Jonathan Boen  

A New Horn Concerto: From Concept To Recording - Part 1

Jonathan Boen
April 30, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

"Life would be so much better if only I had artistic control..."

It would be difficult to find a musician who hasn't had this thought cross their mind at one point or another in their career, and Lyric Opera of Chicago Principal Horn, Jon Boen, is no exception. However, in Jon's case he discovered that developing the initiative to capture artistic control is accompanied by a great deal of personal risk. Furthermore, the amount of that risk increases proportionately with the size of the project.

This article is the first of two where Jon recounts the details related to the costs - both economic and personal - of commissioning, performing, and recording a major concerto for French Horn and orchestra.

- Drew McManus

Click to Play Editor’s Note: This article is enhanced with high quality audio clips designed to let you listen to what you’re reading about. Wherever you see a musical notes icon like the one at the top of this paragraph, click to hear the corresponding audio file (try the one above to see how it works).

Ever since I started playing the French Horn, I’ve always wondered about the origin of each new concerto that I’ve encountered. Was it written for a specific performer? Who premiered the piece? Did the composer have a personal relationship with the musician for whom it was written? What was the inspiration for the composer? Where was it first performed? Was it well received? Many questions such as these can be easily answered through historical research.

However, I’ve still always marveled at what it might be like to be in the midst of bringing a new composition to life. I surmised that it must be extremely exciting to experience the process first hand. Eventually, I found myself wondering “How could I create a new concerto?” Well, obviously, I’d need a composer who was inclined to spend the time to write it, a commitment for performances, a lot of money, and time to practice. At that point in the process, the only thing I had from that list was time. As such, commissioning a horn concerto was more of a hopeful dream than a serious project.

Nevertheless, I remained committed to the idea, and by 1983 I had developed contacts that eventually resulted in securing the commission fee and funding for performances. By that same point in time I had also established myself as a professional player and developed a relationship with an excellent composer, so I brought all of these resources together to create what would become known as Horn Concerto.

Finding The Composer

I met Jan Bach in 1974 during my last year of high school while playing as a substitute musician with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra. The following year, as a freshman at Northern Illinois University, I joined the RSO horn section and commuted weekly to Rockford for services. Jan was serving as the Principal Horn of the section at that time and since we lived in the same area, we drove to services together.

We had great conversations during the car trips and consumed copious amounts of fresh cookies as we detoured past my parents’ home before heading back to NIU. I admired Jan on several levels: as a musician, a theory and composition professor, and especially as a gifted composer. Some of Jan’s works which I’ve also personally performed are his Laudes For Brass Quintet Click to play and Four 2-Bit ContraptionsClick to play.

Furthermore, Jan was intimately familiar with the French Horn’s capabilities, was acquainted with my abilities as a horn player, and was (and still is) extremely well respected in the brass community. All of these things led me to feel that Jan was an ideal choice to write my horn concerto.

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