People in the News

New Artist of the Month: Horn Player Ben Goldscheider

January 1, 2024 | By Clive Paget, Musical America

LONDON—Of all the instruments in an orchestra, the French horn is the most exposed. One crack and the whole audience winces. Listening to a fiendish bit of Peter Maxwell Davies a few months back at London’s Wigmore Hall, it was a pleasure to praise the ensemble playing, “and especially Ben Goldscheider, who was flawless in the hugely challenging horn part.” A few days later, I was equally impressed by the 26-year-old British horn player’s swashbuckling performance in Beethoven’s Sextet as part of the West-Eastern Divan Ensemble.

Chatting over Zoom, Goldscheider comes across as warm, intelligent, and fiercely determined. He’s typically modest about his ability to avoid the dreaded cracks. “You might not have heard it yet, but you will,” he laughs. “I don’t think I’ve done a concert where every note has spoken as I’d liked.”

Apart from a rock-solid embouchure and staggering technique, part of his success he puts down to reverse psychology. “You play much cleaner if you are committed,” he explains. “If you’re trying to play safe and avoid cracking on the high notes, you end up in a negative cycle. So as a soloist, I just go for it and hope for the best.”

Goldscheider was born in London into a thoroughly musical family. Both parents are professional musicians, a grandmother was a piano teacher, one grandfather a conductor, and his other grandfather is Czech-born composer and computer specialist Alexander Goldscheider. A musical career was an inevitability. Playing the horn, however, came about almost by accident.

Of necessity

Aged six, Ben was diagnosed with a restrictive lung condition called bronchiectasis. So the family moved from London, deciding the clean air of rural Hertfordshire would do him good. “My lung function was only 50 percent and a doctor suggested to my parents, why doesn’t he take up a wind instrument to strengthen his lungs?” he explains.

Knowing the business, his parents suggested the horn. “At the time there were a lot of jobs going for professional horn players, so you had good career prospects, and it’s the most sophisticated of the brass instruments—you can almost call it its own section,” he says.

“When I started, it was just…an extracurricular activity I did at school. My parents never pushed me to practice, but they played music all day, so I just thought, why isn’t everybody doing this? As a horn player I committed myself aged 12.”

That commitment meant lessons with Susan Dent at the Royal College of Music, working with her on Saturdays for seven years. In 2016, he triumphed in the BBC Young Musician competition brass category, the year the top prize went to Sheku Kanneh-Mason. “I went from being somebody with dreams and aspirations, to people knowing who I was. I can’t overstate the difference that makes in your development.”

The same year he went to Berlin at the invitation of Radek Baborák to study at the Barenboim-Said Academy, a dream opportunity as Goldscheider describes Baborák as his all-time horn hero. By the end of the year, Daniel Barenboim had made him principal horn of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and a member of the prestigious West-Eastern Divan Ensemble, positions he holds to this day.

“Daniel Barenboim was a big supporter of mine,” he admits. “I remember vividly sitting on the Salzburg Festival stage playing Schumann’s Andante and Variations age 21 with him and Martha Argerich. That kind of association really helped me a lot.”

Graduating in 2020, Goldscheider soon discovered the value of commissioning new music if he wanted a solo career. “Quite often my agent would write to an orchestra and say, ‘Would you like Ben Goldscheider to play the Strauss First Horn Concerto?’ and nine out of ten would say, ‘We’re a big fan, but actually we have a great principal horn and if the Strauss is coming up, they’ll want to play it.’ It’s a different case if you come with the Ligeti concerto or a commission. Suddenly there’s something I’m bringing that is unique to me. Making that my credo made a huge difference.”

50 commissions at age 26

To date, he’s been involved in commissioning more than 50 new works. Mark Simpson is writing him a concerto that will premiere in June at London’s Southbank Centre, Huw Watkins’s concerto premieres in April with Britten Sinfonia, and Gavin Higgins’s new concerto will premiere in January with BBC National Orchestra of Wales before being heard in London and the Netherlands.

At the 2023 Lucerne Festival, Goldscheider premiered a new work by Sara Cubarsi. La langue des gargouilles was written for natural horn—“tuned a quartertone sharp,” he smiles—with mini keyboard and piano. It was performed alongside Simpson’s Nachstück, commissioned by the Barbican as part of Goldscheider’s ECHO Rising Stars tour.

In 2022 he made his BBC Proms debut performing Ethel Smyth’s Concerto for Horn and Violin with Elena Urioste and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. “It was exhilarating, even just being asked,” he says. “Everyone knows the Royal Albert Hall is not the world’s greatest acoustic, but it’s the world’s best atmosphere.”

As a soloist, an impressive list of credits includes the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, Ulster Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia, London Mozart Players, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Prague Philharmonia, and Sinfonie Orchester Berlin. As for favorite repertoire, his top pick is the Ligeti concerto. Oliver Knussen’s concerto is high on his list as well, a work he would have played with Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2022 except that he came down with COVID the night before.

With over a hundred concerts a year, his 2024 must-sees include Britten’s canticles with Allan Clayton in Berlin, and the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings in April with Nicky Spence and in May with Clayton. Later in the year he’s off to Los Angeles, playing a new work by Oliver Leith and a piece for horn and live electronics by Zoë Martlew with Camerata Pacifica. American audiences should expect to see more of him in the years ahead.



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