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Mozart concerto solos spotlight DSO French horn players

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

One of the many cool things about the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart Festival, which runs through Feb. 5, is the opportunity it offers orchestra members to shine in the solo spotlight.

So often during the regular season, solos go to invited guests, not DSO members.

But the festival’s concertos, which always feature one stand-out instrument, change all that, and give two DSO French horn players their moment in the sun.

This will be Johanna Yarbrough’s first solo in front of the orchestra, which she joined five years ago right out of graduate school.

Chatting a couple days before her Friday performances in Mozart Horn Concerto No. 3, Yarbrough, 28, confessed to a small case of nerves.

“I keep telling my family that I’m really looking forward to this,” she said Wednesday, “but am looking forward to the day after at least as much.”

That said, Yarbrough finds the four Mozart concertos — all are in the festival — amusing and delightful both.

“Mozart is more of a style than anything,” Yarbrough said, “and the finale of all his horn concertos is like a hunt.”

For assistant principal horn David Everson, who joined the DSO in 1999, playing the Horn Concerto No. 4 Saturday evening is a rare opportunity.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said, “in 35 years I’ve been a soloist in front of orchestras I belonged to five times. It’s terrifying to play in front of your friends,” he added, “but it’s also very gratifying because you’re playing with those friends.”

Like Yarbrough, Everson, 57, is nuts about Mozart.

“His music has an elegant simplicity,” he said. “Back in his time, orchestras were smaller than they are now. Most of the time there were only two horns — a trumpet sometimes, trombones very rarely. So it’s a very light score.”

For her part, Yarbrough contends the key to enjoying Mozart — who was particularly fond of the French horn — is not to take him too seriously.

“My teacher told me to stop taking Mozart to church,” she said, “because as students we grow up just idolizing him, especially the horn players, since Mozart gives us our largest body of solo work.”

Yarbrough added, “And we study and study it so much that often there’s no joy whatsoever once you get to perform with an orchestra as a professional.”

Which, she added, more or less runs against the whole point of the Mozart concertos.

“They’re supposed to be celebratory, joyous and goofy,” Yarbrough said. “You can listen to any of the horn concerti in particular, and if you don’t chuckle a little bit, then we’re not doing something right.”

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

Detroit Symphony Orchestra ‘Mozart Festival’ - through Feb. 5

Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets: $15-$100

8 p.m. Friday

Mozart Overture to La Clemenza del Tito

Mozart Concertone (DSO premiere)

Mozart Horn Concerto No. 3

Mozart Clarinet Concerto

8 p.m. Saturday & 3 p.m. Sunday

Mozart Overture to Cosi fan Tutte

Mozart Bassoon Concerto

Mozart Horn Concerto No. 4

Mozart Symphony No. 40

(313) 576-5111