Blow Out: NW Horn Orchestra Expands Repertoire

OPB | Feb. 28, 2014 6 a.m. | Portland

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Some instruments have all the fun. Whenever orchestral music calls for a splashy solo, violins, pianos, even trumpets and flutes are frequently called on to give voice to some of the flashiest musical ideas. What then, of the horn? Tricky to play,  indispensable to the brass section, and not actually French, the instrument has been used to great effect in the classical canon. Still, its players don’t often get the chance to work together in force.

Members of the Northwest Horn Orchestra in rehearsal. Most of them play in several other professional groups, so scheduling rehearsals was complicated, says organizer Jen Harrison.

Members of the Northwest Horn Orchestra in rehearsal. Most of them play in several other professional groups, so scheduling rehearsals was complicated, says organizer Jen Harrison.

Northwest Horn Orchestra

Eighteen of the best professional horn brass players from all over Oregon will gather Friday night in Portland to make room for the horn. The Northwest Horn Orchestra plans to play a wide range of material, from Robert Schumann, Carl Maria von Weber and also, Queen. That’s right, Queen.

Jen Harrison, the organizer of the show, filled us in. “One horn is great but more is even better,” Harrison said. “To execute an entire piece of music using  just horns is something we don’t get to do a lot.”

The group draws heavily on arrangements made by the London Symphony Horn section, which has adapted various pieces for horn and made them available. The Northwest Horn Orchestra also has a number of arrangers among its numbers, Harrison says. She herself worked on one piece this year, from the world music group Baka Beyond. The group also likes to commission a new work every year. This year’s show features a piece written by PSU Jazz Studies instructor Charlie Gray, entitled, “Playland.”

The ensemble likes to try different complementary sounds, adding a more orchestral feel. For this week’s show, rhythm sections, alphorns, and singers from the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus enter the mix.

Harrison promises a few surprises, and will not rule out judicious use of alphorns.

Harrison promises a few surprises, and will not rule out judicious use of alphorns.

Northwest Horn Orchestra

Harrison has played trumpet with several classical and rock groups around Western Oregon, but finds the sound of the horn most deeply satisfying. “I just feel better after I play. People come up to me after concerts and say the horn is their favorite instrument.”

Information on the performance can be found on the orchestra’s page.

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