She once had a whim and had to obey it

By William Dart

Anneke Scott will play NZ Barok.
Anneke Scott will play NZ Barok.

Horn player Anneke Scott is visiting from Britain as the featured soloist in two concerts with NZ Barok this weekend. She has just arrived in Auckland after "a bit of down time" in Glenorchy, with her New Zealand husband, composer John Croft.

"It was absolutely blissful," she says. "Just having the space to do some long-term practice right next to the lake."

Scott will play Mozart and Haydn on the valveless natural horn for which it was written.

"The horn is quite physically big and heavy for youngsters," she explains. "And some of its demands can be off-putting."

As a young girl in Birmingham, she was in the right place at the right time, benefiting from some of Britain's best school music programmes and having a role model in Claire Briggs, principal horn with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the time.

Her interest in the natural horn came early, from a teacher with a flair for "buying junkshop instruments and repairing them".

She explains his methods of "valvectomy", finding early 20th-century instruments, removing the valves, and "converting them into cheap natural horns".

"I was captivated. Although, a horn without valves is a challenge even to figure out, especially after a modern instrument. As I got more into it, the colours were just wonderful," she enthuses. "For the first time, as a brass player, I had the instrument for which my music had been written. In chamber ensembles I could really play out, without watching the audience to see if they could hear anyone else."

She explains the complex use of the right hand on the bell of the instrument, likening it to what a sculptor might do with wet clay. "It's your right hand that creates this array of colours. When you make all those contortions with it, you can change the sound from muscled to bright, and all those musical colours come into play."

A key moment in Beethoven's Eroica Symphony shows how composers were aware of the special tonal qualities of her instrument.

"About two-thirds of the way through the first movement, Beethoven asks the horn to go up from E flat to F for just eight bars. The difference in sound makes the hair on the back of your neck ascend; you're in a new world. You don't get that contrast with modern instruments."

Scott is playing the last of Mozart's four concertos with NZ Barok, a work that "everyone will know from the Flanders and Swann song," she laughs, reviving memories of Michael Flanders singing Mozart's finale to the words, "I once had a whim and I had to obey it, to buy a French horn in a second-hand shop."

"One of the great things about Mozart is that he showcases the voice-like, songful quality of the instrument," she explains. "Whenever you play his music, especially the concertos, you feel like characters in an opera. You can see them very clearly and there's a huge range of emotions, sometimes in just one movement." Scott enjoys "the challenge of telling a story and giving out a plot line".

She is also looking forward to joining the orchestral ranks for two symphonies by Mozart and Haydn. She sees it as being not so much orchestral work, but demanding an "extended chamber music approach. With no conductor, you have to communicate all the more with your fellow players and your radar is constantly on alert."

- NZ Herald

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