Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

Andrew Bain and Dale Clevenger: two Principal Horns in very different situations


One of the many quotes from my recent interview with Danny Rothmuller, retired Associate Principal Cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, that didn’t make it into my original posts (Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE) was the following observation:

“French Horn is the only fallible instrument in the orchestra.  Any other instrument, if you play a wrong note, it’s your own fault.  But if a horn player misses and hits a clam, you can’t always blame them, and you kind of feel for them when it happens.” (Daniel Rothmuller)

So assuming that tolerance for horn miscues (even at the world-class level) is higher than it would be for other instruments, when does it cross the line from misfortune to malpractice?  Wherever that line is, an increasing number of people feel that the Chicago Symphony’s Dale Clevenger is getting there — if he hasn’t crossed it already.

Lisa Hirsch’s most recent post on Iron Tongue of Midnight mentions the latest online article chronicling  the list of grievences of the CSO’s legendary Principal Horn, and Lisa points out extra-musical issues which complicate the situation.

For my part, I sympathize with those hoping that such a well-regarded musician would step down gracefully and either take an emeritus position or retire outright.  At the same time, I’ve actually heard the sub-par playing about which the critics are talking.  In my review of the CSO’s appearance at Segerstrom Concert Hall earlier this year, I wrote:

“A few words about Principal Horn Dale Clevenger:  the veteran musician has a legendary reputation, but as I’ve stated before, Principal Horn can be a lightning rod for criticism in any orchestra, and Mr. Clevenger has been taking a lot of hits in the Chicago media for his playing as of late.  As recently as a few weeks ago when this same Honneger/Bates/Franck program was premiered in Chicago, John von Rhein, music critic for the Chicago Tribunemade a point of singling out Mr. Clevenger for “several splattered entrances.”   During the first half of Friday’s concert, I had forgotten all of that; however, during the Franck, there wasn’t a single exposed horn line that didn’t cause me to squirm due to a rough entrance, or more disturbing, some very questionable intonation.    The all-around excellence and precision of the rest of the orchestra just made those moments that much more notable.  Hate to point it out, but there you go.” (CK Dexter Haven, All is Yar:  Feb 22, 2012)

Let’s hope things don’t get uglier and instead get resolved on the proverbial high note.

Meanwhile, things are much brighter for Andrew Bain, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Principal Horn.  Though he’s only been in the job for just over a year,  he’s already made his mark in many ways:  some great playing with the orchestra (a recent example detailed HERE), being named as new horn instructor for The Colburn School’s Conservatory of Music, and most recently, as one of the poster children in Downtown Los Angeles’s latest marketing campaign.  Check it out in the video above.

(BTW:  Among the many DTLA locales he mentions is Lazy Ox Canteen . . . more on that awesome place to come in a future post).

8 thoughts on “Andrew Bain and Dale Clevenger: two Principal Horns in very different situations

  1. Seems as though there is a pretty good chance that Clevenger will go down fighting, if Muti is unwilling to deal directly with his playing; on the other hand, there’s that report of Muti having dinner or whatever with Clevenger. Perhaps they discussed his playing.

    Don’t know whether you have heard Robert Ward, SFS’s principal horn, but he is awesomely great.


    • I’m not sure if Bob Ward or David Krehbiel was playing Principal Horn the last time I saw the SFS. Whoever it was, they did a nice job. As you and I discussed previously, what I know better is that it took absolutely forever for MTT to finally give Mr. Ward the Principal Chair.


  2. It is interesting to see your post regarding Mr. Bain and Mr. Clevenger. heard Mr. Bain perform on the Mahler 5th Symphony Concert on October 26, 2012.He was brilliant. I was reminded of a similar performance of the same symphony by the Chicago Symphony under maestro Abbado in 1980 – with Mr. Clevenger as the Principal Horn. Mr. Clevenger should bow out gracefully, but like professional athletes at the highest level, it is difficult to leave the arena when skills have eroded. It’s a shame.


  3. Pingback: Five concerts, four conductors at different stages of their relationship w/ the LA Phil (part 3 of 4): Esa-Pekka Salonen then and now « All is Yar

  4. Pingback: Dale Clevenger to retire from CSO this June; let the speculation begin about who could possibly fill his shoes « All is Yar

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