This week will see Cardiff play host to a meeting of the British Horn Society. Well, actually, no it won't, but it will feel like it, because this week we perform Strauss' once heard/seen, never forgotten Alpine Symphony which features 100 French horns.
Once again, gross exaggeration, but there certainly are an awful lot of them. The scoring of this gargantuan symphonic work is quite staggering. The brass is greatly augmented - eight horns onstage, plus four Wagner Tubas, four trumpets, four trombones and two tubas (note to self: remember to put earplugs in viola case). Offstage there are a further twelve horns, two trumpets and two trombones.
The wind are augmented too, with four flutes and four bassoons. There are also some fun visitors to the percussion section - a wind machine, a thunder machine, and an extra set of timps. There are also cow bells - couldn't have a work about the Alps without some atmospheric bells tolling. Just to add to the general cacophony, Strauss also requires an organ.
Composed in 1915, the Alpine Symphony was the last of Strauss' tone poems. These are works over which I have cried (in despair, at times, in a practice room), been exhilarated and inspired by (the last section of Ein Heldenleben blows me away every time). There is something so genuinely genius in the manner in which Strauss uses his orchestra - undoubtedly, he had a gift for conveying the content of his programmes explicitly through his orchestration.
Alpine Symphony quite simply, tells the story of an Alpine climb. This being Strauss, it is immediately obvious that this is no wander among the foothills on a nondescript, average day. Epic in score, and epic in sound, one can easily imagine the protagonist at the foot of the mountain, beginning the ascent, battling to the summit against the terrain, the weather and all manner of danger, obviously helped along the way by a few horn players who got lost en route to a rehearsal.
Also on the concert programme will be Mozart's Piano Concerto No 22 with pianist Angela Hewitt. Naming no names, when I spotted this in our season brochure, one of our cellists told me that he was related to Angela Hewitt, and I believed him for a full rehearsal until I asked his wife if he was winding me up or not. He was winding me up. I am far too trusting!
This will be Principal Conductor Thierry Fischer's final St David's Hall Concert before he leaves us for pastures new. You will be able to catch Thierry's final Hoddinott Hall concert on Wednesday 20 June, and his final Brangwyn Hall, Swansea concert on Saturday 23 June.
Post-China tour, Thierry's final, final concert with us will be at the BBC Proms on 11th August. Fittingly, we will perform the Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts. Berlioz is a great favourite of Thierry's, and I very much enjoyed L'Enfance du Christ which we performed at Christmas, so this should definitely be a wonderful Prom.
To book tickets for Strauss' Alpine Symphony at St David's Hall, on Friday 15 June, call 0800 052 1812.