Reflecting on An Alpine Symphony with Principal Horn, Valerie Ankeney

Like many other orchestras, AYS’ Spring Concert was cancelled due to the public health crisis of COVID-19. The program was to feature Samuel Barber’s, Overture to The School for Scandal, US Premiere of Richard Danielpour’s Ricordanza, and Richard Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony. Although the world is currently staying at home for the wellbeing of our community, we invite you to go on a journey through the Alps with AYS Principal Horn, Valerie Ankeney as she shares about An Alpine Symphony from her perspective and describes some beautiful imagery that the piece brings up for her.

Share a little about yourself. Where do you go to school and how long have you been in AYS?

I attend the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles and have been playing with the American Youth Symphony for the past three seasons.

What instrument do you play? How did you choose your instrument?

I play the horn and have been since the sixth grade. My grandpa was a trumpet player in the Air Force Band, so I originally wanted to try trumpet. I ended up choosing the horn because I love the sound and it’s more unique than the trumpet. It is the only brass instrument involved in both wind and brass quintets.

What is your most memorable moment while being in AYS?

It’s always a treat playing in the beautiful Royce Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall for orchestra concerts. A memorable moment out of the concert hall was when AYS collaborated with Grand Performances who teamed up with LAX Presents to perform for travelers coming and going through the airport. AYS brass members participated in this opportunity and although this was a unique experience, it was quite rewarding. Music is for everyone and anywhere and this was a perfect example of that! With added stress from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, especially during the holidays, it was memorable to see crowds of people around us enjoying the music as we serenaded them coming out of security and up the elevator to find their gate to tunes of Amazing Grace and holiday favorites.   

When did you first experience Strauss?

In 8th grade! I remember being extremely curious and excited about the horn in middle school. Almost like a sponge, I searched everything related to the horn that I could find. While expanding my knowledge of the instrument, I listened to repertoire and took note of which composers wrote the most exciting and beautiful excerpts for the horn. While doing so, I realized some of the most beloved horn writing lies in the compositions of Richard Strauss. When I was able to find the music to the excerpts I was hearing, I continued researching and learned about symphonic tone poems. These compositions are written by telling a short story through musical imagery. As an example, Strauss loved nature and An Alpine Symphony is an autobiography showcasing the beauty of nature through a hike in the Alps. Through this journey of which Strauss takes us, the horn is used as a prominent instrument with eight in the section, four of which are doubling on Wagner Tuba while also including a bundle of offstage horns!

Why is An Alpine Symphony an exciting piece to play as Principal Horn?

Through Strauss’ writing, he shares 22 episodes while on the climb through the Alps. The size of the orchestra is massive and there are many textures and colors throughout the piece. From leading the section through heroic climatic moments to floating on top of the orchestra with soulful beautiful melodies in all dynamic ranges, leaping around the horn with ease and joining blended textures of other instruments, plus experiencing the four Wagner Tuben part of the section sure allows for a thrilling adventure!

Describe some imagery that An Alpine Symphony brings up for you.

Through looking at pictures of the Alps, I can only imagine the image of this breathtaking view while on the climb. Strauss’ composition is filled with musical imagery that allows me to imagine a beautiful sunrise over the tops of the tall snow cap mountains, waterfalls that seem to go for miles, flower meadows with colors of all sorts (yellow, purple, white, pink,) not to mention the mountain pastures from the cowbells in the distance, the aggressive storm with thunder and pouring rainfall for the sunset to reflect the day’s beautiful journey through the Alps.

Which recording of An Alpine Symphony do you recommend audiences listen to?

There’s so many great recordings! I love listening to live performances and so I went to the beloved Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall and watched the live performance from March 3, 2018. The Digital Concert Hall is currently free under the circumstances of the COVID-19 virus! You can access the recording here.

About Valerie Ankeney

Valerie Ankeney is from Dayton, Ohio. She has performed with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony, held an engagement with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and has been Principal Horn of the American Youth Symphony for three seasons. Through her summers she has attended the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, Sarasota Music Festival, Texas Music Festival, Brevard Music Festival and looks forward to being an Academy member of the 2020 Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. She was the winner of the International Horn Society’s 2015 Frizelle Orchestral Audition in Los Angeles and received the Paul Mansur Award. She made her solo debut with her horn quartet when they won the concerto competition performing James Beckel’s In the Mind’s Eye with the Eastman Wind Ensemble. Valerie holds a Master’s of Music degree from the Colburn Conservatory studying with Andrew Bain where she is currently a Professional Studies Certificate candidate. She holds a Bachelor’s of Music from the Eastman School of Music under Peter Kurau where she also received the coveted Performer’s Certificate award.

American Youth Symphony

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