I got the Geyer back from Gale Lawson a couple of weeks ago. He had taken it completely to pieces, removed all the little dents and ripples, overhauled the valves, stripped off nearly all of the old patchy lacquer and then soldered it all back together again. He had also made a very nice new PipStick for it to float on and reshaped the pinky-hook and thumb lever to fit my left hand. So, it being perfectly playable, I took it along to the Festival Hall for its first outing: The complete and original film score of “Singin’ In The Rain”, brilliantly reconstructed and conducted by John Wilson, with the Philharmonia.
The film is from 1952, so my 1961 horn, made in Chicago, wasn’t far off the mark – only 9 years! It felt very good to have a period instrument for this concert (I think some of the violinists were overdoing it by a few hundred years…). The horn parts are extremely wonderful – perfect horn writing – effective without being too difficult. There are only three horn parts, but my old friend Jim Handy was bumping so that made four of us. Kira O’Doherty and Carsen Williams were the 2nd and 3rd, making a very comfortable, friendly and mutually supportive little group.
The Geyer felt very good and everyone liked the sound of it!
Encouraged by this I used the Geyer again last week when I was guesting with the LPO. We played Bruckner 9 in the Festival Hall and at the Dome in Brighton. That’s a piece I had never played before but always wanted to. Gunther Herbig conducted – a very experienced German gentleman who knew exactly how he wanted his Bruckner and seemed pretty efficient at getting us to do it his way. I thought it was very clever of him to bring a complete set of parts absolutely covered with pencil markings. It meant there was little room for manouver but I’m sure this cuts down a lot of tedious rehearsal time. I think he was pretty shocked, at first, with the lighthearted and casual manner of the LPO. The first rehearsal must have seemed to him like a chimp’s tea-party (after a lifetime of working with German orchestras) but his shock turned to delight when the concert started – at least he looked really delighted. The Wagner tubas and the horns got stood up at the end of both concerts. I felt like waving my new Geyer in the air!
So, I’m very happy with it. It’s not a perfect horn, by any means, there being a couple of dangerous notes on it – but nothing that can’t be worked around. I really like the sound and the feel of it for orchestral playing. Also, I’m definitely using it for my next Konzertstuck, if another one comes along, as it has the best top D and top E of any double horn I’ve ever known. I wish it had a stopping valve, and I wish it had a detachable bell, and water keys – but I’m not going to make any drastic changes like that. I want to preserve it as it is, to which end I’m going to have it lacquered – with a gold coloured lacquer. It’s going to look fabulous! Photographs to follow, as soon as the work is done…
So, Tony, thank you so much for letting me buy this horn from you! I know you had a queue of keen buyers – all willing to pay up without even trying it – so I’m grateful that you let me have the first crack at it.
I hope you are keeping well and keeping warm,
All the best,
Nov 29, 2010 | Categories: hornplaying | Tags: Brighton, Bruckner, dents, Gale Lawson, Geyer, Gunther Herbig, Horn, John Wilson, lacquer, Philharmonia Orchestra, PipStick, Royal Festival Hall, Singin' In The Rain, Tony Halstead, valves, Wagner Tuba | Leave A Comment »
Well, as I mentioned before this was simply one of the best gigs of all time!
It was the first EVER concert performance of the original film score of Singin’ in the Rain. The score was reconstructed by the brilliant John Wilson and conducted by the brilliant John Wilson. In one part it was also conducted by the brilliant Josh Prince, shown here in these three photos.
Congratulations to John Wilson for bringing this amazing music back to life! But how could it have got lost in the first place? Did people not realise at the time what absolutely fantastic music they had created? The score is clearly a work of absolute genius. I urge you to listen to it if you don’t already know it. Currently you can get a DVD of the film on Amazon for peanuts. It’s a great, great classic, believe me.
It wasn’t just the amazing music which made it such a great gig for me. I just love working for John Wilson as he makes everything fun, and he never takes himself too seriously. Somehow he makes everything sound superlatively good. He just KNOWS how to do it. He gets just the right syrupy sound from the violins, and he brings along his own rhythm section and lead trumpet player wherever he goes. Most notably the addition of Matt Skelton, drums, and Mike Lovatt, lead trumpet, to an orchestra instantly galvanises players used to Brahms and Mahler into a compelling, swinging ensemble. It’s quite fantastic. I feel so fortunate to have been involved in this unforgettable performance.
There’s a nice review in the Independent, by Edward Seckerson here:
To cap it all, this was the first time I played my new old horn, the Carl Geyer double horn made in Chicago in the summer of 1961. Having picked it up just the day before from the workshop of Gale Lawson, who had rejuvenated it, it felt so good to play that I decided to use it straight away. I took it with me to the Festival Hall to try it out there in the morning rehearsal and it convinced me I should use it for the show.
Having been taken completely apart and put back together again, it feels like a brand new horn and perhaps will benefit from a long period of “blowing-in”, but I love it. It’s very straightforward – no water keys, no detachable bell, no stopping valve. Just a basic, classic, uncomplicated double-horn. Lovely!
Some technical stuff about the photos:
I used a little Canon S90 and shot the photos in RAW, i.e. uncompressed. ISO was 640 and the shutter speeds were 1/100th second. Handheld, no problem – not too much coffee so no obvious camera shake.
I underexposed these by approximately 1.5 stops to avoid the stage lights burning out the highlights and to get a nice black i the background. Light balance was set to auto, which is excellent on Canon cameras.
Post-processing was done in Adobe Lightroom where I cropped a little, adjusted some of the luminance and saturation, particularly of the blues and was able to reduce the noise by a huge amount – one of the great features of Lightroom 3.
I added a little sharpening and took some bits of detail out of the black background (I even removed a music stand from one photo!).
Finally, I made the little row of house lights at the back of the hall glow and stand out a bit more.
I like the results – and I think the original sized versions (not the much reduced versions shown here) would make nice large, sharp prints…
Nov 11, 2010 | Categories: hornplaying, photos | Tags: Canon, Carl Geyer, Edward Seckerson, John Wilson, Josh Prince, Matt Skelton, Mike Lovatt, Philharmonia Orchestra, RAW, review, Royal Festival Hall, Singin' In The Rain, The Independent | 1 Comment »
It is my extreme good fortune to find myself playing principal horn with the Philharmonia Orchestra for what must be one of the best gigs of all time.
John Wilson (in the photo he’s the conductor on the left – the one on the right is a singer, not a conductor) has reconstructed the entire score of “Singin’ In The Rain”, a film which has been one of my favourites for a very long time. I never dreamed I would one day play all the wonderful music from it. The horn parts are a joy to play – just perfect writing – and the whole orchestra sounds incredible. Not only that, but John Wilson is a delight to work with. How many conductors can one say that about?
The biggest highlight, however, has got to be Mike Lovatt’s sensational trumpet playing.
The performance is on Sunday 7th November at 3:00pm in the Royal Festival Hall. I can’t wait!
Tina Gruenberg, violinist, and member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, recently asked me if I’d take some publicity photos of her.
I suggested that we use the newly refurbished Festival Hall as a setting.
The LPO have chosen to use this one for the front cover of their programmes for the entire season of 2010/11. They will be printing millions of them.
It looks like this:
And here’s another one from the same photo session:
From rude health downwards
I’m on tour with the Philharmonia Orchestra as guest Principal horn. This is a wonderful thing to be doing but, unfortunately, I have been struck down by illness. The tour started in London with rehearsals at the Royal Festival Hall for Wagner’s opera, Tristan and Isolde, and for three other concert programs. We then travelled to Lucerne and gave three concerts there.
In the four days we spent in that beautiful Swiss city I made good use of my plentiful spare hours, practicing my horn in the wonderful backstage facilities of the KKL concert hall and jogging around the beautiful lake and up and down verdant hills. I was a smug but short-lived picture of rude alpine health and vitality.
Next, we all took a train ride to Milan, during which time I noticed the sudden appearance of a sore throat which seemed already to be moving downwards towards my chest. This struck me as curious because usually it takes much longer for bugs to get themselves installed down there, if that’s where they’re heading. The next day I woke up feeling pretty ill, hints of a high temperature, partial deafness, generally weakness and uncontrollable coughing. By the evening concert I needed Paracetemol and decongestant to get me through Night On a Bare Mountain, The Miraculous Mandarin and Symphonie Fantastique.
From alveoli to ravioli
The following day I was woken up by extremely painful coughing and a severe headache with fever, weakness and partial deafness – so by now it was a full blown chest infection. We left the hotel by coach, heading for Turin and I asked the Philharmonia’s management if they could arrange for me to see a doctor when we arrived. Eventually, we checked into the hotel in Turin and a doctor duly appeared in my room. He stuck a stick down my throat, took my pulse, listened to my chest with his stethoscope and tapped my ribs here and there. He also made me say “trenta-tre” seven times while he listened to the lack of resonance in my chest using the palm of one hand …or maybe this was a way of simultaneously calculating his fee and demanding payment. He concluded by somberly pronouncing that I was in a very bad way and that my lungs were “chiuso!” – closed. Yes, that summed up exactly how it felt. My lungs were trying to shut down under the stress of being eaten alive by aliens. Great – who needs lungs, or even ears, to play the horn?
And how remarkable and mysterious to go from no symptoms to a multi-media chest infection in less than two days!
Le Sacre du Cortisone
The doctor started me on antibiotics and dosed me with a hit of cortisone – apparently a steroid. This drug had the amazing effect of switching off the illness (although it did not unmute my ears) for just long enough to get me through Le Sacre du Printemps that evening.
I have to say that however dangerous and harmful cortisone must be (for it to work THAT well) it was jolly well worth the risk. That Rite of Spring, the only time it got played on the tour, was incandescently fabulous. Esa-Pekka Salonen could not have done a better job and the orchestra were just miraculously great. It drove our Italian audience into a wild frenzy of unstoppable applause and roaring.
Travel day from hell
That concert in Turin finished at 23:15, which is late even by Italian standards. In keeping with Philharmonia tradition, rather than waste any time sleeping we left the hotel by bus at 05:30 for a two hour drive to Milan Airport. From there we flew to Dormund and then had another coach journey before arriving at our hotel. It was during this final stretch when the bus broke down that I did more or less the same myself. My resolve to fight the illness and continue playing each night shattered and I found myself asking the management if they could manage without me for that evening’s concert. Thankfully, they were extremely kind and accommodating and I was granted leave to go to bed and froth and cough myself half to death in privacy.
There is an explanation for most things and I enjoyed a small “eureka” moment when I realized what had been the cause of my meteoric decline. A colony of lung-eating monsters had taken up residence inside my horn! What is worse is that this was my own fault. I had put the little villains there myself and, six months later, I had invited them back into my chest for a return holiday visit of feasting and multiplying.
The clue here was in the exact match of symptoms to those of my previous chest infection last spring. There was no mistaking the specific awfulness of the sound of my hornplaying! Whatever those little devils did to my ears made ME sound AWFUL to ME. It made me hear my hornplaying sound at best muted (with no mute in) and at worst like a wasp playing a kazoo. Also, I found it impossible to gauge how loudly or quietly I was playing.
The hoards of tiny monsters had been reluctant to leave me six months ago and so I’d resorted to antibiotics as prescribed by my doctor. The first course had almost worked but it all came back again as soon as I finished so I had to have another, different course. This time the monsters were all killed, BUT only those in my chest. The ones I’d blown into my horn were still in there, alive and kicking …and waiting. This fabulously clever theory explains perfectly how the infection had come upon me so fast. The mob of hungry bugs already knew what to do when they got in there, and I had given them all free passes, cutlery and plates.
Dowsing for spit
Now, I have some explaining to do about how I brought the naughty bacteria back into my lungs for their return visit.
I have two horns which I use for most of my modern hornplaying work. They were both made by Engelbert Schmid and are both very fine horns indeed. I have only ever had one complaint about both of these horns – it is that the drains don’t work.
Horns fill up with water. It’s the same as a warm kitchen on a cold day. The warm moist air inside forms condensation on the cold inner surface of the windows which runs down to the sill below where it starts to rot the woodwork. In horns the condensation runs down the inside of the tubing and pools in the lowest parts of the hoops and loops, and when there’s enough of it you get a bubbling, crackling sound when you play anything. It’s most unmusical and very annoying. As in kitchens, it’s worse in cold weather and it makes the horn not an ideal choice for playing outside.
There’s something about the design of both of these horns which makes it very difficult to get the water out. One of them (a full triple horn in F, Bb and Eb) even has four water keys. Yes, FOUR, and I still can’t empty it! I swear some of it has been in there for years. During concerts when I get the dreaded crackling sound and start frantically tipping my horn this way and that to remove the water – which is pretty much all the time – it drives me utterly nuts. I can usually get about half of it out but never more than that. I seem to spend my entire hornplaying life frantically searching for water. Unlike the Mars Observer, though, I KNOW it’s in there.
One of these days I’m going to lose my temper with one of my Schmids and hurl it at a wall or a conductor. I never had any such problems when I played an Alex 103.
I totally suck
Sometimes, in desperation, or when I think I know the water is in a particular place and needs to be moved backwards a little to get it around a corner and nearer to a water key, I suck. Yes, I will admit to the fact that I align the horn so it’s mostly horizontal and give a good hard suck. So, that’s a disgusting foul wind, laden with bacteria and rotting carrion, being injected deep into my lungs. Now that I think about it, it’s really disgusting.
There’s something else, too: sometimes I like to play notes by inhaling through the horn instead of blowing. These sound almost exactly the same as normal notes. I do it sometimes as a kind of party trick and at other times to confuse my students EVEN MORE about breathing techniques. But this is a much slower flow of air than in my water-shunting maneuver so is probably not quite as dangerous ….but it’s still disgusting.
Either way, I’m now faced with the possibility that this could even be my third visitation by the same lucky troupe of carnivorous gremlins. I had a previous chest infection about 18 months ago which I picked up in India…
Before I think about sucking air backwards through my horn again I’m going to make sure there’s not one critter left alive in left there. I’m going to have my horns irradiated by British Nuclear Fuels. Then I’m going to pour gallons of bacteriacide through them both. Then, to make absolutely sure nothing could possibly still be alive in there, I’m going to play a load of music by Sir Harrison Birtwistle.
Sep 18, 2010 | Categories: hornplaying | Tags: antibiotics, bacteria, chest infection, condensation, coughing, deafness, Esa-Pekka Salonen, hygeine, Le Sacre du Printemps, Lucerne, Milan, Philharmonia, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall, Schmid, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Stravinsky, triple horn, Tristan and Isolde, Turin, Wagner, water-key | Comments Off on Infection and sickness, the horn, its drains, sanitation and bacteria
This is Blair Sinclair, a neatly foldable trombonist. He holds several world records for playing virtusoso contemporary solo trombone works in confined spaces.
The photograph shows him fearlessly preparing to play Berio’s Sequenza V for trombone (1965) in a small alcove backstage at the Royal Festival Hall.
All proceeds from Blair’s performances go to the New Zealand Agoraphobic Society.
Endlessly rehearsing “Parisina“, an obscure opera by Donizetti, has taken its toll on these poor fellows in the London Philharmonic Orchestra horn section.
Just look at them, the poor devils: from left to right it’s Martin Hobbs, Neil Shewan, Gareth Mollison and Richard Bissill.
I was lucky – I got to play in the stage band so I only had a total of two minutes of very easy music to play. The orchestral horns had scarcely a single bar off in the whole opera, and it was all very difficult and exposed.
The only one of them not showing symptoms of madness was Richard …and he’s the craziest of them all.