The 2015 BHS Festival was held at Liverpool Hope University’s Creative Campus on Sunday 15th November 2015. The following article was written by Adrienne Fox, who attended the festival.

The morning recital began with Sabores de España.  This was a  tour de force medley of Spanish music played by the horns of the BBC Philharmonic and Opera North.  Some of the music, notably a piano piece and an extract from a well-known guitar concerto sounded better to me than the original versions but I have to own up to a certain bias where horns are concerned!

A complete change of mood followed with Franz Strauss’s Introduction, Theme and Variations Op.13, played by Tim Jackson and accompanied by Richard Casey.  This piece by ‘papa’ Strauss was a classic example of the variation writing of the period and was played with a real sense of the era’s style and idiom.

It was a new experience to see the Holcombe Duo – Neil and Helen Grundy – playing Alpine horns.  Hans-Jürg Sommer’s compositions exploited the instrument’s chromatic capabilities – a feature initially frowned upon by the established Swiss players as being ‘out of the traditional way of composing’. Neil and Helen revealed the potential of the instruments and it was an eye-opener to those of us expecting a more basic use of the harmonics.

The Hallé Orchestra Wagner Tuba Quartet dedicated the first two pieces by Bruckner to the victims of the terroist atrocities in Paris.  These solemn pieces were followed by a boozy ländler, during which one member of the quartet was dispatched to bring in glasses and a bottle to nourish the players.

We were honoured to have as a guest star, Jean-Pierre Dassonville from Belguim.  His playing of the Sonata in E for horn and piano by Nikolaus von Krufft was memorable.  The Sonata takes the form of a long Rondo.  Jean-Pierre played on an 1820 hand-horn by Raoux and he transformed this technical marathon into a musical delight.  We forgot the methodological disciplines imposed onthe player as he transcended the technical demands and made great music from the dots!

For the final item Tim Jackson and Richard Casey romped through Tim’s own arrangement for hand-horn of Monti’s Czardas.  It’s been arranged for many different instruments, and this version for hand-horn was great!  It was a treat.

After listening to such inspired playing there was an opportunity for everyone to take advantage of the expertise of Stephen Roberts, Sabrina Pullen, Chris Morley, Pete Dyson and the Holcombe Duo who had sacrified their time to coach those who had signed up for the coached ensembles.  There are few opportunities for amateur players to directly interact with these accomplished professionals who give up their time to impart their secrets so generously.  These sessions are immensely valuable and we thank the tutors for their generosity and time.

Larkin-Around the Horn was a fascinating lecture given by our Honourary Chairman, Chris Larkin.  His in-depth knowledge of the historical origins of the horn from conch to cor-de-chasse was so extensive that I suspected we could have spent a day sharing the results of his research.  His ense of humour and occasional lapses into a non-academic vernacular when the pictures and sound technology were at odds enlivened his presentation of this splendid lecture.

The Tony Catterick interview featured Mike Ogonovsky, formerly of the RLPO. Tony is not only a brilliant archivist but has the knack of highlighting the personality of his victim from all the best angles.  He was exercising his right to stop his interviewee in his tracks with some forgotten incident but Mike entered into the spirit of the encounter and began to challenge minor details.  Tony fielded the differences with the utmost skill and humour whilst leading us through the varing stages of Mike’s illustrious career.

The evening concert retained the joyous atmosphere of the day.  The opportunity to hear the winner of the Paxman Award gives a taste of the rising talent in the horn-playing field.  Anna Drysdale’s playing of the third movement of the Rheinberger Sonata for Horn and Piano clearly demonstrated that youth is maintaining and enriching the standards set by the generation above her.

The Royal Northern College of Music Horn Ensemble under the direction of Lindsey Stoker were equally re-assuring when playing Kerry Turner’s Farewell to Red Castle.  This is a difficult work which they tackled with determination and musicianship.

Ferdinand Ries’s Introduction and Rondo for Horn and Piano, superbly played by Roger Montgomery on a natural horn, tempted me to wonder if valves and pistons would perhaps one day be relegated to the museum pieces as the skill of the hand-hornists are so virtuosic.  Jean-Pierre Dassonville’s morning performance was on a hand-hoprn but his playing of Jules Demersseman’s Fantasy, writted for a six-valve horn designed by Adolphe Sax, was a pointer to the application of technology in an attempt to extend the possibilities of the instrument.  Sax’s Horn was very heavy and looked a bit like a portable radiator with a bell.  There are only four in existence and so one can rate their success in terms of their survival.  In the capable horns of Jean-Pierre the instrument sounded excellent, but I dread to think of the calamities that could befall a lesser player.

The horns of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Opera North, augmented by a jazz trio, played a fantastic arrangement by Tim Jackson of four pieces from The Sound of Music. This was originally scored for twelve horns and four wagner tubas, but the version we heard was for smaller forces.  The use of unexpected rhythms such as jazz waltz and tango plus some great re-harmonisation made this a really impressive ideal.

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Alberto Menéndez Escribano played Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro with an elegance and ease that contained the passion within the musical framework but still captured the romantic essence of the music.  At this point I must pay tribute to pianist Richard Casey, who began rehearsing at ten o’clock, and then played for both the morning and afternoon concert.  What a stalwart, reliable, grand musician to have for such a taxing occasion.

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 The Holcombe Duo returned to play – and were joined in an encore by fellow alpiniste Jean-Pierre Dassonville. They remained on the stage for the final item, appropriately called, A Liverpool Riot in which all the players participated.  It was a brilliant arrangement by Stephen Roberts of a collection of songs associated with Liverpool and certainly ended the evening on a happy note with a ‘big finish’ epitomising the spirit of the Festival which was a combination of wonderful talent, professionalism and sheer fun.