From The Back Desk - Nigel Downing, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich

19 August 2013, 11:43

We take five minutes with Nigel Downing, horn player for the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, to chat about Bruckner, losing your music on stage and attention from the over-60s.

Name: Nigel Downing

Instrument: Horn

Ensemble: Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich (Switzerland)

Why did you decide to become a musician?
I loved the sound of the instrument, and hearing Bruckner 8 with the LPO and Haitink in the Free Trade Hall sealed it.

What's the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
Bruckner 7 under Kurt Sanderling. Scary if he looked in your direction, but amazing! He had a wonderful sense of phrase and balance.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you on stage?
Suntory Hall, Tokyo. The orchestra decided to try a new entrance routine: no sitting around on stage chatting stuff, just walk on, sit down, tune and play. Except when I opened my folder my part was not there. Someone had accidentally put it between the pages of another piece. Several minutes of frantic searching ensued in front of a full house, patient orchestra and Japanese Royalty. I just thought, 'Keep smiling!'

If you could work with one musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Alan Civil. He had the most amazing sound on the horn.

In concert, have you ever thought, "I can't actually play this bit very well, I'm going to mime and hope no- one notices"?
No. You can’t really hide on the horn.

Could you give us an example of the downside of the profession, something that the average concert-goer might not know about?
I have to admit, working in Switzerland, I would have to search hard for a genuine 'downside'.

Does the touring lifestyle bring out rock star behaviour in the orchestra?
As we don’t tour every week, it actually makes a pleasant change. Most of the players act like sheep in the flock more than rock singers. One lady did ask me once what it’s like as a musician having all those girls running up worshipping me. "If at all, the 'girls' are over sixty, which somehow isn’t so flattering," was my reply.

The Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich will be playing at this year's Edinburgh International Festival on the 24th and 26th of August. You can find more information about the concerts and tickets here and here.