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Owen Farr and 130 Horns in International Seminar


January 26th 2014 was an historic day indeed�it saw the inaugural International Tenor Horn and Flugel Seminar in Birmingham. I have certainly never seen so many tenor horns in one room before � in fact, I was quite taken aback by how many people came along to Birmingham Conservatoire to be a part of the day. It was quite a surreal, but thoroughly enjoyable experience!

Organised by Owen Farr (solo horn with the Cory Band), 'Reverb' Chu (from Taiwan) and Peter Maertens (from Belgium) � the seminar's aims were to bring together as many tenor horn and flugel players as possible in a day of making music, meeting other players from around the word and rejoicing in tenor horn and flugelness!

The day started with a 'massed blow' of over 130 tenor horns and flugels (playing music arranged by John Jemmett, whose involvement contributed towards the major project for his BMus degree). Lead by Philip Harper (who had initially brought his t.horn to join in playing!), it was an interesting sound world indeed � somewhat like the middle octaves of an organ. Everybody joined in � what a way to start the day!

The first lecture recital was based around the amazing soloists of the Sousa Band in the early 20th century. Owen performed some new arrangements of works by the wonderful Herbert L. Clarke and Bohumir Kryl and spoke about the development of the piston valve and the evolution of brass soloists during this time. Owen's musicality, expertise and sense of humour drew the audience in straight away, and his playing was classy and controlled.

There were several new music showcases throughout the day. The first featured two concertos, which Owen performed back-to-back. These were David Harrington's programmatic concerto 'Paradise Lost' (which was premiered at the RNCM Festival of Brass last year) and the other I had written for him several years ago (this being the official world premiere with the piano accompaniment). Once more, he wowed everyone with his virtuosity and, in this case, his ridiculous stamina!

Following this, Peter Maertens (who also runs the website for the International Tenor Horn Project) also launched his new book 'Tenor or Alto Horn � one instrument, two names' on the day. Peter describes the book as "a contribution to our knowledge and understanding about an instrument that deserves much more credit and respect than it generally receives". It includes chapters on the history and evolution of the instrument and its repertoire and is definitely a must for any tenor horn student!

Everyone was given the opportunity to sign-up and perform a solo in front of Owen and the rest of the group (with the flugel players joining Richard Davies and David Harrington for a separate masterclass). This was a great chance for people to perform with piano � which is not something many people get to do very often outside of college or university � and the audience of peers gave each of the twelve soloists (including Reverb Chu!) a warm round of applause.

The second new music performance platform featured tenor horn students and graduates of the RWCMD and Birmingham Conservatoire. All the soloists were fantastic, including a performance of David Harrington's 'Romance' by Hannah Drage, Chris Bond's 'Proficiency' by Lowenna Taylor, a wonderful performance of Dave Collins' 'Threnody' by Fishburn's Michael Franey and a premiere of Philip Harper's new work by Ailsa Russell. Some truly stunning playing indeed. I was also lucky enough to have a new work premiered by Richard Davies. 'Wishful Thinking' was composed specially for him to perform at the seminar and, as the title suggests, is a very reflective, melodic piece, which Richard demonstrated beautifully.

To finish, we reconvened to perform as a massed ensemble once more with Sousa's 'Liberty Bell' and 'Deep Harmony' � an enjoyable and fitting end to a busy day. It was a fantastic event � seeing players from all over the world, different ages and at different stages in their playing careers coming together to be a part of something new and unique for our instruments. Thank you very much to Owen, Peter, Reverb and Birmingham Conservatoire for making it happen. We're all very much looking forward to the next one!

Lucy Pankhurst
24 Feb 2014 by Brass Band Summer School


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