He was studying to be a violinist for 5 years, then he became attracted to the trumpet. Eventually, he ended up playing the horn, which he never regretted for a moment. It is true love between him and his instrument - but what does that have to do with singing? On 8 and 10 November, Dávid Bereczky will play solo horn for Richard Strauss’s Horn concerto in E flat major at the Haydn-Mozart Plus concerts. Here is our interview with him.
This will be your first time playing the solo part for Richard Strauss’s 1st Horn concerto in E flat major alongside the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Has this changed the way you listen to the piece?
Dávid Bereczky: I’ve always listened to the 1st Horn concerto in E flat major differently than other Richard Strauss works. As a horn player, this piece means a lot to me and I also owe the composer a great deal. I was a freshman at the academy when I first heard the second movement of this concerto. That’s when I finally realised how fortunate I am to be a horn player.
D. B.: Because the second movement is a magnificent piece of music that’s beautifully composed for horn, and the sound of the instrument blends smoothly into this romantic slow movement.
Was R. Strauss particularly fond of the horn?
D. B.: Most certainly. His father was a horn player, which makes me think he must have listened to a lot of horn music as a child. His father probably played beautifully - not that we have any original recordings, of course, we only know from accounts. When it comes to playing the horn, what really matters is producing a subtle, sophisticated sound. Once that’s accomplished, you’re on the right track.
I read that Strauss composed this piece at age 18. Is it true that you first played it when you were 18 also?
D. B.: As a matter of fact, he was almost 19, just as I was well over 18 when I first played it. True, I first heard it when I was 17. It was during my first year at the academy and it made a lasting impression on me.
How was it that you were only 17 for your first year at the music academy?
D. B.: There’s a story to it. I started playing the horn late, because I originally studied the violin. I come from a big family, and each of us kids had to study music - which looking back was the right decision on my parents’ part - so everyone played a different instrument. My parents also played music and previously studied at music academies. When I started studying music in the second grade of primary school, there was no doubt that it would be the violin for me.
Were you unhappy to have been assigned a different instrument from what you wanted?
D. B.: It wasn’t an issue back then, but later when I’d already become familiar with a lot of music, I begin to feel closer to wind instruments. That might be because the sound they make is closer to singing, since both are produced using airflow. I used to sing a lot in primary school and participated in folksong singing contests with great success. I received a lot of awards - I loved to sing. Perhaps that’s why I could relate more to the horn, but maybe I just wanted to stand out by not playing a string instrument like everyone in my family did.
Did you succeed in standing out?
D. B.: Oh I did. I acted up a lot. At every turn, I tried to bend the strict rules my parents set.
What exactly did that involve?
D. B.: Not that I enjoy telling these old stories, but I certainly did my best to get a rise out of my parents every chance I got. My mom was very protective of us, so we weren’t allowed to go near the rock ledge during hikes. When I got older, just to defy her, I took parachuting classes. My parents weren’t exactly overjoyed...
How did the violin become a wind instrument?
D. B.: I insisted on playing a wind instrument until we made a deal. I had my heart set on the trumpet, but my parents were against it. They knew how easily I could be swayed and were concerned that the trumpet would lead me into jazz or pop music. They held firmly to the notion that their kids should play classical music.
Would you have preferred to become a jazz musician?
D. B.: As a child, certainly! Especially since my parents wouldn’t let me. It was a typical adolescent response. Now I’m very glad that I stuck to classical music. The only option that I had at the time was picking the horn from among the brass instruments. They believed that it wasn’t used in any jazz bands, though of course I found out later that it turns up in more popular genres as well. At any rate, I gradually grew fond of the horn and classical music. All thanks to Richard Strauss!
How do you think it will feel to play solo alongside the Festival Orchestra and in front of the audience?
D. B.: I like having the audience close by. Even when I play behind the music stand in the orchestra I prefer concert halls with the smallest possible distance between us and the audience. Interaction with the audience is vital. I’m looking forward to the moment when I can stand in front of them and look into their eyes.
Do musicians essentially train to be soloists?
D. B.: I’m sure many do, but I did not. From the start and to this day, I have always liked playing in the orchestra. I even enjoyed myself back in the youth orchestra. The horn section has at least four players, and it feels great to belong to this small group. So I was studying to become an orchestra musician in the first place. It’s not standing by myself in front of the others that appeals to me but being able to play this wonderful piece, which happens to be one of my favourites.
What do you like the most about it?
D. B.: The fact that it remarkably demonstrates everything a horn can do and the diversity of this wonderful instrument. Originally, the French horn was an instrument designed to be played outdoors. It was used by hunters in the woods or among the mountains. In the piece, the composer also incorporates a lot of motifs that evoke the atmosphere of hunting. Mozart was perhaps among the first ones to slip the horn into the symphonic orchestra, and he used it in nearly every one of his pieces. Slowly, others started recognised the beauty of its sound and began using it more and more frequently throughout the centuries. It lends a lovely colour to the symphonic orchestra.