Memphis is celebrated for its musical mojo, but we’ve never had 700 horn players from around the world converge all at once.
“This is the center of the horn universe for a week,” says Dan Phillips, associate professor of horn and theory at the University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music. Phillips persuaded the International Horn Society to have its 45th annual symposium at U of M this year, and it gets under way Monday, including public concerts.
The horn that gets all this attention is mainly what’s known as the French horn, a 12-foot-long pipe (maybe 20 for those who like to brag) flared at one end, a mouthpiece on the other, some valves in between, and coiled up a few times so it’s easier to carry and doesn’t knock over the flute players.
But the International Horn Symposium has long held that the instrument be known simply as the horn. Even the French don’t call it a French horn (it’s more of a German invention). Besides, there are variations in the family, including the saxhorn, Wagner tuba (an awful thing, Phillips says) and mellophone.
Whatever it’s called, it’s a maddening instrument. The best players can be vexed by the horn’s mischievous tendency to toy with pitch, miss it entirely and crack at odd times. But players are ardent in their love for their tricky tubes.
This year’s symposium has an intriguing lineup of topics (Horn Technique in the 1820s; The Physics of Brass Instruments; Embouchure 101) and prominent players.
“I have featured artists from England, Germany, Portugal, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States,” says Phillips. “One of the enjoyable aspects of the symposium is to hear how many approaches there are to the instrument.”
He says that, for example, Dutch player Jasper de Waal, principal horn for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, has a pronounced vibrato, which most American players don’t have.
De Waal is one of 10 featured artists, but there are scads of other musicians playing, including Memphis’ Eroica Ensemble; the Memphis Symphony Chorus; composer and Memphis Symphony Orchestra horn player Robert G. Patterson; the horn quartet Quadre that includes Amy Jo Rhine and Lydia Van Dreel, who have both performed locally with the IRIS Orchestra; and another quartet with the groanworthy moniker Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse.
If you want what could be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, plan to go to Wednesday’s Redbirds game in Downtown, where who knows how many horn players will perform the national anthem.
“The symposium always has a banquet,” Phillips says, “and this year I wanted to do something different.” So he eschewed the idea of a stuffy banquet room and is having a party deck picnic at AutoZone Park with all the Rendezvous barbecue a horn player can scarf down while watching the ’Birds take on the Tucson Padres.
One thing not talked about so much is the spit, but there’s no way around it: A lot of saliva goes into the horn and the player has to keep getting it out. It’s why you see them spinning and shaking the horn between passages.
So “The Star-Spangled Banner” is going to have consequences. “We’ll water the place,” admits Phillips.
“Horn and Song”
45th annual International Horn Symposium, Monday through Aug. 3, University of Memphis.
Concerts open to the public at the Rose Theatre on campus:
8 p.m. Monday: Frank Lloyd, Rachel Robins, Randal Rushing, Tomoko Kanamaru perform a recital of 20th century British music for horn, voice and piano.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday: Eric Ruske recital and premiere of a new piece by Robert J. Bradshaw.
7:30 p.m. Thursday: Soloists Jonathan Boen and Angela Barnes with Memphis Symphony Chorus, Memphis Men’s Chorus, Trio da Canão Brasileira. Premiere of “Walden at Evening” for horn and chorus.
8 p.m. Aug. 2: Several performers and pieces including Britten’s “In Memoriam Dennis Brain” and “Serenade.”
7:30 p.m. Aug. 3: World Premiere of “Der Kopprasch von den Klambalungen” and Music of Fisch, plus kudus and conchs.
Tickets: will be available at the door. Prices are $10 for adults and $8 for students and senior citizens. For more information, visit ihs45.org, or contact Dan Phillips at 901-678-3781.