Perfect Match3:32, 24th November 2016
Since being a finalist in this year’s BBC Young Musician, horn player Ben Goldscheider has seen several opportunities come his way. He talked to Femke Colborne about teachers, careers, and the French horn as a solo instrument.
Ben Goldscheider might never have picked up a French horn had he not come down with a chronic lung condition. At the age of nine, he was diagnosed with bronchiectasis, an abnormal widening of the passageways into the lungs leading to a persistent cough and increased risk of infection. It occurred to his parents, who are both professional musicians, that playing a brass instrument might help to strengthen his lungs.
It was a match made in heaven. Ten years later, Goldscheider is celebrating having won the brass section of this year’s BBC Young Musician (and reaching the grand final alongside Jess Gillam and winner Sheku Kanneh- Mason), has just embarked on a fouryear period of study at a highly selective new music academy set up in Berlin by Daniel Barenboim – and has even been described as ‘a musical Bear Grylls’ by the Huffington Post. He’s also just recorded his first CD with Willowhayne Records, featuring works by composers including Schumann, York Bowen, Kalevi Aho and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Born in Colindale, north London, Goldscheider had an early musical start in life thanks to his mother and father, a violinist and violist respectively. He started playing the cello aged six, but music was not his only passion – he also played tennis at a national level, at one point training for 25 hours a week, plus matches and tournaments. But at the age of 13, he decided it was time to make a decision about the direction he wanted his life to go in.
‘I gave up the cello and the tennis because I needed to focus,’ he says. ‘It was just a case of time. It’s not possible to do four or five things and do them all to the best that you can. It became more enjoyable after that. I loved that I could sit in my room for as long as I wanted and focus on getting better at something. I just loved music and it seemed natural to do what my parents were doing. And I loved the sound of the instrument, and was listening to CDs and YouTube all the time. That lit my fire and that was it.’
Teachers and heroes
Goldscheider studied for eight years with Susan Dent, initially at the Junior Royal College of Music and later at the main college. ‘She is amazing, and I really want you to quote me on that,’ he says. ‘She is an unbelievable teacher and gave me so much space to learn. I’ve never met someone so humble and knowledgeable. I was able to learn for myself but I also had this amazing guidance. Many people have to change their embouchure later, but there was never a point where I had to stop and go back to the start. I felt she always had a plan for me and an amazing knowledge of the fundamentals.’
While Dent was giving him a solid grounding, Goldscheider also turned to YouTube for inspiration and discovered the man who would go on to become his biggest inspiration: Czech horn player Radek Baborák. ‘In the same way as Roger Federer is in tennis, he was my idol from the start,’ he says. ‘I have watched every single one of his YouTube videos.’
In January 2015, Goldscheider was delighted to be invited to Prague to have a lesson with Baborák. ‘People often say that when you meet your heroes you are disappointed, but I had the opposite experience,’ he says. ‘He said some really nice things.’
The meeting did not initially result in regular contact, but in May this year, Goldscheider received an email from Baborák explaining that he had been appointed as a teacher at the Barenboim-Said Academy and offering him a place to study there. ‘He told me what it entailed and it was like a dream. There was no way I could say no.’
The academy is Barenboim’s latest attempt to improve opportunities for young musicians from the Middle East, in the same spirit as the conductor pianist’s famous West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. It will train young musicians from the Middle East alongside others from Europe, with a focus on a broad arts and humanities education as well as music.
Apart from the opportunity to study with his hero, Goldscheider is enthusiastic about the broad educational focus of the Berlin-based conservatoire. ‘It will be really interesting to apply this kind of knowledge to music,’ he says. ‘With music, there is a danger you can get locked in a practice room worrying about how your scales are sounding. It’s all connected – classes in philosophy, history and theory give you such a rounded context. If you understand the time when the music was written, you understand more about what the composer was thinking. You can find a deeper meaning.’
He’s also looking forward to masterclasses with Barenboim: ‘He can bypass the technical aspects of the horn and just suggest musical ideas. He won’t say: “You can’t play that phrase that way because you will need to take a breath there.”’
In the longer term, Goldscheider is determined to make a go of becoming a professional solo horn player, despite the lack of precedent – and the lack of music. ‘I know it’s easier said than done but I would love to be a soloist and promote the horn as a solo instrument in a way that has not been done in the mainstream before,’ he says. ‘I’d like to have a big focus on contemporary music and I would love composers to write music for me, so that when my career is over I can leave something for other people.’
As for the bronchiectasis, his parents may have been right: the condition no longer troubles him. ‘If I get a cold or anything it’s much worse and takes me longer to recover, but it doesn’t affect me now otherwise,’ he says. He believes this is down to a combination of the horn playing and the fact that he still exercises regularly, playing football and tennis recreationally. But he has no regrets about giving up high-level sport to focus on the horn.
‘I just love the sound of the instrument. To me, it’s obvious that it should be a solo instrument. I want to spread the word and the joy of the horn. We are very lucky to have four Mozart concertos and a couple of Strauss concertos, but compared to other instruments that is very limited. I would like to add to the repertoire and show off what the horn can do. I want people to know it more as a solo instrument and appreciate its versatility.’