11th Mar 2019

From the principal’s chair: ECO principal horn John Thurgood

ECO principal horn John Thurgood meets fellow horn player Ben Goldscheider ahead of his forthcoming appearance with the ECO in Britten’s Serenade, with Jessica Cottis and Ben Johnson (Cadogan Hall,16 March)

Why did you start the horn?

Well, both my parents were professional string players and so it was inevitable that I was going to play something! I began on the cello when I was six but around the same time, I was diagnosed with a lung condition, bronchiectasis, which amongst other things meant that my lung function was only 50%. My parents thought that along with a lot of sport, taking up a brass instrument would be a good way to strengthen my lungs because of the breathing aspect involved in playing a brass instrument. Safe to say I haven’t been to the hospital now for roughly seven years and it has given me a career so I am
very grateful!

How much did participating in the BBC Young Musician help you?

The fact that I got to the final of the BBC Young Musician [in 2016] has been hugely instrumental in terms of being the platform for gaining a fairly large quantity of performing opportunities. It has, certainly in comparison to any other music competition, an extremely high media profile and this exposure meant that I got a lot of invitations to perform not only in the UK but around Europe and even South America before the age of 20. I can’t really imagine how things would have been without the competition because it really has been the foundation for pursuing my dream of becoming an out and out horn soloist.

Why did you go to study in Berlin?

I was always very curious about living in another country, regardless of my studies. Berlin is such a vibrant city, especially in regard to its classical music scene and so it was really a dream come true to be invited by Radek Baborák to study here [at the Barenboim-Said Academy].

How will you approach the Britten Serenade?

I am going to really work on the clarity of my articulation and the very extremes of pianissimo to ensure that I have the capacity to match and even be underneath the timbre of the tenor. Like any piece, you need to make sure you can play it slow, fast, loud and quiet so that on stage, you are totally free for any spontaneous moments. It’s these moments that make magic in music and they aren’t often coincidences, rather, they are a product of your subconscious which must be trained.

How has your experience of working with the ECO been to date?

Performing with the ECO in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Seventh Symphony in 2017 was, and still is, one of the musical highlights of my life. Playing these pieces especially in Vienna at the Musik Verein, the energy I felt on stage with the ECO was mesmerising. I still remember the feeling the resonance of the hall in between the final chords of the first movement gave me!

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