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 Tribune, made 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).