Kerry Turner (Photo: kerryturner.com)

Kerry Turner

Horn

Kerry Turner

Kerry Turner ist inzwischen ein weltweit bekannter Name, nicht nur in Hornkreisen, sondern in der Blechbläserwelt allgemein. Ob als Komponist oder als ausübender Künstler auf dem Horn – er erscheint regelmäßig auf den großen, internationalen Konzertpodien. Hauptsächlich konzertiert er mit dem weltberühmten American Horn Quartet (AHQ), dem Virtuoso Horn Duo und dem Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Die Konzerttätigkeit mit diesen Ensembles führte ihn bisher auf vier Kontinente. Kerry Turner wird zudem häufig als Solist eingeladen und ist als Hornlehrer sehr gefragt. So hat er bereits in Deutschland, Frankreich, Portugal, Schweiz, Japan, den USA und der Tschechischen Republik konzertiert und unterrichtet. Gebürtig in San Antonio, Texas (USA), studierte Kerry Turner in New York und erlangte dort sein Diplom an der Manhattan School of Music. Seine Studien führte er bei Herrmann Baumann an der Stuttgarter Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst weiter. Nach seinem Studium gewann er den fünften Platz beim internationalen Hornwettbewerb in Genf sowie die Bronzemedaille bei dem 39. Internationalen Musikwettbewerb Prager Frühling. Kerry Turners kompositorische Karriere hat sich in den vergangenen Jahren kometenartig entwickelt. Seine Werke für Horn in Kombination mit den verschiedensten kammermusikalischen Formationen werden weltweit gehört und geschätzt. Von vielen Organisationen hat er Kompositionsaufträge erhalten, u.a. von der United States Air Force Band Heritage of America, der Philharmonie Luxembourg, dem Japanischem Hornensemble und der Richmond Virginia Chamber Music Society. Kerry Turners größter Erfolg in letzter Zeit war ein Auftrag und die Weltpremiere seines Hornkonzerts mit dem Detroit Symphony unter der Leitung von Leonard Slatkin.

Fragen an den Musiker: 

How did you come to choose your instrument?

I didn’t have any choice. My father was a band director and in the 1960’s it was difficult to find horn players. Everybody wanted to play trumpet or flute. Everyone in my family is a musician. My father said for horn you need to have a very good ear, and he thought that I was smart, and you need to be intelligent to play horn. I’m left handed – funny, not many people think about that, horn is a left handed instrument. And so he said: Kerry you will play the horn. And that was that. So in the end, it was my father’s decision, and I did as I was told. My father also wanted me to be a composer. It all started at the same time. He never thought I would be a professional horn player. He thought I would be a composer. But I really fell in love with the horn back then and I really loved it – I don’t know if I still do now but I did back then. That’s how I came to play the horn.

A very interesting thing happened in the late 70’s, when all the John Williams soundtracks came out, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws – the horn parts were the hero parts. So it made us feel really important to play horn.

How important to you is the conductor?

Well, I’m now 54 years old and my priority has changed.  I don’t have the same relationship to conductors as a younger member would. Also my training is different. I was trained in America, and in America the conductor is more a functional member of the ensemble. It’s not the authority, Toscanini figure that you find very often here. When you’re younger, you’re more dependent on, and have a lot of respect for the maestro. Everybody is so different, different nationalities, different types of schooling, so we could never agree. So we need to have a conductor to say: Ok, so for better or for worse, this is the interpretation or this is the tempo and we have to agree. That’s just the way it works. So it’s his job to be the final say. And also you need someone to say: Shut up, we’re starting – to lead the rehearsals. But when it comes to the concerts, I personally do not need inspiration or enthusiasm from a dynamic conductor. I think the younger musicians love that. And I’ve noticed in the orchestra there is a real division. Because some of us think like me, and many think like the younger players and they don’t understand us, although the older ones understand them. We understand the younger generation.  They don’t really see our point of view. When the conductor makes a lot of drama, it only messes me up.  I’m maybe wrong about this, but I think that conductors in a certain way prefer the younger players because they are new and fresh and they are enthusiastic. It is difficult for them and I’m aware of these dynamics between older players and the conductors. So I keep my distance usually. Even with conductors I really like I still keep my distance. The nature, the character of a conductor is to demand attention and authority. But having said this, I have to praise the younger members of the OPL – many times we’re in a situation where I have played a piece so many times and they’re seeing it for the first time. Like we just recorded Till Eulenspiegel. I know every note. I can write it on a piece of paper, and yet some of them never played it. I was shocked about that. But boy, this younger generation is good. Monday it was still difficult, but by Tuesday they were ready to go. I found that many of them researched, they went home listened to recordings – they have a good conscience – that surprised me.

Who is your favourite composer and which work do you most enjoy playing?

Now this is difficult. Favorite composer – there are so many good composers. In my own opinion the grandmaster of composers must be Johann Sebastian Bach. This is in my opinion some of the most unbelievable music ever written. The people still love everything he wrote and it’s masterfully written. It influenced so many composers. Then you start looking at the other great geniuses, Johannes Brahms – I mean just magnificent music – Richard Strauss of course. It is very different, what you like to play and who your favorite composer is. Bach is my favorite composer. But my favorite composer to play must be Richard Strauss because the horn parts are fantastic, never boring and melodic - his sense for melody is just magnificent – and his orchestration! As a composer I see how he develops themes and motives. It’s astounding what he writes. I’m also a big fan of Arnold Schönberg – not a lot of people are. From a composers point of view, when you’re in the middle of Schönberg, and you finally understand how he put it together, it’s fascinating. The audience, I don’t think, understands it. But when you’re in the middle of it, and you learn it, you realize what a brilliant piece of music it is.

If you would go to lonely island, which music would you take with you?

Let me think. This is a tough one. I’ve actually done this. I was one time on the Island of Guam and I had a cassette of the Bach Violin concertos. Probably that’s what I would take with me.

How important to you are the orchestra’s tours?

The Tours are very important because it shows the world what this orchestra can do. You see, we’re kind of off the grid in a way. I think a lot of people are not aware of how good this orchestra is. And people don’t generally think about Luxembourg in general  - outside in the giant world. We’re one of the only organizations in Luxembourg that has a worldwide reputation. There are not too many people or organizations that do here. So it’s very important to show that the culture is very alive here and we have a good orchestra. I remember back during the years when David Shallon was the conductor, we did a lot of concerts in the conservatoire back then. They were good concerts with good audiences and after the concerts, we’d go over to a pizzeria and we would sit down afterwards, and we would hold our glasses of beer high and would say, “You know, we played so great tonight! But nobody outside of Luxembourg will ever know about it.” And it was a kind of a bitter-sweet thing. Outside in the great music world it’s not been recognized. People know that New York Philharmonic is playing Mahler 5 with Georg Solti and La Scala is doing such and such.

It’s also important because when we go and play in the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna or in the Kölner Philharmonie or in Paris, you go and you see the advertising poster, who’s there, and you realize Pittsburgh was there yesterday, and Berlin is there after that and today it’s us. And it makes you feel important, like you count.

What does music mean to you?

I thought about this question, and there is a really good quote from Winston Churchill. When they needed more funding for the war effort, they suggested cutting funding for the arts. And Churchill’s answer was, “What in the world are we fighting for? Why would you do that?” That is the essence of our civilization. Why would you do that? Then you’re cutting the very essence of the spirit of your country. I thought that was a fantastic answer, because it shows that he understood, like many great men, how important the arts are to civilization, to the civilizing of man and the uplifting of mankind out of a difficult place. Right now even, we’re not nearly as bad as in World War II, but the world is in a difficult place, and you need the arts, you need culture, you need music to uplift mankind – Humanity – to give hope. And so it’s the very spirit of a culture, I think. At least from an artist’s point of view, what defines, great cities, great countries for me are their arts. So it’s important to great cultures and societies that music and art play an important role.

Who or what is most important in your life?

That’s a very personal question. A lot people in Luxembourg and in the orchestra would not notice this about me, but I’m actually a very religious person, or a spiritual person, I guess is the best way to put it. My own relationship with god or a god figure, however you want to say it, is very important. It has become more important as I have gotten older. And also my wife, of course, is extremely important to me. We have a very, very strong bond. We’re soul mates. God and my wife- and they’re not the same thing.

And what is important to me is what I said earlier, that my “Aufgabe”, my duty, in my life is to try to uplift people – to try to bring people out of the mud, out of the darkness of the world we’re in right now. I think that I can help. I can’t do it alone obviously. I’m only a small part, but I can help through my own compositions and through my own performances to try to make people feel a difference, that there is something out there, there is hope out there. I remember a couple of years ago, we did Mahler 9, and a friend of mine I sing with was in the audience. I was playing first horn, and I was so concentrated that I was mostly a technician. I was just putting the notes in the right place where they belong. And after the concert, he came to me and he said, “I was so moved. I could hardly breathe because I was so uplifted by what the orchestra did.” And of course I was like, “Really? Didn’t you hear me? … I missed that note … we were out of tune.”  I was in a different place. But that’s my point, that we uplift people with our concerts. I think that’s my duty.

What do you do in your spare time?

I sing in a choral ensemble, which is kind of a hobby. But composition is taking so much of my time. And obviously the horn quartet as well as solo and duet concerts with my wife. But I do have spare time. I do what a lot of Luxembourgers do. I’m an epicurean. We cook well and we eat well and I go to the sauna a lot. I enjoy my live. I have my own gym at home where I do bodybuilding. And I travel, learn languages, you know, what most Luxembourgers my age do. And that’s what I do in my spare time.

Do you like listening to other types of music?

I do. When I was growing up, I only listened to classical music. And my parents wanted me to listen to other types of music, and I just never did and I still don’t. What I started doing is, I started getting fascinated and really liking folk music from other countries. I really enjoy indigenous music from foreign countries. We very often listen to folk music when we cook from those countries. Like when we cook Lebanese food we’ll have middle-eastern music. If we cook Korean food we have Korean music. If I make south-western Texas food, we put on Country and Western music and Mexican music.

So I do listen to folk music. It sounds funny but, sometimes we put on music from a Turkish Harem!  It’s really relaxing and nice, and you feel like you’re in another world. So when I’m not listening to classical, I listen to Folk music.

Are there other musicians or composers who have especially influenced you?

I studied with the great Horn player Hermann Baumann. I still think about Hermann Baumann every time I practice. He was only in Stuttgart for two years, but in those two years I was there. I think that’s a typical answer most musicians can say, that their great Professor was so influential. Hermann Baumann had a lot influence on me for sure. But, in recent years, I have found great inspiration by other performers. My Horn quartet did a CD recording with the horn section from the New York Philharmonic back about ten years ago. I was worried a bit because these are fantastic players, and I knew the recording would be going fast. But I wanted it to be at a such a high level that everybody would say: That’s the best I ever heard. So I was watching television when I saw a documentary film about Cecilia Bartoli, and about her album. As I watched it, I was so inspired, I bought the album and listened to it. Then I bought the DVD of the documentary and watched it. And I saw how she approached every single thing she was singing with incredible intensity – every single note was so important. So Cecilia Bartoli had a huge influence on me and still does. When I play a concerto, I try to go out there and “take no prisoners.” – full intensity all the way through.

And the other one is Luciano Pavarotti. When he was at the end of his career, later in his life, he was still singing great concerts. In order to do this, he had to have incredible concentration. The young Pavarotti would go out there and just sing at the top of his lungs, and it all worked. As he got older, you can see in his eyes that he was completely focused – getting the placement just right, getting the breath just right. He was totally in this small, intense tunnel. As I get older, I see that I have to do that a lot. I have to really concentrate like that. So, watching these great artists have had great influence on me.

What brought you to Luxembourg and what do you particularly like about being here?

Actually that’s a complicated answer. I was playing in Gürzenich, in the Orchestra in Cologne in 1984. The Monet Opera in Bruxelles offered me, without audition, the solo horn there. I was very young. I was only like 23 years old, and I did some productions in Brussels, and they offered me the job.  So I stopped the job in Cologne, and I realized quickly that it was a mistake because it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I came home one night from a particularly bad performance of Meistersinger. I turned on the television and that’s when they used to play the old RTL recordings. I saw this Orchestra playing Daphnis and Chloé. Back then, this was the real calling card of the Orchestra. And I saw this and thought this sounds great. I happened by chance to see that they had a job open here- First-third horn. I didn’t even apply for the job. I just called ahead and showed up, what they call crashing an audition. I just showed up and asked if I could play. So that’s how I got here –there were about 25-26 candidates at the audition, but I won the job. I started very quickly after that. They took me straight in.

So what brought me here was a disappointing couple of weeks in Brussels. Also I have to say, that was an Opera Orchestra, as was Gürzenich, and I’m not so much an Opera horn player, I’m more of a symphonic horn player. This Orchestra was a symphonic Orchestra so I decided to come here for that reason. And I knew nothing of Luxembourg at all. And I really thought I would stay like one or two years.

Right now I’m not so happy here as the entire city is under construction and that’s driving me crazy! It’s going to be that way for the next four years. So it has good and bad sides. What I like is the multilingual side of it. When I learned French, it opened up Italian and Spanish. When I learned German, it opened up Luxembourgish and Dutch. So began to learn all those languages - that’s a hobby here. That’s been a great thing because I developed a very big reputation in the Netherlands, France and Italy only because I spoke the languages, and therefore could go and play there. You can do radio interviews or e-mail correspondence, and set up concerts. And you do it in their languages. So I like that side of it for sure. But it does have a downside. When I am in England or in Germany, it’s nice when everybody is speaking the same language. It becomes a little bit looser,  a friendlier place. Everybody is part of the same community and you’re a little more relaxed. I think sometimes in Luxembourg people don’t talk to each other because they don’t know what language to speak.  You go to the places where you know people. You don’t tend to have a general community feeling when you just go out onto the street. I mean, I don’t have that anyway, but maybe other people do. I noticed when I was in England everybody talked to each other. So there is a sort of present Englishness going on and I enjoyed that.

Probably the things I like in Luxembourg are: I have a lot of friends here and the languages. And also you’re close to other great places.  I get to Paris fast. I get to Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne fast. I can get to cool places very quickly.

What do you think OPL will be like in 5 years’ time and what would you particularly wish for the orchestra’s future?

The Orchestra has gotten slowly better over the past 30 years. A lot of young people come into the Orchestra and they complain about things. And I always say, “You should have seen what it used to be like.” Things are getting better all the time. A lot of this is because of the Philharmonie has lifted everything up to a higher level. I can only see that things will continue to get better as far as the musicians and the orchestra are concerned. Every time they take new players in, they are better and better. It’s a steady improvement from the musician’s side. I like the way the administration is really trying to connect with us. They are really trying hard to connect and to develop a relationship. I would like to see that get better. I don’t know that it will because these are two different machines. The people who drive the machine and the machine itself are two different things. I don’t know if that will happen.

I would like to see that the OPL have the same touring reputation we had back during the Leopold Hager years. Back in those years, we did some really nice tours and had a big reputation in the RTL years. Even though we are a better orchestra now. By a long shot we are better than we were, but we had a bigger name back then. So I would like to see the orchestra establish itself more on the international stage more.

Are there also some funny moments or anecdotes to tell about the day to day life in an orchestra?

There must be thousands, but I can’t think of any now. I know there are a lot of laughs and there are also nervous moments.  For a while there were times when we were at the conservatoire, sometimes at the Villa Louvigny, and sometimes you went to the wrong place. That used to happen a lot actually. It never happens now because we are mostly at the Philharmonie. You went to the wrong hall or you got the time wrong – that happened regularly with different musicians.

Another one is at concerts, when the conductor has the orchestra stand up. Everybody stands up with a stomp – they all stomp on the floor and stand up. This is a funny little tradition we do and I don’t even know if the audience can hear it. We do it more with some conductors and less with other conductors and it’s fun.

One story I will never forget – the orchestra was in Ljubljana and I was playing Mahler 4, which has a really big horn part. I only played the second half. So the entire day I was thinking only about that. I went early to the hall, and by the way, a lot of the soloists in the orchestra live this life, where you have to think about that all day long. I went to the hall early, I warmed up and I put my horn there in the hall. Then I took my mouthpiece out and took it back to my hotel room just to make sure I kept my lips buzzing. Afterwards I went all dressed in my Frack to the concert hall ready to go out there, when I realize I’d have left my mouthpiece in the hotel room. So I had to run as fast as I could back to the hotel, get my mouthpiece, to get back just in time, to sit down and play. The entire day’s preparation was ruined because that silly, little incident.

How was your playing? Those are usually good concerts. I played on what you call self-two. Self-one is telling you everything you do right or wrong and your self-two is completely removed from that, and it works on automatic pilot. Self-two comes in when your day totally collapses around you like that, and it was totally self-two.

How is your instrument feeling and what does it have to say about that?

This is a very interesting question because I’m stopping my activities with the American Horn Quartet. This horn is for the American Horn Quartet, it is a chamber music horn – it is not good in the orchestra. It is for playing very subtle, musical phrasing and nuances, just exactly like you want it in chamber music. Now that I’m going to be doing more orchestra, I bought a new horn for the orchestra. So this old instrument is feeling like a cow put out to pasture, it’s not wanted anymore.

Johann Sebastian Bach is quoted saying, whenever he would go to construct an organ or renovate an organ, he would say, “Let’s test it’s lungs.” So that’s what I say to this horn- let’s test his lungs. And I play a Bach excerpt.