart was clear and lyrical, an approach in keeping with his father's training and perhaps influenced by his mother, an opera singer.

Bujanovsky's recorded many horn standards, including the Dukas Villanelle. When orchestral parts were not available for the Dukas, Bujanovsky made his own orchestration from the piano score. His orchestration skills are not surprising, given his talent as a composer. He wrote a solo sonata for Hermann Baumann, two works for Peter Damm, chamber music with prominent horn parts, and other works. He also inspired other Soviet composers to write for the horn. His España for solo horn has become a frequent work at horn symposiums since Frøydis introduced it in 1977 at the International Horn Workshop in Hartford CT.

Bujanovsky founded a woodwind quintet within the Leningrad Philharmonic. Many Soviet composers wrote for the ensemble, including Yuri Falik, whose quintet The Clowns is a staple of the repertoire.

Bujanovsky was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1985. A tribute to him appears in the November 1993 issue of The Horn Call.


Domenico Ceccarossi (1910-1997)

ceccarossi2Domenico Ceccarossi sought to elevate horn playing to the level of perfection attained by violinists, pianists, and singers. His recordings, writings, and compositions confirm that he succeeded in his goal, all the more remarkable in that he lived through two world wars, economic depression, and Mussolini.

Ceccarossi was born in 1910 and grew up in a small village in central Italy, where he played with local bands. He joined the Radio Orchestra of Milan at age 21, moved a few years later to the Academia di S. Cecilia Orchestra in Rome, and in 1944 was appointed solo horn with Radiotelevisione Italiana, where he stayed until 1970. He continued to concertize until 1982, after which he continued to teach, write, and edit.

Ceccarossi taught at the Conservatories of both Rome and Pesaro from 1951. Although he was self-taught, he was effective as a teacher and students came to him from around the world.

Ceccarossi recorded much of the horn literature, almost all made from start to finish without dubbing, and many are live performances. If his tonguing seems heavy and his tone thin, this may be attributed to the recording environment; however, he never missed a note and his high register sings out clearly. RCA recorded The Art of Domenico Ceccarossi under more favorable conditions, and this recording stands as an excellent representation of his technical and musical prowess. Harold Meek observed that Ceccarossi's technique never fails to serve the music.

Ceccarossi's style inspired many composers: nine concertos have been dedicated to him, and composers wrote a score of sonatas and other compositions. Elliott Carter mentioned learning the possibilities of horn technique from Ceccarossi while living in Rome in the 1950s. Ceccarossi especially expanded the literature for horn, voice, and piano. He founded Trio Ceccarossi in 1958 with his wife, soprano Jolanda Colizza Ceccarossi, and pianist Loredana Franceschini, and they toured Europe for many years, their repertoire eventually growing to over thirty pieces, twelve written for them.

Ceccarossi, along with the mayor of Lanciano (on the eastern coast of Italy), established a summertime musical event in the Lanciano Estate Musicale Frentana that has continued since 1972 as an orchestral training course and instrumental and vocal seminar.

In his article on Phrasing in the November 1976 issue of The Horn Call, Ceccarossi outlines his interpretation of phrasing in Mozart and Strauss, and especially the impact of Gumpert and Kling on modern phrasing. He points to the violin as his inspiration and to his own recordings, writings, and compositions as evidence of how the horn can achieve a cantabile style with lightness, and virtuosity with coloristic possibilities, "through which one can achieve a concert level so many other wind instruments have attained."

Ceccarossi method book, École Compléte du Cor, comprises four volumes. He also composed Dix Caprices (intended to put the horn on the same level as the Caprices of Paganini; that is, arrive at that technical virtuosity) and edited many pieces in the horn repertoire in light of his standards of interpretation.

Ceccarossi was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1982. An interview appears in the April 1972 issue of The Horn Call, and a tribute in the February 2000 issue.

Photo courtesy of Pete Exline.

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