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Archive for Sunday, January 19, 1992

FROM HORNS TO BATONS WITH BARRY TUCKWELL

January 19, 1992

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Barry Tuckwell divides his time between the horn and the baton. On the French horn, he's one of the world's best. With the baton, he's led some excellent orchestras, including Britain's Northern Sinfonia.

"I don't organize my schedule so that I'm playing 50 percent solo and 50 percent conducting, but it works out that way,'' said Tuckwell, who will bring the Northern Sinfonia chamber orchestra on Friday to Lawrence. "I just naturally evolved into conducting. About 20 years ago I conducted for Andre Previn. I hadn't conducted a professional orchestra before, although I had led a number of school orchestras. But I started then, and it took off from that point.''

Tuckwell will conduct the 23-piece orchestra at an 8 p.m. concert at the Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall as part of the Kansas University Concert Series. The featured soloist is violinist Young Uck Kim.

UNDER ARTISTIC Director Heinrich Schiff, the Northern Sinfonia plays primarilly in Newcastle, Carlisle and Teesside in the industrial northern area of England. The Sinfonia became the first British chamber group to build its own rehearsal and administration center and, more recently, to branch out into digital-audio tape with a recording of Beethoven's Choral Symphony.

Tuckwell selected the program on what will be the group's third U.S. tour. The scheduled works include the Concerto No. 5 in A major by Mozart with Kim as soloist; the Symphony No. 29 in A major, also by Mozart; "Ode'' by contemporary composer Robin Holloway; and the Sinfonia in E flat major by Johann Christian Bach.

TUCKWELL SAID that since the Sinfonia is a British orchestra, he chose two pieces with British roots. Holloway, the composer of "Ode,'' is British.

"He's one of our younger composers, in his early 40s," Tuckwell said. "He's very highly regarded. This piece is for chamber orchestras with two oboes and two horns. It's a very accessible, beautiful piece of music.''

And although the other three pieces are by German composers, J.C. Bach had strong ties to Britain during his career.

"He's referred to as the English Bach because he spent so much time composing in England," Tuckwell said. "He also had a great influence on Mozart. So I thought it was appropriate to include this little piece.''

TUCKWELL has conducted the Sinfonia periodically since 1980. In 1982, he became the founding conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra after holding guest conducting posts in London, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Detroit. He finds the demands of his two callings performing and conducting decidedly different.

"When you're playing solo, you're responsible for your own performance,'' he said. "If you want to play loud you play loud, and if you want to play soft you play soft. But a conductor of course makes semaphore gestures to musicians. You can't control what every musician does.''

Born in 1931 in Melbourne, Australia, Tuckwell studied piano and organ and sang in a cathedral choir. But he found his true calling in the music world the French horn when he was 13.

"I DIDN'T choose it, it came my way,'' he said. "I studied the piano, the organ and the violin, and finally I tried the horn. I wouldn't have been a professional musician with any other instrument. I wasn't inspired by it or attracted to it, I just started playing it through a friend of the family.''

After studying horn at the Sydney Conservatory, he moved to England, where he performed with a number of orchestras. He served for 13 years as first horn player the the London Symphony Orchestra, and in 1968 he launched his solo career. Young horn players can find his advice in instruction books he wrote for music publishers.

Like other renowned musicians, Tuckwell frequently travels back and forth from continent to continent. For example, he arrived in the United States last weekend after touring with the Sinfonia in England; he's been working this week in Maryland, and then this weekend he is flying to Tulsa, Okla., to begin the Sinfonia tour. After the Sinfonia jaunt, he goes back to Maryland, and then he's off to Australia for three weeks. Thus Tuckwell finds himself the master of the baton and the horn but the servant of the plane schedule.

"IT'S VERY time-consuming, and I don't enjoy it,'' he said. "I just had a 24-hour day traveling, and for me that's a whole day of my life going down the tubes. But it's part of the game. You shouldn't think negatively about it. The important part is the concert and the rehearsal, and I look forward to that. That's enough.''

Now a world-class conductor as well as musician, he said he enjoys his long-standing relationship with the Sinfonia. Its small size gives him an opportunity to tackle some of the subtler pieces in the Western repertoire.

"We can't play a Tchaikovsky symphony, but many people find that a chamber orchestra plays certain Haydn and Mozart symphonies better than large orchestras,'' he said. "Not that those orchestras aren't capable, but when you strip a symphony orchestra down to a smaller number of players they're not as experienced playing that way. The group has a different type of interaction.''

THE SINFONIA draws a loyal audience from the sizable industrial cities it serves, he said. And despite the overall cuts in government funding under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, the Sinfonia manages to thrive.

"It's doing very well,'' he said. "In fact, the arts council has just increased its funding as a sign of its great significance to the country. This is in the face of other groups that had their funding cut or have been kept at the same funding level.''

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