The French Horn (called simply Horn by its players) has been called a Divine Instrument. That is because although Man blows into it God alone knows what will come out.
Audience members at St Paul’s Anglican Church on February 12, 2010 for the 4th Annual « Majesty of the Horn » concert who were in the « God only knows » camp would probably have been disappointed.
The concert opened with ensembles of high school students and progressed through the ranks of community amateurs, semi-professionals, working freelance players and finally professional Horn sections from Canada’s National Ballet Orchestra and the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra. Someone truly listening for it might have heard the odd « clam » but mostly we were treated to jaw-dropping technical virtuosity, beautiful blending , spotless intonation and the noble sound of the French Horn in ensemble.
The Horn has a pitch range of about four octaves as well as a wide volume range from soft to loud. It can be « handstopped » to produce a steely, brassy sound or muted to a snarl.
Combine all of this in arrangements and original pieces by skillful composers and you have some exciting and very listenable music!
The Horn Day concert included ensembles as varied as a Duet playing an original piece by Mozart or a group of a dozen hornists playing a spirited and virtuosic arrangement of ABBA ‘s Dancing Queen.
The evening’s finale was a « massed blow » by all performers and audience members (open to anybody who owns a horn) of a Hunting Call from the St. Hubert Mass by Carl Stiegler. Just before that a band of about 25 professional players played the meditative Adagio of Samuel Barber in an eight-part transcription for Horns.
The Toronto musicians were joined by some amazing players from Cornwall,Kingston, Oshawa, Niagara and Western Ontario. Hornplaying talent, it seems, is liberally spread around the province.
Scott Wevers, Hornist with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, gave us a demonstration of the valveless Hunting Horn, ancestor of the modern instrument.
A special honoree that evening was Gary Pattison, presently Principal Horn in the Ballet Orchestra and 2nd chair in the COC horn section. Anybody who has watched TV, gone to a movie or a live concert or who has heard a jingle on the radio in the last 35 years will have heard Gary. The list of his gigs runs to more than 2 pages of fine print ; everything from the Broadway show Tommy to the theme music from Hockey Night in Canada!.
Horn Days 2006 through 2010 were the brainchild of Joan Watson and Gloria Ratcliffe.
Watson, Principal Horn in the COC orchestra and Hornist with the True North Brass, has a stellar musical curriculum vitae and is arguably the top player in Canada.
Ratcliffe is a former Hornist with the Edmonton Symphony, and a noted horn teacher, emsemble coach and educator.
The notion behind the event was to popularize the French Horn to the public and provide a venue for players of all abilities to meet, learn and perform.
The 2011 Horn Day concert is being organized By Katie Toksoy, a mid-career freelancer, teacher and impressario.
The concert will take place on Friday February 11, 2011 at 7 :30 pm in St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 227 Bloor Street East at Jarvis, telephone 416 961 8116.
The website is www.internationalhornday.wordpress/com/2009/01/05/home
Bring your ears; beautiful sounds will doubtless echo around the church!
Avram, a horn player trapped in the body of a physician, has been an amateur player around Toronto for over 30 years.