Magazine: Backstage with the French Horn

French horn player Kateřina Javůrková knows The Rudolfinum onstage and off, performing there with the PKF-Prague Philharmonia and other orchestras.

French horn player Kateřina Javůrková knows The Rudolfinum onstage and off, performing there with the PKF-Prague Philharmonia and other orchestras.

This is a different kind of Rudolfinum than you know from its glittering concert hall. We’re passing through the employees’ entrance of the Czech Philharmonic orchestra …

Kateřina Javůrková guides me through the corridors, until we arrive at what seems to be an old-timers’ canteen, where the musicians line up to get their lunches of fried cheese and other Czech specials.

My tea companion, Kateřina Javůrková (22), opened the Mar 9 evening concert of the PKF-Prague Philharmonia in the Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Concert Hall.

She was the soloist in Mozart’s Concert for the French Horn, Opus 4 and received warm applause from the audience.

The Two Philharmonias
This French horn player is no mere visitor to The Rudolfinum, as she’s recently also joined the Czech Philharmonic as its third-chair horn player. And it was also on the Rudolfinum stage where she won the prestigious Prague Spring International Music Festival competition last year.

Kateřina is still absorbing the size of this prestigious Czech ensemble. “It is so big that it took me two weeks to realize my cousin plays here,” she adds, laughing.

Compared to the more contained PKF-Prague Philharmonia, where she has been playing for the past five years, this new post feels more like coming to work: “The Czech Philharmonic is where every musician wants to play, but I like returning to PKF especially for the family-like atmosphere and friendship,” she says.

Kateřina Javůrková -- backstage, in The Rudolfinum musicians' cafe

Kateřina Javůrková — backstage, in The Rudolfinum musicians’ cafe

Her engagement with PKF started through its orchestral academy, a special project which allows students to play in an orchestra. After two years a spot cleared in the French horn section, so she has stayed on. Now she plays with both orchestras.

Women In, Men Out
Naturally, her instrument attracts lots of attention. This 3 kilogram and almost 4 metres of pipe is not a subtle, sublime musical tool one typically associates with women, and you rather think of hunting and stout men performers.

But the reality is different, as Kateřina explains: “Actually, the ratio between women and men horn players is changing in favour of women, and also at the conservatory you would find more women as well.”

She herself has been playing the horn (horna) since the age of 9. It was an idea of her music teacher Tomáš Krejbich to start blowing the horn. But the biggest thanks for her musical career goes to her father, an amateur musician, who guided her and her brother in music.

“It was a difficult childhood with all the daily practicing, and I am not sure I would want to raise my kids this way, but it got me where I am now,” she says.

Of course she rebelled and didn’t want to play as a teenager. She remembers that once she recorded herself on a tape and played the recording on the stereo, so her father would think she was hard at work. Things got better at the conservatory: “I started to manage my own music and schedule; I felt much better about my music career.”

Getting Your Teeth Into French Horn
The strict physical requirements for playing the French horn are famously difficult. It’s played with the left hand, and “Because the horn is long, you can easily produce a bad note,” Kateřina Javůrková explains. Players must put their right hand into the bell to help control the sound and lower the tone. Further, the ideal horn player must possess a narrow mouth and straight teeth, to fit the mouthpiece. And finally, playing makes your lips and mouth hurt — after all, they’re muscles like any other.

Theory vs Practice
Now she is finishing up her Bachelor’s at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, studying with the world renown French horn master Radek Baborák.

Because of her busy rehearsal schedule she sometimes runs into trouble with her teachers. Yet she is determined to play as much as possible and meditates over the discrepancy between school and active playing: “Well, there are people who go to every class and have 100% attendance at the school but when do they play? And then there are other people who perform all the time like me. I just cannot make that class on Thursday between 1 and 2 pm.”

Czech or French Horn?
When asked if she would ever commit to playing permanently abroad, Kateřina firmly shakes her head no : “I am happy here. I am not so ambitious. I have been for a semester in France on Erasmus (scholarship exchange program). It was great to get the experience and see how they do it. I don’t have a need and ambition to move somewhere and start from the beginning, it’s not in my nature.”

On the same international note she jokes about the name of the instrument in English. “Why should it be called the French horn? It was the Czech nobleman Count Anton von Špork, an enthusiastic hunter and patron of arts, who first introduced the horns to the orchestra and the tradition spread to the French court.“

Of course, those horns were without any valves. But still, Czechs have contributed to the development of not only this instrument, but also to the music, with the many compositions the Czech composers wrote for the French horn.

So it is good that Kateřina Javůrková is making a significant contribution, too — and is here to stay.

You will have a chance to see Kateřina Javůrková play in concert at the Prague Spring Festival May 27 with guests the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Katowice. In addition to performing with the PKF and Czech Philharmonic, she also tours the Czech Republic with the Belfiato Woodwind Quintet. — oo

– Zuzana Sklenková, assistant editor and regular contributing writer to Opus Osm

Photo Credits: Top: PKF-Prague Philharmonia; bottom, Zuzana Sklenková

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