The West Australian Symphony Orchestra, by all accounts, has gone from strength to strength under the baton of Asher Fisch since he began his tenure as Principal Conductor, but if you have a look across the orchestra, you’ll see some incredibly strong musicians leading each section, such as principal French hornist David Evans. Little confession: as a young person I studied the horn for about 10 years with mixed success, and it was truly a love-hate relationship. So naturally, I’m in awe of any horn player like Evans who gets it right. Evans graciously agreed to tell me a little about his own relationship with the French horn ahead of his upcoming solo performance of Mozart’s Horn Concerto No.4.
Where did you grow up and did you come from a musical family?
I was born in Melbourne and studied horn there, at the Victorian College of the Arts. Both my parents were musicians, mum was a cellist and dad a horn player, both in the Melbourne Symphony. I studied with dad which was a bit unusual but worked out well in the end.
What made you choose to play the hardest instrument in the world, and did you ever feel like driving your car over it?
I don’t think the horn is really the hardest instrument in the world. Anything is hard to play at a high level, but the horn is the hardest to play accurately. You can be happily playing along feeling great and sure enough something inexplicably goes wrong. I guess I chose the horn for its sound. The unique scale and length of the horn make it wonderfully expressive tonally… but very hard to play accurately! I’ve never thought of driving a car over one but I used to often feel the urge to throw mine off the Princes Bridge on the way home from Melbourne Youth Orchestra.
How long have you been playing the horn and were you always good at it? Tell us a little bit about your training and where you’ve played besides WASO.
I started when I was about 12, and was lucky to have a great idea of the sound to make from dad’s practice at home. I didn’t really work properly on the horn until tertiary level though, and had developed some bad habits I had to iron out. After a very intensive period in my early 20’s I started to make progress, and was able to support myself entirely from orchestral work. I had regular work with Orchestra Victoria, MSO and SSO, where I learnt a great deal “on the job”. Since I’ve joined WASO, I’ve had the opportunity to play as a guest in other orchestras, including the Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmanian, and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras, as well as the New Zealand Symphony and China Philharmonic.
If you hadn’t become a horn player, what would you have done instead? Would you have picked another, saner instrument or gone with a completely different, saner profession altogether?
It used to worry me that I was pretty untrained outside of music, and what would happen if I didn’t get an orchestral job. I don’t really know where else I would have ended up but I’ve always been interested in audio and sound recording so possibly something along those lines.
What’s the scariest note you ever played?
Well if you’re having a bad day or getting tired any note can be the scariest, but stand-outs include the high b flat in Beethoven Symphony No.2, or opening the last movement of Mahler 5th. Anything high and exposed can get the heart racing.
Do you have a favourite horn concerto? Or maybe another piece of music that has a great horn part that you especially enjoy playing?
My favourite is probably the Richard Strauss 2nd concerto, along with all of the Mozarts. All horn players like playing Strauss, Mahler, Brahms and Bruckner, as they all understood the instrument so well.
Why was Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 chosen for this program? What do you find most enjoyable and most challenging about the piece?
It’s my favourite Mozart I think. I enjoy the long phrases, but it can be a test of endurance. The last movement is probably the best known solo work for horn. Flanders and Swann wrote some funny lyrics for it in the 60’s.
Here’s the song, have a laugh:
Evans plays Mozart’s Concerto No. 4 on August 18th at 11am and August 19th and 20th at 7:30pm at Perth Concert Hall as part of Asher Fisch Conducts Schubert & Bartok. For tickets and more information about the full program, visit the WASO website here.