AHQ and Friends Perform at Memorial Concert for Dennis Brain

Posted By on September 13, 2007

On September 1st, 1957, the great horn player, Dennis Brain, perished in an auto accident as he was driving over night from Edinburgh to London. Dennis Brain is of course well known to almost every horn player around the world, and is hailed as the single most important hornist of the 20th century. The members of the AHQ, as well as their horn player wives, and I all grew up listening to his spectacular recordings of the Mozart Concerti, the Strauss Concerti, as well as his remarkable rendition of the Dukas Villanelle and Schumann Adagio and Allegro.

Therefore it did indeed seem quite fitting that we should, in some way or another, pay tribute to this great artist. Luckily the opportunity arose when David Johnson met and spoke to Ursula Jones, the widow of the great brass guru, Philip Jones, well known to us all of course, because of the fantastic brass ensemble which bore his name. Mrs. Jones is a Swiss national and was very enthusiastic about getting involved in the project. In fact, she managed to convince Mrs. Yvonne Brain, Dennis Brain‘s widow, to fly down to Lugano, Switzerland where the momentous event was to take place.

During the latest IHS International Horn Workshop, which was held in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, Heather Petit-Johnson became acquainted with Mr. Jonathan Stoneman, a journalist from Britain and a horn enthusiast. Jonathan spoke of a radio broadcast called “Desert Island Discs” in the UK. The BBC host would invite certain celebrities on to the show and have them share with the public their choice of the ten recordings (classical or pop) they would wish to have with them if they were ever stranded on a desert island. As it turns out, Dennis Brain was one of the guests on this program, and Jonathan Stoneman had managed to procure arrangements (by Stephen Roberts) of most of the songs he had chosen. And these arrangements had been done for horn ensemble no less! Well, horn ensemble with percussion, and sometimes piano, guitar or harpsichord.

Naturally, it was decided that we should somehow perform these works at a memorial concert which would commemorate the anniversary of the death of Dennis Brain. As it followed, not only did Yvonne Brain manage to get to Lugano, accompanied by Ursula Jones, but Mr. John Amis, a freelance writer, broadcaster and critic who had been a guest on this interesting program back in the day, as well as Jonathan Stoneman were flown in as well. So on this past September 1st, at the Conservatorio de la Musica in Lugano, the members of the AHQ along with my wife, Kristina Mascher, and several other very capable horn players and students from the area, performed under the baton of Heather Petit-Johnson these curious arrangements of the choice pieces of the master in the presence of his lovely widow.

The event was very well attended and there was a splendid reception following the concert. At that reception, I had the chance to talk at length with Yvonne Brain. We did have a few friends in common, and rather than make small talk, I cut right to the chase and asked her all sorts of questions and gushed to her about how much I had , well, almost worshiped Dennis Brain as a teenager. And she didn‘t seem at all surprised. But do you know, there was something especially magical about that meeting and conversation. She was the direct link to a legend. The same lovely face and voice which addressed me had also spoken to, listened to and had even kissed the most influential horn player of the 20th century.

Several days later, sitting in my study, I opened my copy of Stephen J. Pettitt‘s book “Dennis Brain- a biography”. And there on pages 100 and 102, in black and white photos, was that charming little woman with whom I had spoken, standing and sitting next to the great Dennis Brain.Kristina and I had the chance to talk for a while after the concert with Dennis Brain’s widow Yvonne.

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