sound festival 2022 review: Ben Goldscheider and Pete Stollery

Ben Goldscheider horn
Pete Stollery electronics

The Lemon Tree
Thursday, 27th October 2022


Hildegard Westerkamp - Fantasie for Horns II (1976)
Alex Groves - Single Form (Dawn) (World Première)
Thea Musgrave - Golden Echo I
Bethan Morgan-Williams - 
In the Crypt

“J’aime le son du Cor, le soir, au fond des bois”
Alfred de Vigny

At school, we had to learn the poem by Alfred de Vigny. Its opening words have always inspired me because the French Horn was an instrument that I really loved. The words of the poem, I thought, made me think of the instrument’s ability to ring out far and wide across the forests of the past. Its sound was noble, bright, portentous. All these things came excitingly true across Ben Goldscheider’s performance on Thursday evening. The use of special lighting in the upstairs studio of the Lemon Tree added an extra special charge of drama to the performance. We were in darkness with just one spotlight on Ben alone with his golden French horn.

Two of the pieces on Thursday, Hildegard Westerkamp’s ‘Fantasie for Horns II’ and Thea Musgrave’s ‘Golden Echo I’ had fixed backings so that Pete Stollery was limited in what he was able to do with the electronic backings. Could he possibly alter the dynamics?
With the other two works, Pete could exploit his own creative input. Whatever was the case, all four pieces were, I thought, absolutely entrancing.

The background sounds of Hildegard Westerkamp’s 'Fantasie for Horns II' were created, the programme note told me, from all sorts of different horn sounds – train horns, foghorns, boat horns, an alphorn and more. The result sometimes approximated a large orchestra, suggestions of strings, woodwinds and brass although coming from an altered sound world. Above these, Ben Goldscheider’s horn sang out with resonant nobility. Later on in the work, the electronics suggested bubbling water, reminding us perhaps that the backing was not just an orchestra.

‘Single Form (Dawn)’ by London based composer Alex Groves was very different. Ben donned a pair of headphones. Initially, a series of simple individual notes were captured and used to create a  backing. That continued throughout the performance but as it continued, something miraculous began to happen. More complex live horn playing was still captured and used in repetition, but Ben’s playing sounded like a solo part above his own captured music. He was an initiator of the backing, controlled masterfully by Professor Stollery, but he was also a soloist soaring magnificently above his own backing. He was two musicians contained within one player. I thought his playing was wonderful and this was a stunningly imaginative composition as well.

Thea Musgrave’s ‘Golden Echo I’ was indeed just that, a delicious sonic experience that was the very apotheosis of the resplendent sounds of the French horn. Was it a concerto, a horn quartet or more? All of these things and perhaps none, but Ben Goldscheider and his backing tape were an absolute delight to hear.

‘In the Crypt’ by Bethan Morgan-Williams was the shortest of the pieces. It was edgy, challenging and full of unexpected colours, both from the backing and the live horn. Not like Musgrave’s ‘Golden’ horn music, but possibly the most lively and exciting. 

In the after-concert discussion, Ben Goldscheider expressed his admiration for orchestral horn players saying that he was not as good as them. Really! I don’t think so. His ability to control his breathing to create a range of dynamics and so many spot on entries matching the tape backings along with the smooth faultlessness of his playing has to put him up there with the best.


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