Ben Goldscheider_kaupo kikkas _ Cut
Ben Goldscheider, © Kaupo Kikkas

“Playing the horn is my dream”

Ben Goldscheider is the soloist in Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto in E flat major KV 495, which is on the Klosters Music programme for the concert with the Munich Chamber Orchestra on 3 August. The Englishman has already played with major orchestras such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Orchestra. Georg Rudiger spoke to the affable Englishman about daily practice, his beginnings in an English brass band and Mozart’s ingenuity.

You are visiting Klosters for the first time this summer. Do you know the Swiss Alps?

I’ve been to the Matterhorn before and played at the Verbier Festival.


How did you like the mountain landscape?

If I had the choice between the sea or the mountains, I would always choose the mountains. They are so majestic. I also really like the alphorn, which is played in the mountains. Many composers have been influenced by it, such as Johannes Brahms in his first symphony, when the horn plays this wonderful alphorn melody that he heard on his summer holiday in the Swiss Alps.


The horn is the first ever wind instrument to be heard in a solo concert at Klosters Music. What do you like about your instrument?

Playing the horn is my dream. And I am delighted to be able to introduce the instrument in Klosters. I see it as my role to make the horn even more accessible and natural in musical life. And I want to show how beautiful the sound of the horn is and how versatile the instrument can be.


And what don’t you like?

There’s nothing I don’t like about it. It’s a very difficult instrument. If I don’t practise for two days, my musical partner notices. Three days and the audience does. It takes a lot of work to stay at the top of your game. If you make a mistake or the sound doesn’t respond, if the horn squeaks, then it’s really noticeable. That could be seen as a disadvantage, but for me it’s a challenge.


And isn’t it stressful always having to practise and train your lips?

I play for at least half an hour every day, even during the holidays. I usually practise for three to four hours a day. That’s absolutely necessary to maintain my level. I play a Mozart concerto one day, György Ligeti’s trio the next, then a contemporary work – that requires great flexibility. But I love it.


I read that you played football until you were 13 and then discovered the horn. Is that true?

I started playing the horn when I was 9 years old. Both my parents are professional musicians, so music was the most natural thing in the world in our family. But at the age of 13, I decided that I wanted to be the best horn player in the world (laughs). From then on, I dedicated myself completely to the horn.


And did you play football in a club?

I was in Tottenham Hotspur’s academy.


Have you stopped playing football altogether?

From one day to the next. The motivation to do something always came from within. My parents supported me in everything I did, but didn’t force anything. They simply created a free atmosphere in which I could experiment. I am very grateful for that.


So the passion of playing horn has completely replaced the joy of football?

It is even stronger. I never feel like I’m working when I’m playing at a concert. I still consider it a great privilege to be able to pursue my passion to the full.


In Switzerland, people often learn to play the horn in a brass band. Did you play in a brass band?

The English brass bands are famous. I started my horn lessons on a Saturday morning with a trumpet teacher who took me to the brass band rehearsal. There I had to transpose the tenor horn notes from E flat to F. I went to rehearsal every week and was completely immersed in this brass band world for a few years.


Most horn players have a permanent position in an orchestra. What about you?

I love playing in the orchestra and used to do that a lot. However, I would like to dedicate myself to the horn as a solo instrument and present it as such to a wide audience. I would also like to include contemporary works in concert programmes. But you’re right – certainly 99 per cent of all professional horn players play in an orchestra. But the pandemic has changed something. We had to react more spontaneously and create special concert formats. The role of musicians in society has also changed. I have more than 100 concerts as a horn player in a solo or chamber music setting this year. I have also commissioned around 50 works for horn from composers.


But you play in Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, don’t you?

I studied at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin in 2016 and was the orchestra’s first horn player from the very start. I took part in all the projects here.


You’ve already mentioned that you play a lot of contemporary music. Is that a speciality of yours?

I am not a specialist in contemporary music, because as a horn player I play a very different repertoire. But I do focus particularly on new music because I find it very exciting. I often combine a classical concert and a contemporary work in one evening to show different sides of the horn.


In Klosters you only play one classical work. Mozart wrote a total of four horn concertos. What is special about the fourth concerto in E flat major that you will be performing at the festival?

It is certainly the most famous and also the most difficult of the four concertos. Dennis Brain’s recording of it with Herbert von Karajan is very well known – the British duo Flanders and Swann wrote a funny text for the third movement. The fourth concerto is grand and majestic. The first movement is truly virtuosic with many sixteenth-note runs, which was very unusual for the time. After the marvellous Romance, the Rondo is a real hunting piece – you can hear the galloping horses and the fanfares of the hunters.


What do you like about Mozart’s music in general?

You can play his music in very different ways. He was a great interpreter. There is so much scope in Mozart’s music. His musical material has enormous flexibility. The harmonic language and formal structure of 90 per cent of his music are relatively simple and accessible. But the 10 per cent in which he does something completely surprising is magical. This ingenious mixture is what sets Mozart apart. That is why his music has survived the centuries and still shines today.


03 August, 7 pm, Concert hall, Arena Klosters
Ben Goldscheider (Horn), Christph Koncz (Conductor), Münchener Kammerorchester