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‘I wanted Barenboim, we got Solti’: a great horn player speaks out

Chris Parkes, first horn at Swedish Radio, has sent us his unbuttoned interview with Nick Busch, the LPO legend, whose death we mourn.

Nick pulls not punches about players and conductors. He knew what he liked and he gave his all.

Sample: My heroes were Dennis Brain and, until he went haywire, Alan Civil. He was a pain in the arse as a person but a great player. I always liked to think that I made a sound similar to those two. The old English sound, with notes that start properly. None of your woofy woofy sound! When it went wrong it went wrong! It wasn’t a conscious decision – I’d always been told I’d made a nice sound but I just blew the thing really. If you’d ever heard Dennis Brain live, it was something else!’ 

Read the full interview here.

nick busch

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Comments

  1. Robert Kenchington says:

    Great interview! A musician who tells it the way it is. Interesting to hear another LPO member express a dislike for Solti: a conductor who, rather like Malcolm Sargent, seemed more popular with audiences and record collectors than orchestral players.

  2. Mark Stratford says:

    He speaks his mind in this interview !

    “Kurt Masur…He was a miserable old bastard”

  3. The father briefly mentioned in the interview was William Busch (1901–45), whose music has a toe-hold on CD (here: http://www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels.html?composer_a_b=4182). Nick and I talked about trying to get some of his chamber music and songs recorded on Toccata Classics; sadly, neither of us followed it through.

  4. Istvan Horthy says:

    This musician doesn’t “tell it the way it is” but the way he sees it, as he makes clear. To say that Solti was “a disaster” is a gross exaggeration on his part. Firstly, he was able to raise the orchestra’s standards in a way Barenboim could never have done. Secondly, they made some great recordings together, not least of Elgar.
    Incidentally, the husband of Jessica Duchen, the music journalist, who still plays in the first violins of the LPO, admired Solti above all others, which is why the couple named their cat Solti.

    • Robert Kenchington says:

      You may recall in a recent television documentary about Solti how Alan Cumberland, timpanist with the LPO during Sir Georg’s term as chief conductor, also disliked him, and for similar reasons to Busch. Indeed he went further, describing Solti’s stick technique as ‘the worst he’d ever seen’ and how Solti changed the traditionally refined LPO sound into a loud, aggressive American one. A few years ago there was a collection of published memoirs by LPO members who all disliked working with Solti as much as they admired working with Boult and Tennstedt. It’s worth mentioning that Solti chose the LPO for his Elgar recordings because of the vast experience they had gained playing this repertoire under their former music director and eventual president, Sir Adrian Boult, whose Elgar recordings in my opinion have a great deal more to offer than Solti’s.

  5. Mary East says:

    Nicholas Busch was a stunning horn player. I followed his career with interest.
    In the 1970s and 1980s he was unbeatable
    in Strauss’s 4 last songs. Would bring me to tears,
    just such a pity he didn’t retire earlier as his last
    10 years of playing was marred by split notes and
    sub- standard ability. But let’s not dwell on that.
    Let’s remember his beautiful Mahler 5. The best!

    • David McLaren says:

      I’m privileged to have been a violinist with the LPO during Nick’s time as Principal Horn listening to his playing for 27 years until my retirement in 1999. I had the pleasure of being part of all the recordings he mentions, particularly remembering our 1993 recording at Abbey Road of Lucia Popp singing Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Klaus Tennstedt conducting. I was sitting immediately in front of Lucia and Nick sat behind her. There are many magical moments in the songs, but for me, none more so than the horn solo in ‘September’ which Nick played with great artistry and beauty of sound second to none and which makes my spine tingle to this day – I’ve just listened again and feel no differently.

      He was a fine musician and great character who spoke his mind and I recall his confrontations with certain conductors, including one he didn’t mention in his interview, with Josef Krips in Zurich in 1973.

      The orchestra had travelled from Munich, arriving late, tired and hungry and were scheduled to have a seating rehearsal for that evening’s concert which was a repeat of previous performances on the tour. Most conductors, after five minutes, would’ve let the band get something to eat to recover from the journey and prepare for the concert, but not so Krips who was one of the selfish breed that rehearses unnecessarily until the very last minute, probably more for their own benefit than that of the orchestra.

      After five minutes rehearsing Nick had had enough – he stood up shouting out to Krips, who couldn’t believe his authority was being challenged, saying something similar to ‘I don’t know about you Maestro, but we’re knackered, we need something to eat and I’m not playing another note!’ As with all bullies when their bubble bursts, Krips was speechless – end of rehearsal. Bravo Nick – R.I.P.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        I just listened to that recording with Popp and Tennstedt again, the first time in many years. I agree it’s a very nice recording and the horn playing is great, too. The tone is quite light and lyrical, it reminds me a little of Peter Damm (minus the vibrato). It’s so sad that Popp died soon after the recording was made. Tennstedt and now Busch are gone, too.

        What was Tennstedt like in rehearsals?

  6. Robert Berger says:

    I could not disagree more about Solti. In fact, many musicians in other orchestras had nothing but the highest admiration for him nd loved working with him , such as in Chicago . The LPO sounds gorgeous on his Elgar recordings, not “lpud and coarse “.
    I also object to the stereotyping of the sound of American orchestras, which sound very diverse .As a former horn player , I disagree with the claim that American horn players sound “woofy”; only some do,nd most do not .
    Certainly, Tuckwell never did, despite what Busch said . No disrespect to Busch, though. My he rest in peace .

    • Robert Kenchington says:

      No-one is saying that Solti was a bad conductor, it’s simply that his hard-hitting, hyperactive style and work ethic was simply incompatible with the LPO according to many of its players – a style which was perfect for the more incisive ways of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I don’t find his Elgar recordings coarse but by comparison with those the orchestra made with Boult and Handley around the same period, the LPO sounds rather slick and lacking in warmth, especially given Solti’s frenzied tempi in the 2nd symphony. By contrast, the recordings he made of the Enigma Variations with the Chicago Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic are much more convincing. By contrast, at least for this listener, the LPO ones are, to quote T.S.Eliot, ‘so rudely forced’.

    • Prewartreasure says:

      My sincere apologies, Robert. I’ve been calling you Roland for 50 years!

      • Prewartreasure says:

        My remark was of course addressed to Robert Berger not Robert Kenchington.

      • Robert Berger says:

        LOL ! I’ve always been a great admirer of Rolqnd Berger’s playing, but as far as I’m ware, we’re not related .

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      What does the term “woofy” horn sound mean? What are good examples for such a “woofy” sound?

      • Robert Berger says:

        The horn playing in Leonrd Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic recordings from the 60s and 70s sounds
        pretty “woofy” to me ; I can understnd wht Busch is sying . But this certainly doesn’t pply to Solti’s recordings with the Chicgo symphony , where the gret Dle Clevenger, who has just retired there, was principl horn .
        The NY Phil. horns at the time have kind of sputtery, unfocused tone . Possibly the recorded sound, which was never the best quality of CBS,now Sony classical at the time /.

  7. Tristan says:

    Sorry guys, Solti was neither liked by The Viennese nor by the Berlin Philharmonic, he was one of the most overrated conductors ever. He did some very good recordings but all are cold and lack what Karajan or others have offered.

    • Istvan Horthy says:

      That’s a short, sharp, shallow dismissal of a great conductor if ever there was one. Sources on which these remarks are based? In Vienna, the fact of being a Hungarian and a Jew were enough to damn anyone. Despite that, he had the orchestra playing more beautifully than anyone else, with the possible exception of Bernstein. As to Solti being “cold”, that is laughable!

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        I don’t think that Solti made the Wiener Philharmoniker play “more beautifully than anyone else except for Bernstein” – they delivered and still deliver a consistently very high level of playing for almost any conductor.

        I do know though from several members of the orchestra that Solti was well liked by many of them – maybe not all, but you can not expect 140+ musicians to all have the same personal opinion about an individual they work with – and generally highly respected for his professionalism. And I heard similar opinions from members of the BP and SOBR, too. Solti appears to have been a very likeable person anyway, even if he may sometimes have come across as too highly strung and nervous, especially in quieter, more lyrical music which he often conducted with a very fierce, insistent beat, too.

  8. Abigail Clifford says:

    Having read Chris Parkes’s contribution, Nick Busch comes across as somewhat bitter. It is a pity that this has to be his legacy.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      He doesn’t sound “bitter” to me, just outspoken. I am surprised by his comments about Solti and Barenboim but I guess since he worked with both of them for many years, he probably knows them much better than I and many others do!

    • Chris Parkes says:

      I find it quite entertaining that you think that your opinion on this interview should become Nick Busch’s legacy! His legacy, within music, is to have played at the very highest level for almost 50 years, leaving countless fantastic recordings for us to listen to and a heavy imprint on the continuing development of London’s horn playing, which remains as good as anywhere. Furthermore, the LPO would not exist were it not for the efforts of Nick and his colleagues on the board during the orchestra’s well documented financial problems some years ago. Any bitterness that comes across is probably the fault of the amateur who did the interview! It was certainly not part of the character of Nick Busch.

  9. Musicians are no more trustworthy than conductors. I know one audition where the outgoing conductor wisely choice the best possible player, and the committee deliberately subverted him to favor a minor player, who ultimately got the job, just to get back at the maestro. That player then got poached by a rival orchestra. And neither orchestra has a top player as a result. It’s disgusting.

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