Bob Ashworth - Principal Horn Opera North
The perennial question – which horn should I be playing on? – and its follow up questions - will it make things easier and/or make things sound better. OK, I reckon I make a reasonable sound on whichever instrument I play on but it’s nice to ring the changes sometimes and think outside the box.I come around to these questions time and time again even though I’ve been known as a ‘diehard’ Alexander 103 player since college days. However this perception is not entirely true as I’ve spent long periods of time on Yamaha horns (models 665G and 667), Conn (nickel silver 8D), a goldbrass Alexander 403S and dabbled from time to time with my Paxman (old-style goldbrass model 40L – bought from Mike Purton many moons ago) usually when there’s something high like Handel’s ‘Julius Caesar’.
More recently I bought a Holton 181 (goldbrass standard double) in an attempt to have a fuller, richer sound. This went very well for Ein Heldenleben and Janacek’s opera ‘Jenufa’. But, for the Ring operas of recent years I played the Alex 403S.Still the quandary remains. Having done a reasonably decent job of Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’ at this year’s Aldeburgh Festival (on the Paxman) I’m now favouring it for general use – for various reasons - full sound, ease, useful alternative fingerings. Looking back now I wish I’d done the ‘Siegfried’ Horn Call on this instrument for more security and ease (but not necessarily for the F alto side!).
The quandary continues as a mouthpiece also needs to be matched to whichever horn one chooses and I have found that this may change over time depending on one’s physical/mental state and the desired horn sound for certain repertoire. For instance I’ll probably go back to the Holton 181 for the imminent performances of Janacek’s ‘Osud’ which has great horn parts. It needs a generous sound (perhaps of a Viennese nature) and I’ll be using a Klier S3 mouthpiece which suits this horn and repertoire very well. On the Paxman 40 I’m currently on a PHC H23A.All of this may well be a bit ‘over the top’ as many players stick with one horn and one mouthpiece (or one mouthpiece for whichever horn they play) for years for ‘comfort’ and ‘security’ (i.e. familiarity) – which, of course, are ‘must have’ facets to successful horn playing. However, if you keep an open mind and put in the right preparation it is certainly possible to play different horns and mouthpieces and make your horn playing even more interesting and please note I haven’t even mentioned the natural horn and Vienna horn options……😉 Of course the added bonus of playing all one’s horns regularly (if you’re lucky to have more than one) is that it avoids the problem of the valves seizing up out of neglect!