Hustis has held the position of principal horn with the
Dallas Symphony Orchestra since 1976. He proves to be a
highly competent soloist in this programme of contemporary
American works for horn and orchestra.
studied with Milton Babbitt and Gunther Schuller, amongst
others, and has taught at the Juilliard School since 1980.
Though he has written for many instrumental combinations,
his works for brass instruments, for woodwinds and for wind
ensembles have been most widely played and recorded. That
he has a particular feeling for the veiled poetry of the
horn is clear in this concerto, written for Gregory Hustis.
The central slow movement is particularly attractive, Hustis
playing with a gentle, resonantly mellow sound. Overall
the Concerto is pleasant listening, though none of its melodies
are especially memorable.
concerto had its first performance in November 1997 with
Kent Leslie as soloist, accompanied by the Indianapolis
Chamber Orchestra. As its title suggests, it is a kind of
musical meditation on Herman Hesse’s novel The Glass
Bead Game. The booklet notes contain some fairly detailed
notes by the composer explaining the music’s relationship
to the novel. I am far from sure that most listeners will
either need, or want, to feel too bound by the relationship,
since the music is certainly interesting enough to be listened
to on its own terms. The first movement (‘The Call and Awakening’)
is characterised by some handsome horn calls - which are
handsomely played – and some attractive interplay between
horn, flute and piccolo. The slow movement pitches some
sustained notes for the horn against luminous strings. In
the final movement an array of percussion is strikingly
employed, and there is some aggressive writing for the orchestra,
before a beautifully reflective conclusion - picking up
the mood and situation at the end of the novel, and making
perfect sense musically.
Questings had its first performance in 1991, with
Hustis as soloist. The composer explains that the title
refers “to the quest throughout the composition to regain
the mood of peace and serenity with which it opens” – a
more helpful observation than one often finds in composers’
notes on their own music! The ‘quest’ involves passages
of genuine ‘struggle’ between soloist and orchestra, and
between stillness and agitation - not always simply represented
by soloist and orchestra in a one-for-one relationship.
The central ‘Pastorale’ is tender, but tinged with regret
and sadness, its eloquent melodies finally settling into
calmness – a calmness shattered by the eruption of the full
orchestra at the beginning of the final movement (‘Burlesque/
Finale’). As the movement progresses tentative suggestions
of tranquillity are repeatedly overcome by a surrounding
harshness; yet at the very end, as the opening material
of the first movement returns and grows, the quest reaches
a resolution, however temporary one suspects it may be.
Questings conducts a sophisticated musical argument
and soloist, orchestra and conductor all do justice to its
On early hearings
I found these pieces rather dry and correct, but somewhat
lightweight. They have grown on me, however, and my initial
respect has grown into a warm pleasure in their considerable
sophistication and substance. The Glass Bead Game
and Questings, in particular, would merit a place
alongside more famous pieces for horn and orchestra.