Published in Berkshires Week on July 9, 2014
Original article: http://www.benningtonbanner.com/berkshiresweek/ci_26116729/music-from-salem-honoring-french-horn-cambridge-ny
CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — Cue the fanfares.
This Sunday, July 13, at 2 p.m. Music from Salem will present their second concert of the summer at Hubbard Hall — “Dynamic and Noble,” a program highlighting the French Horn. John Craig Hubbard will playing the concert’s instrument and include famous pieces of chamber music with deep historical and musical ties to the horn.
“There isn’t a lot of chamber music with horn, piano and strings, but what there is is wonderful,” said Lila Brown, the director of Music from Salem, who will also perform in this concert on Viola. The concert will center on Mozart’s 1782 Horn Quintet and Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, composed in 1849. The group will also perform works by 20th-century Greek composer Nikos Skalkottas and a piece by American composer Roy Harris.
Brown called Mozart’s Horn Quintet a “lovely, charming, perfect piece.”
Mozart wrote the piece for the horn backed by an unorthodox variation on the typical string quartet with two violas and only one violin, he said, instead of the reverse, as is more common.
This variation changes the tone of the piece, he said.
“It really helps match the warm, human voice register of the horn,” he explained. “It makes a lovely, warm sound.”
A doctoral candidate in music at Yale University, John Craig Hubbard chose Mozart’s Horn Quintet as one of his favorites.
“Mozart wrote four horn concerti, and this is not a concerto — it’s a chamber piece for horn and string quartet,” he said, “but in my opinion, the writing in the Mozart Horn Quintet is actually better than the writing in all of the concerti that he wrote, just in terms of the lyricism and the virtuosity of the horn within the context of the piece. It’s one of my favorite chamber pieces for horn — it’s a sunny, optimistic piece of music.
Along with this Mozart favorite, Hubbard will also perform German composer Robert Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, accompanied by Judith Gordon, Brown’s Music from Salem co-director.
Composed in 1849, Schumann’s piece represents an interesting period in the history of the horn in classical music, Hubbard said, as many composers and musicians were slowly embracing the newly-developed chromatic valved horns, which allow the player to produce notes of different frequencies by engaging valves that redirect the air through different lengths of tubing, while others still preferred the earlier natural horn, which required musicians to alter the pitch by adjusting the way they used their mouths or by using their hand to manipulate how the air left the horn’s bell.
Although this technique had become traditional, it also made certain notes unplayable without altering the instrument.
“The Shumann is definitely written for the valved horn,” Hubbard said. “It’s full of these chromaticisms that lend themselves to being played on the valved horn. So the piece is an important one in terms of the history of the horn, and you can tell that Schumann was showing off what the modern horn was capable of.”
“Of course now, today’s horns are really state-of-the-art, he said. “Professional model horns are way beyond what they would have had in mid-19th century Europe.”
As is customary for Music from Salem performances, Hubbard, Brown, Gordon, as well as the program’s other performers (violinists Sharon Roffman and David Do as well as cellist Kari Ravnan) will spend the week leading up to the performance living together on Brown’s family farm in Salem, New York.
“There’s something quite special that happens when we live together for the week, and we eat together and everything,” Brown explained. “There’s more personal contact, and you’re just willing to take more risks. You trust each other more, because everyone has gotten to know each other. And also, because we’ve spent more than a normal amount of time rehearsing, things are well planned and that creates more space to be free and spontaneous.”
Although Hubbard says he has not yet met any of the other performers, he’s looking forward to rehearsing intensively and spending time with all of them.
“It’s always exciting to sit down with a group of musicians that you’ve never worked with before,” he said. “There’s always a lot of room for collaboration, and it’s a really fun way to get to know people.”