Vancouver Island Symphony principal French horn player Andrew Clark has spent decades playing in orchestras in the U.K. and in Canada, but he doesn’t just play the horns — he also builds them.
“I had an interest in horn design for many years because I was a specialist in playing historical instruments, so I became familiar with playing unusually-designed instruments,” the Ladysmith resident explains. “I started taking measurements because I was intrigued by how they worked.”
In 2001, still living in England, Clark started learning how to make instruments, and he made a trumpet. He began learning to make French horns, and in 2008, Clark took a sabbatical from performing and came to Canada to spend four months learning from Keith Berg in B.C.’s Robson Valley. Berg let Clark use his workshop, and during that time, Clark built two French horns of different designs that he says Berg had never seen before. Clark returned to England and practised what he had learned.
Clark’s wife, bassoonist Katrina Russell, is Canadian, and when they were married in 2000, they had their honeymoon on Vancouver Island. At the time, they said they wanted to come back 10 years later to visit. Ten years later, to the day, they returned to Canada permanently. Partly, they moved to be closer to Russell’s parents — who actually moved to Ladysmith about a year ago — but also so that Clark could set up a new shop for building his instruments, he explained.
Since moving to Ladysmith in 2010, Clark thinks he has probably built about 10 instruments in his shop.
“I also have made a new model of trumpet, which was sold to a customer in Vancouver,” he said. “I still have quite a lot of design ideas I want to put into practice.”
Clark, who also repairs horns in his shop, enjoys coming up with new design ideas and following up on some of his theories about how the instrument could be designed and could be built.
Clark first began playing French horn when he was 10 years old. His mother had played French horn when she was in school, and she still had the instrument in the house although she didn’t play anymore. When there was an opening in Clark’s school orchestra, Clark accepted the chance to play French horn after refusing to play trumpet and violin.
“By the time I was 12, I was playing with the county youth orchestra in Norfolk,” he said. “As soon as I did have that experience, I loved it , and I’ve never stopped loving it.”
Clark studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Clark describes his career since music college as “a slightly interesting journey” because he has never actually had a full-time job with an orchestra, but instead has worked steadily through a number of contracts with orchestras as a freelance musician.
Clark also taught for 17 years in England, and he now does some teaching at the University of British Columbia.
Clark has been performing with the Vancouver Island Symphony (VIS) since moving to Vancouver Island. After playing one season on second French horn, he moved onto first, and this is his third season as principal player.
“I like the community,” he said. “I like the fact we can talk with members of the audience after, and there’s a lot of local enthusiasm for our concerts.”
Clark is looking forward to being the guest artist during the VIS’s upcoming London — Majesty performance Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, along with tenor Isaiah Bell.
In this second classical concert of the season Passport to Great Entertainment, the Vancouver Island Symphony whisks the audience away to the majestic city of London, England, with music by Joseph Haydn, Frederick Delius, Benjamin Britten and Ludwig van Beethoven.
The concert opens with Haydn’s 1791 salute to Britain’s oldest musical charity — March for the Royal Society of Musicians. Move forward 150 years, and the thread continues as Bell and Clark take centre stage for Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, a song cycle written by Britten in 1943.
“It’s tuneful, but also quite moving,” Clark says of the song cycle by Britten. “It’s a series of songs based on British poets. It’s a beautiful piece, and I first got to know it when I was a teenager because my father was a tenor singer, and once or twice, we would do some recitals … I’ve known it for at least three decades, but I’ve never had a chance to play it with an orchestra, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
As conductor Pierre Simard raises his baton after intermission, the audience will be led on a stroll through the park with Delius’ On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, and Summer Night on the River. With Coriolon Concert by Beethoven, who was a pupil of Haydn, comes the musical story of military might versus motherly tenderness. Then it’s to the very heart of the city as the orchestra plays Haydn’s final symphony — London.
The Vancouver Island Symphony presents London — Majesty Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo.
For tickets, call 250-754-8550 or click here.