Arts / Rob makes the right pitch for success

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French horn master Rob Gladstones… here for the National Capital Orchestra.
“FIENDISHLY difficult” is how most people think of the French horn and WA horn master Rob Gladstones is not about to deny it.

“We like to make sure people know that,” he tells “CityNews” with some pride by phone from Perth, where he’s been performing with the WA Symphony Orchestra since 1989.

Gladstones will be in Canberra soon to perform Reinhold Glière’s unashamedly romantic Concerto for Horn and Orchestra in B-flat major with the National Capital Orchestra.

He’s no stranger to the ACT, having studied French horn at the old School of Music in the ’80s under Hector McDonald, partnered with another musician and member of a prominent musical family, Lucie Holmes, then after a stint with the Sydney Elizabethan Orchestra, returned to his home state to play a part in its musical life.

He and Lucie, he reports, quite frequently come back to Canberra for visits, during which he has been known to organise horn days – NCO conductor Leonard Weiss took part in one of them.

He says horn playing requires great patience and accuracy, since if you know the “physics of acoustics”, the higher in pitch, the harder it becomes.

The concerto he’ll be playing comes from the Soviet Union in the first half of the 20th century, when pleasing Stalin was a must, unless one wanted to get into trouble, like Shostakovich.

“Glière wrote all the right sort of stuff to get past Stalin – it’s sort of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov-ish,” says Gladstones.

In 1951 he came up with this lushly-orchestrated work that Gladstones calls “very romantic and beautiful” and Weiss judges to be “a pinnacle of romanticism”.

It’s a busy season for Gladstones, with performances of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” coming up in Perth and his regular teaching jobs at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, the University of WA and John Septimus Roe Anglican Community School. His flying visit to Canberra will also see him playing horn in the CSO’s coming concert under the baton of Jessica Cottis.

Weiss is not keen on the old tag for the NCO as “Canberra’s other orchestra”, although he is quick to note: “Ultimately, we are not a professional orchestra, though we fill an important spot in the Canberra community.

“I like to challenge the musicians, but we don’t have a huge budget. We are looking to showcase music that is lesser-known and in this program the composers are well known, but the pieces are not necessarily the most obvious.”

That’s a reference to the Glière and the other works to be performed in the coming concert, Dvo?ák’s Symphony No. 5 in F major, Op. 76, and Sibelius’ little-known tone poem, “The Wood Nymph”, considered to be effectively “lost” for 60 years and only re-discovered in 1996.

As he looks to the future of the orchestra, Weiss hopes to program in more premieres and more Australian works, saying: “There’s a great plethora of Australian compositions heard once only.”

In early June the NCO will combine with the Canberra Choral Society to perform works by leading Australian composer Carl Vine with two other Australian pieces. Vine will be here for two days and Weiss declares himself “suitably nervous but really enjoying discussing the piece with him”.

The National Capital Orchestra, at The Q, Queanbeyan, 3pm, Sunday, March 26, bookings to or 6285 6290.

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Helen Musa
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