Spotlight on the horns this weekend



Fans of the sounds of the horns mingling together as one within the context of a classical composition will take delight in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming concert, “Brass and Brahms” from Nov. 2 to 4.

As part of the repertoire that evening, HSO’s horn section (principal horn Barbara Hill, assistant principal horn John Michael Adair, and horn players Hilary Ledebuhr and Nick Rubenstein) will step into the spotlight to perform “Schumann’s Concertstück for Four Horns in F Major.”

There has never been a dearth of classical material for horns in the classical music universe, said Hill. “There is a wealth of repertoire in every major historical time period that takes advantage of the horn as an expressive, beautiful, and versatile instrument.”

The sound of the horns used for that repertoire has, however, evolved over time. “I find most fascinating… how composers have employed the technological advances of the instrument—from the natural horn – a single piece of tubing where the right hand is used to get the notes— to the present day valve triple horn,” said Hill.

“In particular,” said Hill, “the Classical and Romantic periods are littered with beautiful horn solos in chamber music—and definitely within large scale works…Of course, as a musician in the  21st century, musician, you have to be prepared to play all kinds of repertoire that utilizes the lyrical and expressive qualities of the horn, from the movie music of John Williams, to the heavy metal of Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister fame, to the live soundtrack of ‘Game of Thrones,’ all of which I’ve had the pleasure of playing.”

Typically, horns will be part of the ensemble and not the sole instrumentation.

“The feeling of both listening and being part of the sound of the horns ‘mingling amongst themselves’ is a difficult one to describe,” said Hill, whose first instrument actually was the piano. “When a group of the same instruments play together as a rhythmically tight ensemble, with excellent intonation, a same concept of sound and articulation, with the same interpretation of the composer’s intent, the performance takes on a feeling of something that is larger than any of the four of us on stage… it’s somehow amplified many times over by the collaboration while at the same time, as provided by Schumann, gives us each the individual freedom and opportunity to express our individual voices.”

The emotions and thoughts evoked by instrumental music is a personal one, and for Hill “listening to the Schumann has meant: 1. that I will get to play this amazing piece at some point in my career; 2. that I’m grateful for having chosen an instrument to study and perform on that is provided with such fun and challenging repertoire; and 3. that I get to share my love and passion for making music not just by myself, but with three other wonderful musicians who I am lucky to call friends and colleagues,” said Hill

“There are not many pieces we play together on stage, in the context of the standard orchestral literature, that encompass a three-plus octave range and includes so many notes,” said Hill.

“The dialogue that exists among us in this piece, to me, gets at the heart of what it means to be a member of the horn section in the HSO,” said Hill. “It isn’t the crazy number of notes we have to play, or even the extreme range, but rather the reward lies in Schumann’s writing, where we get to put on full display the close friendship, teamwork, and musicianship we share on almost a daily basis- in and outside of the concert hall.”

Hartford Symphony Orchestra presents “Brass and Brahms” Friday through Sunday, Nov. 2 to 4 at the Belding Theater at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. The Friday and Saturday performances are 8 p.m. The Sunday performance is 3 p.m. Tickets start at $35.

For tickets, call (860)987-5900 or visit

The horn section of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra will be featured during a performance of ‘Schumann’s Concertstück for Four Horns in F Major’ this weekend.