Earlier this week, Conor Molony caught up with Ben Goldscheider – BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist in 2016, and soloist playing Mozart’s 4th horn concerto in our concert on 2nd November. Continue reading to find out more about Ben and his musical journey.
Ben, I love the quote from James Murphy in Huffington post on your website likening you to a musical Bear Grylls, leaping fearlessly through dangerous terrain … tell me why you decided to take on the first hurdle of choosing the French Horn to learn?
Actually, it was the result of an even bigger hurdle. When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with the lung condition, bronchiectasis. Essentially, my lung function was only 50% and my parents thought that taking up a brass instrument, along with a lot of sport, would help strengthen my lungs!
You played football for Tottenham Hotspur academy before deciding on music when you were 14 … what sport / exercise do you still enjoy, and how does fitness affect playing the horn?
Unfortunately, I stopped playing for Tottenham but I am still very active. For a long time I competed at tennis and nowadays I play sport for more fun and to keep fit. Saying that, I do think that it’s vital for musicians to stay fit because we live an extremely demanding lifestyle, especially if you travel a lot and staying fit and healthy is almost necessary to survive it. Apart from anything else, doing exercise increases your general well-being and this inevitably affects many things such as your self-confidence and energy which then spill over into the realm of music making.
On a practical note why do wind and brass players have to get liquid out of their instruments during a performance?
Because we blow warm air into a cold tube, condensation builds up in the same way as if you were to blow onto a cold window. These droplets form and collect in the instrument and interrupt the airflow, hence the importance of emptying it all out!
Excluding concert halls, what venue best suits a French Horn?
I love performing in churches, providing they’re not too cold!
Well, fingers crossed our concert venue - St Matthew’s - will be warm on the concert night! Where is your favourite place to play the French Horn? Hilltop or bathroom?
Definitely hilltop. I often practise outside when I’m travelling if have a couple of hours before needing to leave for the airport or whatever.
Do French Horn instruments improve with playing and age or do you have to look to upgrade every few years in your career?
Unlike the string family, brass instruments do eventually deteriorate but thankfully I’m young enough that I haven’t got to the stage when I need to upgrade yet! On the same note, there is a period from new when they get significantly better as they’re “blown in” but you’ll never see anyone playing on a horn from the 17/18th century like some of your violinist and cellist colleagues.
You, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Jess Gillam … what a triumvirate of Young Musician finalists in 2016! It was really inspiring for young musicians all over the country. What chamber music might you three perform together?
People do say that! We actually did perform together once, at the Barbican for an ABRSM event. Somebody wrote a jazz style trio for horn, saxophone and cello and we were accompanied by the Southbank Sinfonia and National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Let’s see what the future is for the same combination...
What was it like moving to Berlin, Germany to study at the Barenboim-Said Academy with Radek Baborak?
It was an absolute dream come true to go and study with Radek. His playing was, and still is, my absolute ideal of what the horn should sound like. I went to Berlin not speaking German and not knowing a single person, so it was very much a “jump in at the deep end” moment. The last three years have just been incredible, and I could not be more grateful for everything that has happened to me as a result of moving there.
I remember loving a vinyl recording of Dennis Brain playing Mozart when I was young. Who are your idols from yesteryear and indeed from today?
Well, Dennis Brain and Radek for me have always been the people I listen to and am inspired by. I’m also greatly influenced by singers and pianists such as Richter and Fischer-Diskau.
I very much enjoyed listening to the recordings available on your website, and the opportunity to hear such a variety of composers from Bach to Edwin York Bowen. Does the Horn lend itself to playing pieces composed for other instruments?
Hmm … honestly I don’t know. The recordings you mention happen to be very idiomatic for the horn which helps, but in general, it is more about what we can do with the horn as opposed to there be a pre-existing affinity for certain types of music. That’s not to say that the horn shines when playing certain repertoire!
You are playing both in and with some wonderful international musicians in the coming months. What has been your favourite experience in the past few years?
I think my top three concerts would have been as follows:
Playing Schumann Andante and Variations for two pianos, two cellos and horn with Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich at the Salzburg Festival, in Buenos Aires and in Berlin.
Playing the Rosetti Double Horn Concerto No. 5 with Radek Baborak and the Prague Philharmonia in the Rudolfinum, Prague.
Playing Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony with Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, New York.
What performances are coming up for you in London next year that we could come and hear?
Well, there are tonnes of concerts in and around London, perhaps the best option would be to keep checking out www.bengoldscheider.com. I keep it regularly updated and then everyone will be able to see the concerts near them!