Welcome to Casual Conversations,
This month, we share with you a conversation between American hornist Dale Clevenger and Italian hornist Luca Benucci. Our interviewer is Dale Clevenger, principal horn with the Chicago Symphony for 47 years (1966-2013). Luca Benucci has performed all over the world, and for the last 20 years has been the principal horn with the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with Zubin Mehta as principal conductor. They begin by speaking about the opening of Bruckner 4, a beautiful moment in horn history. Here is a video of Luca performing the opening passage.
Jeff Nelsen, IHS President
Translation by Derrick Atkinson
Luca Benucci and Dale Clevenger Interview
Dale Clevenger (DC): Okay, this is Luca Benucci, famous hornist from Florence, Italy in the Maggio Musicale Opera. He was one of my students, how many years ago? I’ve forgotten.
Luca Benucci (LB): 25 years ago
DC: Really? Oh!
LB and DC: Laughing
DC: So, you’re now a very famous hornist, soloist, musician, and professor. The first question is, how was it for you to play Bruckner 4? With various Directors, who was your favourite? (Cell phone rings - expletive)
LB: For me, to play Bruckner 4 is a magnificent thing because it’s something very evocative. To think that even after the first measures with the strings who make this sonorous carpet, you need to express, with very few notes, the important continuity of the music. It should be easy, but in reality it isn’t - because the moment itself is difficult. Consequently, doing it with many Orchestras and Directors makes you realise how much you can risk. The last times that I played it [Bruckner 4] was with Maestro Zubin Mehta, and he gives you the possibility to be the soloist. He gives you the possibility to choose the sonority, the phrasing, he follows you… This is a great fortune having a Director like him, who follows everything that you do.
DC: Is he your favourite Director for Bruckner 4, or do you prefer someone else?
LB: With all of the Directors whom I’ve played Bruckner 4, surely Mehta is the one who gave me more, and with whom I’ve had the most fun. That’s the most important thing. I’ve done it in Germany, with other Directors, with many Horns, to try other types of sonorities. I’ve always tended to return to the Vienna Horn and the sound of the F Horn. For which, we return to the sonority of the waldhorn, which represents the forest, and is the horn within the forest that plays a certain kind of horn call, even if it is slow.
DC: With who else have you played Bruckner 4?
LB: I played it many years ago with Maestro Daniel Nazareth in the Leipzig Radio Orchestra, where I was first horn and we did diverse tours. But really, I’ve always done it with Mehta, though, because he likes this piece very much. We did it on tour in South America and many times with him.
DC: It’s different from me, and different from Roland Berger. The biggest part comes from the Director [Director’s influence]…a Great Maestro, I should say. So, have you played it with different instruments, or only with one?
LB: Yes! The first time I played it, it was on a Steve Lewis. The day after, in Berlin, on an Alexander. I was on tour, and so I ended up playing Bruckner 4 in 4 nights on 4 different instruments.
DC: Ah ha. Okay. Now, making a comparison between Bruckner 4 and the most difficult opera. Der Rosenkavalier, for example. Have you played all of Der Rosenkavalier?
LB: I played Der Rosenkavalier 2 years ago with Zubin Mehta.
LB: We played all of the Ring cycle with Zubin Mehta.
LB: We did Tristan und Isolde last year.
DC: Which is the most difficult one? Bruckner 4 or these others?
LB: The discussion is this, as you well know, there isn’t any symphony that is the most difficult or any opera that is the most difficult. For first horn, everything is complicated enough. It always depends on the joy, the passion, and the naturalness that you put into playing these things. Obviously, when you have a very good director, everything is easier. When you have a director who isn’t so good, everything gets a little complicated because he doesn’t know the music.
DC: Ah, I understand. Interesting. So, this is very interesting. Let’s hope for the Italians, those who speak Italian.
Jeff Nelsen: We’ll translate this interview to English.
DC: How many years did you play in Maggio?
LB: 20 years now.
DC: You have a new theatre now, yes?
LB: We have had a new Theatre for four years now with very beautiful characteristics. The only thing it lacks is good planning for the orchestra, and for the musical productions because, in any case, everything else we have is very beautiful and beautifully done.
DC: How many times are you playing in a year? Diverse concerts?
LB: Ultimately, always more. Let’s say that the last concerts that I’ve done have been Gliere with the Belgrade Philharmonic. And the most recent in Uruguay, still on Gliere. I will play Strauss 1, Mozart 2, and Haydn 2 very soon, and I will do some work with Chamber Music, and also with Organ and Horn in a new production. Organ and 4 Horns, 4 Trumpets, and 4 Organs. Let’s say that recently I have done many things as a soloist and I really like doing it.
DC: You now teach in which City? Which Conservatory?
LB: I teach at the Conservatory of Cesena.
DC: Cesena. How many students do you have?
LB: There are 6 ladies and one man.
DC: You have many students who play professionally now, yes?
LB: Now, yes. It has been a beautiful thing last year, 2014, my students won each audition that was held in Italy, some in Germany, some in Spain, and they’re very good, they’re very competitive. You know all of them because by now they’re all our students.
DC: Yes, interesting. My compliments!
LB: Thank you!
DC: So, where did you study? With whom? When?
LB: I studied here in Florence until I was 18-19 years old. Then, I transferred to Chicago to study with Maestro Dale Clevenger, I don’t know if you know him.
DC: Who is that?
LB: Who? A pretty good hornist, ha ha.
DC: Ha ha, let’s go on.
LB: Contemporaneously, I studied with Arnold Jacobs. They were magnificent years. After this beautiful experience, I continued to work and study. I was already first horn in Naples Italy from 1988-1992. During that time I was studying with an Argentine hornist named Guelfo Nalli, with Roger Bobo, and with Fergus McWilliam from the Berlin Philharmonic. Thereafter, when I went to Germany and began to take lessons with Stefan Dohr because he was the new first horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, he had a very open mind and mentality for music, and he was close enough to my age. From which, he was able to teach me everything about German music. And I explained to him how to drink Italian wine.
DC: Why was it important to study with a Tubist, with Arnold Jacobs?
LB: For me, from a didactic perspective, Arnold Jacobs was the person who opened up my mind the most; beyond bel canto and beyond breathing, he always gave you an option for how to resolve a problem by thinking about the quality - not only by focusing on the problem in order to resolve it, but searching to resolve the problem with various options. He also was a very just, good, and valid person, and this gave you a stimulus to study a lot. Just like yourself, and just like all of the other teachers with whom I have studied.
DC: I imagine that you studied quite a bit with singing, especially with singers from the Opera. How many times do you find a singer who sings truly beautifully, and you say ‘I would love to play like this…’?
LB: I had a clear example from the greatest singers, including Pavarotti, because working in a large Opera House with great Directors like Ozawa or Muti, the casts are always at the top tier. Specifically for the principle of imitation, when you hear these great singers singing, they do so naturally, which is what I try to do with my instrument.
DC: We are very happy to speak with you and to see you for this project. This is a project for international hornists.
LB: Beautiful, great! Thank you for having involved me!