Our next post is from John Devlin, who is playing basset horn on the Strauss. Don't know what a basset horn is? Read more to find out!
As a conductor in the School of Music, I do not often get the chance to perform as a member of the school's major ensembles. Therefore, when Dr. Votta asked me to be part of the Strauss project, I was thrilled to be on the other side of the podium and eagerly accepted his invitation. I was less overjoyed, however, when I found out that I would be performing on basset horn! I had never played this instrument-- the ancient (well, 300-year old) ancestor of the clarinet. The basset horn is in the key of F and plays a major fifth lower than the normal clarinet. In addition, there are a number of extra keys, levers and gadgets that allow a skilled basset player to reach even lower! The challenge is that, given the extra length of the instrument, a player must put extra air through the horn and adjust to the slimmer margin of error for playing the higher partials. Combine those elements with the fact that the instrument feels as if there is a sock stuffed inside of it, and I found myself longing for my Bb clarinet.
The rehearsal process has allowed me to warm to this challenge and I have really enjoyed striving to create a homogenous sound between myself, the bass clarinet, the Bb clarinets and even the added C clarinet. My biggest surprise, however, was when I found that the instrument with whom I shared the most lines was the first (french) horn. JD (the first horn player) and I have worked on lots of tricky intonation issues and think that we have created a sound beautiful to behold. The Strauss requires great stamina as it is monumental in scope, being a piece for winds only. The four movements are completely symphonic in arc and I love the beautiful second movement where the basset horn plays extended duets with both the oboe and the Bb clarinet.
-John Devlin, basset horn