By Luca Benucci
The success of the Italian School of horn playing and teaching is due to the contribution of great soloists whose playing and teaching culminated in a special school and style of playing. These players include Rossari, Belloli, Righini, De Angelis, Baccelli, Samson, and Bartolini. Today, the Italian School is divided into many technical philosophies but all converge into one musical ideal.
One philosophy, represented by a leading international hornist, Allesio Allegrini, is based on beauty of tone and virtuosity inspired by the greats of the past and present such as Luciano Giuliani and Domenico Ceccarossi.
My philosophy and approach distinguishes me from these greats – it is a combination of American tradition and techniques, European-style mentality (especially German), and Italian pathos, bel canto, plus a Latin temperament. My teaching philosophy can be summed up in three letters: A (air), B (buzz and blow), and C (canta/sing). Over the past two decades, thanks to Dale Clevenger and others, the technical level of horn players and other brass players in Italy has evolved greatly.
It is always interesting to place philosophies and pedagogical approaches into schools of thought for comparison. This is why I organized the Italian Brass Week in such a way that there are masters from all over the world, like Stefan Dohr and Dale Clevenger, who present master classes for students across the globe.
The Evolution of Horn Players, Luca, and Key Points for Growth and Professional Development
My initiation into the world of music originated with my town band where my father was the leader of Impruneta G. Verdi. Like all the provinces in Italy, the town band tradition is a hotbed of new talent. Including myself, the past three principal horns of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino came from my small town near Florence.
In the early 1980’s, Riccardo Muti began inviting musicians from the Curtis Institute of Music to Italy. Zubin Mehta continued this tradition. Because of Muti and Mehta, David Bryant, Alan Patterson, Tim Bryson, Bill Campbell, Mike Alpern, Bill Braun, Brian Moon, John Holt, Torsten Edvard, Howard Hilliard, Steve Grenhagel, Charles Putnam, and many others came to play in the Italian orchestras. These musicians both contributed significantly to brass technique and pedagogy and opened the eyes and ears of all Florentine musicians.
I remember when I was very young and watched with awe at what David Bryant could do both musically and technically on his instrument. He was my first inspiration into the world of “Air,” the “Buzz,” and most importantly, an ease of playing. After graduating, I had my crucial meeting with Arnold Jacobs and Dale Clevenger. From that moment on, I felt like a new man: Luca Benucci – aware, disciplined, and motivated by these great teachers.
In 1987, I finally began to reap the benefits of studying with these great teachers. Happy, but not satisfied, I looked for a mentor in Europe and had the good fortune to meet Guelph Nalli (Argentina) and Roger Bobo (tuba). These men shaped my playing by incorporating new forms of art and thought, and the results were rapid. At only 24 years old, I was appointed to the position of solo horn in Mittel Deutsches Rundfunk in Leipzig. Once in Germany, I met Fergus McWilliam and Stefan Dohr, who together made a further change to my style and especially to my mind. I believe that my growth and maturity as a musician can inspire other students to both work hard and make mature musical choices.
Italian Professional Status and the Employment Situation
Today the Italian brass, horn, and other musicians are at a high enough level to rival those in prestigious orchestras in Europe and the United States. Over the past 30 years, we have seen the likes of:
A. Bandini, principal of the Swiss Romande
Simone Candotto, principal or the NDR Hamburg
Andrea Conti, member of Bayerisches Stattsoper
Daniele Morandini, principal of IPO
Massimo la Rosa, principal of Cleveland Orchestra
*Luca Benucci, principal of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
-Both are active musicians with major orchestras in Europe and America
The current employment situation in Italy is not the best. The Italian government seems to want to shut down all orchestras and opera houses. I routinely mention to my students to aim for a place where there is a respect and love for their art. I also remind them that it is okay to remain in Italy, if they choose to do so. The labor system in Italy is very different compared to other countries in the EU and the US. It is neither easy nor difficult — it is just different because the bureaucratic system slows the process down considerably. To any Americans or non-EU citizen, there is the possibility of auditioning for and working with EU orchestras, but the priority is generally given to EU citizens.
I have had many job offers abroad, but due to my family and lifestyle, I have always refused them. I will keep my options open, but for now I choose to live in Italy — the land of Art.
Luca Benucci is the principal horn of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra under Maestro Zubin Mehta, solo horn of the Nuovo Quintetto Italiano (Italian Brass Quintet), professor of horn at the Conservatory of Cesena Bruno Maderna, Musical Director of Santa Fiora in Musica, and Manager/Artistic Director Italian Brass Week.