A single spotlight illuminates a lone man, naked but for his jockey shorts, clutching in front of his privates, bell facing towards him, a French horn. “I found my horn” best-selling book, now play begins, the true story of a mid-life crisis in which Jasper Rees, the author played by Jonathan Guy Lewis, ponders what becomes of youth’s passions. Would he die, not having achieved anything of substance, of bravery? It was time for him to dig out the horn from the attic, where it had lain dormant for twenty-five years and prove he could achieve something of importance for himself, rather than for others. On the journey, culminating in a performance in front of the British Horn Society a year later, he discovers a brotherhood of men who share the madness of knowing there will never be perfection, where there is honour, courage and foolish folly. Hornplayers. The musicians of Elysium.
A French horn player is like a professional golfer. There is no such thing as a perfect performance or a perfect round. There is always something that niggles, something that could be improved upon, a point where luck and fortune wobble. And so it is with a Mozart Horn Concerto. Listening yesterday to a live recording of Dennis Brain, a man who created aural ambrosia from brass plumbing, I heard the occasional stumble, a couple near misses and yet the overall package is sublime, better for flaws born out of bravura.
And so to my own romantic foolishness, an attempt, courtesy of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra virtual auditions, to create a decent rendition of one movement of Mozart’s earliest horn concerto – commonly known as the second. It was maddening. I discovered how to create semi-watchable video and passable audio, in my dining room. And how to concentrate for five minutes, never an easy task. My result is here for the world to pick over. There I stand, naked but for my underwear. You may see with your eyes a man relaxing in a comfy cricket jumper, but hear with your ears a man starkers. If we survive this climate meltdown, a grandchild make recover those bytes and perhaps wonder why Grandpa did something so silly as to expose his foibles so.
And now the battle commences. The competition is trooping in. Bring on the tyros, the stars of the world’s conservatoires and knock the old man off his precarious perch. Let them try his fiddly bits, his extended phrases and surpass his ancient output. This is my Rocky Balboa with a dash of X Factor.
In February, you get the chance to vote on the players. In March, the battle will shift to Google, the people who came up with this mad, fantastic idea. Creating a virtual orchestra is a huge task. It is like trying to create a virtual basketball team. Musicians rely on real time interaction to get in the groove. Breaking the team into component parts and expecting it to perform as a whole, no matter how cleverly spliced, is impossible. It misses a key point of music making and many other types of teams, which is that feeling you get when you face a challenge together, shoulder to shoulder and create something of beauty and goodness. But Google understood that well, which is why those selected to become part of the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra will gather together in New York in April to make music rather than solo recordings. Google’s didn’t just do no evil – they did good. Let’s wish everyone, Google, the youngsters, the romantics, the aspirants, the pros who put so much work into this, and me, luck.