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Current time:0:00Total duration:23:47

French Horn: Interview and demonstration with principal John Cerminaro

Video transcript

to tell you a little bit about the French horn is is interesting because the horn is as old as they come it literally was in its first rendition a horn the purpose was not so much musical as to get the attention of somebody else who maybe had a horn and he was going to broadcast to later you got hunting horns so if you caught the Fox you might want to let them know you got them so you play something very fetching meanwhile the postman plays just to let you know the mail has come now the horn I picked up here is a sort of typical orchestral instrument this is a normal French horn that you find in the orchestra's it's still the same idea now imagine all this tubing is not there still we're still in the old days you could play a scale an actual scale on the horn if you notice with your hand you get a certain kind of sound of pitches like but then the plumbing came but it was around the same time that people liked that kind of sound that the horn was getting now I've got a more complex instrument here this instrument I played for many years in orchestras it's a triple horn but and you can see it's quite complicated and beautiful but what people liked was the sound you could get on a horn and the beauty of playing it was that dark haunting tone that made the horn seem likable for the orchestra now the horn that I play most of the time that you've been seeing this is much lighter because this is for solos it's a solo instrument and it's as light as they come but it's still and all it's a French horn so we're not as we can't play as high as a trumpet or as loud as a trombone or as fast as a flute it's always been that middle register beautiful sound that people like about the horn they're the low register okay high register yes but what they fondly called the cash register the middle register of the horn is still what people like to listen to something beautiful something that is not not possible in any other instrument the French horn has become known as the tightrope walker in the orchestra everybody goes to concerts a sort of worries a little bit about the horn because with a violin and when one of violence makes a mistake is love it you know a slight little thing nobody notices but a French horn a blooper on the horn is like somebody dropping the dinner tray you can really spoil a concert so yeah as much as we don't like to think about it playing the horn as well as possible and finding ways to play it beautifully yet also reliably is what what we seek in mouthpieces and bells bodies of the horn lead pipe all these things play a part in making the horn a little bit more reliable now you probably have noticed the mouthpiece I've chosen is heavy it's special it's and also that heaviness is also equal here on the bill as you can see I have a long edge here a little extra metal and that garland is also based on the principle of weight distribution and accuracy for the horn it is true that you lose some of the highs and the sound very very minuscule but you do gain some in solidity of playing so what am I talking about trying to play the horn in not a flawless way but in a reliable way and that's what we're going for with this sort of equipment every horn player goes through a pursuit of the will-o-wisp the mouthpiece that would be perfect where is it I know I can find it I know I can find the mouthpiece is going to be the perfect one and this is a very minuscule representation of some of the mouthpieces I've gone through now some of them are kind of famous um for example this was my teachers mouthpiece James chambers I also played his horn for quite a long time and it has some interesting secrets this this was his teachers mouthpiece Anton Horner and it it's fascinating for many reasons they are orchestral in nature they're made for a certain kind of sound and articulation this mouthpiece was put together and is very very close to the one Denis brain played and Denis brain was the great spiritual father of all horn players so I was very anxious to play a mouthpiece like this but it wasn't for me we were very different people I began to go a little bit wild with depth and weight but here in Seattle and I found a maker just over the line in Portland Oregon called Marcinko woods and he made a mouthpiece for me that had the right weight and the right weight distribution so you can see I have all kinds of experimental models here and eventually I found the one that I wanted it was just right it may seem like such a small matter but with horn playing everything matters the mouthpiece the Ranma oh these mouthpieces have rims that screw on and off you keep trying to find the perfect room but in the end you you arrive at the same conclusion as as all my teachers did that you're opposing yourself you're going against yourself in a way here you're taking up a mouthpiece that helps you with something you don't do that well and not worrying too much that you're going to lose a little off of one area or another because you have an abundance there you both of my parents were musicians my father was a clarinet player my mother was a trumpet player but there were both band directors so in those days band directors went where the jobs were they and they landed in small towns in Texas and when I was about 10 years old my father brought home two instruments he brought home a French horn and he brought home an oboe my sister liked the oboe and I immediately liked the horn so I started playing the horn and I played in school bands from about ten years old all the way to 18 there weren't orchestras until I got to Dallas and there were a few orchestras there but in Navasota Texas and Orange Texas it was bands and I loved it it was boom pop music for the French horn nothing too hard but it was thrilling for me and so playing in a band you know I'm going that sort of thing nothing big and one night at a football game when my father was conducting the band if this was the high school band so I was just sitting up in the bleachers and I saw dad conducting he he looked a little bit like Toscanini and he was conducting with great fervor and the band was playing something wonderful Sousa something very rousing and I got all choked up I loved it I felt right then and there I didn't know how but I wanted to be a musician in my first year of high school as a sophomore in high school there was a traveling jury from Juilliard and I don't know if they do that anymore but the traveling jury came to Dallas and Jean Morell was there and and other people who were deciding who might get scholarships to go to Juilliard and my teacher Alfred resh great old-time horn player and my parents they just pushed me out on the stage and said play for them so I played a little Mozart I read a little music and they gave me a full scholarship to Julliard in my sophomore year of high school so I didn't have anything to worry about I thought and so I just breezed my way through high school but I practiced my horn all day long every day and my plan was to go to Julliard and and they did my parents put me on a plane and off I went to New York by myself and it was a huge change Julliard was bustling with people that all knew what they were doing and I picked it up as fast as I could how to do this and how to do that how to be good while I was still in Julliard I was offered principal Horne in the Dallas Symphony principal Horne and the American Symphony and even principal Horne in one of the West Coast's I think seiji was asking me about I think of San Francisco but the point is is that I was in school and I asked my teacher my mentor Arnold Fisher was a great friend I asked him what should i do should I take one of these jobs and in those days he said John you should stay in school get your education something better will come along so nowadays nobody would pass on it on those jobs first one in any of those orchestras would be considered wonderful but I said no and thank you very much in my last year in school it was the New York Philharmonic the New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein they wanted me and I asked mr. fish again should I stay in school or go is it no you should go this time this time as you go so I I left school just a little early and went right into the New York Philharmonic as assistant principal horn and it was wonderful because Leonard Bernstein had just I just stepped down and he'd become conductor laureate so we still saw as much of him as ever only he wasn't the music director Pierre Boulez had come in as music director and between the two of them briefly dr. Zell George Szell the New York Philharmonic was the beginning and I was playing assistant principal horn which was a great spot I wouldn't have been ready to just go right into first horn play and then I was promoted up through the ranks as the years went on by I went next to associate principal horn and then to principal horn which was a great thrill for me to be in the that once belonged to my teacher and after 10 years with the New York Philharmonic I had seen already I'd been with Bernstein Beulah's and Zell and as music directors and hundreds of other great conductors but the next one coming was as Zubin Mehta and I played in fact almost a whole year with Zubin but in the meantime was being wooed away by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Carlo Maria Jill Galini was Julie Nia had come and conducted the Philharmonic I'd played a lot of great things with him a lot of arity a lot of Bruckner a lot of Mahler and he loved me and I didn't know how many years it would be with Zubin in the Philharmonic but I knew they were in store for some big changes and I knew that going with Giulini would be I just had that feeling and this is something I just should do I had secretly harbor the wish to be a solace and even while I was in Los Angeles I began to make a bunch of solo CDs so I got a manager and pointed the car back towards New York I taught at Juilliard and my manager booked concertos woman here and there and I liked it but it was the solo life was a was sort of feast or famine most soloists will tell you that truth you have great seasons we have lots of stuff and you're making a lot of money and then you have less lesser seasons in the meantime I got married I was enjoying being the soloist and but my manager thought I needed a category and one of the categories he had there was guest principal horn so I would play guest principal horn wherever they were trying to get a principal player for their Orchestra where they where they were advertising and trying to get somebody so I played guest principal for Milwaukee for Dallas for Houston and and all of those places they kept saying why don't you stay no not going to stay no reason done it all been there done that didn't want to stay so it was I was in Japan I was in igano when I got a call from Jerry could I come and open the season there first one player was alone and so I did I flew down opened the season and he kept asking me can you stay a little longer a little bit longer then they were going to build a new concert hall how about staying for that and the answer probably would have been the same as for the others I think maybe no I'm you know want to go back to my soul alive but my wife and I got pregnant big surprise and our son Johnny was born and then our daughter Rose was born and that's a huge incentive to stay and have a home and a thing I thought I did not know I was going to have this life to have a nice home to have kids I have a wife it's you know sort of standard wonderful b-phlat life but there it was and Jerry cook it all up I don't know how but I stayed here with him longer than I stayed anywhere I played for Leopold Stokowski in his penthouse suite I brought I brought vapors concertino which is this wildly unplayable piece and I was playing the cadenza for him and all over the place and I was way way overqualified for whatever it was I was playing for and then he said to me um you know you should look at the motor concertos and you'll love them more there there's more music there and I was told virtually the same thing by doctor Zell and by Leonard Bernstein and by Pierre Boulez and by George Schwartz and by Julie knee they all said draw close to the music and that's what I've done with my life I've loved the music and drawn closer to it and and it is true that it's harder when you decide to be a professional musician when it says professional musician on your passport when they pay you for it but but if you can stand it it's a great life now it is true that I have I say something to you now that I tell all my students you can be overwhelmed by the thing it can pull you towards it at such a rate and set with such power you can't find a way to give yourself peace now so many people ask me why did I why did I pick up an easel why did I start painting again I painted to help hold myself back from just complete annihilation by the instrument so my art has been the thing having a hobby of some kind playing chess it was at one point for me and now it's painting and so I recommend anybody who who wants to play this instrument professionally be sure that you also take up a hobby that gives you a chance to to have some real rest and some real peace from it too it can be quite overwhelming at times you