Concert Preview: WhirlWIND! A Musical Adventure | The Flying Inkpot
Whirling winds and soaring strings come together in a charming evening with re:Sound Collective. Joining them in a programme that boasts both whimsy and seriousness is Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s (SSO) new Principal Horn, Austin Larson. Aileen Tang speaks to him to find out more.
The Flying Inkpot: A belated welcome to Singapore! What made you decide to come here as Principal Horn of the SSO? What have been your impressions of Singapore so far?
Austin Larson: Thank you, it’s great to be here! I came here to play principal horn in SSO because I got the job, simple as that. Orchestra auditions, especially for principal positions, are extremely competitive and often end without anyone being offered the job, so you take what you can get as long as it’s better than what you previously had, circumstances permitting. I took more than 15 auditions since COVID and made the final round or better in about half of them. This was the one that worked out and I’m quite happy so far even though it’s very far from home. I lived my whole life in the US [Ed: Austin was a native of Neenah, Wisconsin] before coming here but aside from the humidity, Singapore is very easy to get used to. The city is user-friendly in every way – accessibility, functionality, safety, cleanliness, variety of cultures and food, everyone speaking English, overall quality of life, the list goes on. My colleagues in the orchestra have been super supportive and welcoming too so that’s really made it easier.
Can you tell us a little about how, out of all the instruments in the orchestra, you decided on the horn?
I picked the horn because similar to many horn players, I liked the sound. I heard a very famous extended horn solo from Wagner’s opera Siegfried (known to horn players as the Long Call) either on the radio or a recording so when my parents got a letter from school asking if I wanted to play a band instrument, I said I wanted to play whatever that was. Fortunately they knew what I was talking about!
You’re a strong advocate for Music Education. In your opinion, what’s missing in Music Education for youth today and what’s the greatest challenge in making it accessible to and for all?
I can’t speak for Singapore, having only been here a few months and not done any teaching yet. However, in the US, quality of education is wildly unequal depending on where you live. Public schools in the US are funded by local property taxes which means the rich neighbourhoods have the best-funded schools and the poor ones the worst. When funding is scarce, music often gets cut so a lot of schools in the US have no music programme whatsoever. Parents who can either move to wealthier areas or send their kids to private schools do so and this furthers the divide. As a result, the kids growing up in poor communities come out of school least-equipped with the skills or credentials to make a better life for themselves. This system deeply entrenches inequality and poverty from one generation to the next and it must be changed if education and music specifically is to be accessible for all. Social programmes in the US like the one I worked with only mitigate the symptoms of this and often take the place of otherwise nonexistent music programs. Anyone who works in these programmes will say more or less the same thing – it’s an uphill struggle against a systemic problem and will never get easier as long as this system is in place.
You’re performing in a fun programme with re:Sound next month! What would you say to those who are still deciding whether to come?
Wind chamber music is much less often performed than string chamber music. A concert like this is quite rare, it may be some time before these pieces are played in Singapore again!
Winds and Strings: allies, rivals or foes?
I guess it depends on who you talk to! For me, collaborators. We can function just fine by ourselves but there are so many more options combining instruments. I always enjoy playing with string players – they often think about music differently and I always pick up new ideas when working with other instruments.
Tickets for WhirlWIND! A Musical Adventure are available from Sistic: https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/whirlwind0723
Sun 12 Nov, 8.15pm, Victoria Concert Hall
Austin Larson, Horn
Musicians of re:Sound Collective
Poulenc-Françaix: Musique pour faire plaisir
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Musical Joke In F Major, K. 522
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Horn Quintet (with Concordia Quartet and Austin Larson)
Sergei Prokofiev (arr. Andreas Tarkmann for Wind Octet): Romeo & Juliet Suite