That is such a pain; sorry to hear that. Hopefully, the need to isolate will soon be a thing of the past! So, what was your route into playing the horn and historical horns?
I’m from Birmingham, so I came up through the Birmingham Music Service, which was absolutely brilliant, and gave me so many playing opportunities. I also did a work experience placement with the Welsh National Opera and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. WNO were so fantastic — on my first night of doing work experience, the section told me to come and sit right behind them, and they were doing Der Rosenkavalier! That was my first time hearing that piece, so you can imagine I was absolutely blown away.
When I was in my last year of school, I applied to universities and music colleges and decided to accept my place at the Royal Academy. I had already been playing the natural horn before arriving at the Academy, thanks to my teacher in Birmingham, who had found an old piston horn and taken the valves off. He thought I might like to give it a go six weeks before my Academy audition. I fell in love with it so much that I was playing the Beethoven Sonata on the natural horn in my audition!
What a fantastic opportunity to get the chance to play the natural horn so young! Did you manage to keep a balance between playing the modern horn and natural horn throughout RAM, or were you really in favour of the natural horn early on?
At the Academy, I was pretty much doing 50/50 modern and natural horn playing, but I was so committed to my natural horn playing that I started lobbying to do that fully. The advice I got from my teacher Andrew Clark was to complete the modern horn qualification. Ultimately this was good advice as there are now so many strains to HIP — I have done Hindemith on period instruments — so I end up playing the modern horn a fair bit anyway, albeit perhaps with a different approach! Given that my Alexander 103 is from the 1960s, you could argue that it’s almost a period instrument!
What are some of the main differences you notice between performing on period instruments as opposed to modern ones?
With Historically Informed Performance (HIP), there are two things at play. There are the physical nuts and bolts of the materials we use. Still, there are also the huge swathes of background knowledge and context — the performance practice, things like phrasing, articulation, rhetoric and expressive devices, for example, portamento or elements of tempi or ensemble. So, when I play a modern horn, it’s not really the instrument I play which is the main thing. Still, the approach I take and the questions I am asking myself.
I think the main difference between someone specialising in HIP as opposed to someone purely playing the modern horn is that they are not necessarily addressing this background context in the same way.