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The sound of the hills

By Alix Norman

Settle back with a cup of tea, because today we’re going to learn about something that’s – as Stephen Fry would put it – Quite Interesting: The Alphorn. It’s a musical instrument few have heard of and, unless you’re a musical aficionado of the highest order, it’s highly unlikely you’ve ever actually seen one, let alone heard it played; as the name would suggest, it isn’t something one’s liable to come across very often on our little Mediterranean island. So the upcoming performances from the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra, which feature The Sound of the Alphorn and the Rhythm of the Waltz should be rather novel.

Featuring Alphorn virtuoso Carlo Torlontano, it looks like the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra are welcoming in the New Year with, if not a bang, then certainly a loud noise. Because the sound can carry (if you’ve got a healthy set of lungs and a following wind, I’m assured) up to 10 kilometres: the Alphorn was originally used, it’s believed, as a method of communication between the mountain villages in the Alps – much like the Native American smoke signals, one suspects, only rather more noisy.

Though the Alphorn’s origins remain indeterminate – similar wooden horns have been used in most mountainous regions of Europe for several centuries – its relatively small range of notes (consisting of about 10-12 natural tones in comparison to, say, the piano, which boasts over 100) allows for beautiful melodies mainly orientated on the major key triad. Fundamentally, the pitch of an Alphorn is defined by its length, and while it can be helpful to play the Alphorn for music, it isn’t necessary, as herdsmen have improvised on it for centuries often using the instrument to call in the animals each evening. In fact, all the instrument demands is good, natural breathing and persistent training of lips and breathing musculature along with, one suspects, a dollop of musical ability.

So, these melodious tones of the Alps will soon be gracing our shores, the natural harmonics of the instrument (the 7th and 11th harmonics are, apparently, known as ‘God’s Notes’) used to great effect in a programme that includes works by everyone from Holst to Brahms. Consisting of a trio of concerts (on January 15 in Limassol, January 16 in Nicosia and January 17 in Larnaca), the programme features the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra led by Greek conductor Alkis Baltas, and showcases the immeasurable talents of Italian Carlo Torlontano, renowned as the greatest Alphorn soloist in the world.

A true devotee of the instrument, Torlontano travels the world dedicating his time to the promotion of the music and traditions associated with the Alphorn, ensuring its wondrous timbre is heard in some of the most unlikely places, from Hong Kong to Australia. Having performed as a soloist with numerous symphony and chamber orchestras in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, when at home he’s the Principal and Solo Horn player with RAI-Italian Radio Television Symphony Orchestra and Teatro di San Carlo in Napoli, as well as Horn Professor at the Conservatory of Music A Casella in L’Aquila, Italy.

But his talents don’t stop there: Torlontano has played in some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls and international festivals around the globe, from the St Petersburg Philharmonic to the Salle de Concert Pollak de Montréal, the Proms Prague Festival to the Tokyo Muza Symphony Hall, and has broadcasted for Italian Radio-TV, RTV Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Deutschland Radio Kultur Berlin. He’s also famed for his work with any number of prestigious conductors, numbering Gatti, Berio, Koopman and Semkow among his collaborators. And now, of course, the great Alkis Baltas, who – as an internationally-renowned award-winning conductor and composer – will be leading Torlontano and the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra in local theatres for the first time.

With eight specially selected waltzes from different composers of the 19th century, the concerts promise to maximise the expressive potential of the genre from a time when the waltz was extremely popular in European high society, bringing a delightfully romantic touch to the eastern Mediterranean. So if you’re looking for something a little bit different to start your musical year, take the bull by the horns (sorry) and get booking those tickets for The Sound of the Alphorn and the Rhythm of the Waltz.

The Sound of the Alphorn and the Rhythm of the Waltz
The Cyprus Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alkis Baltas and featuring Carlo Torlontano presents three concerts. Performances will take place at the Rialto Theatre in Limassol on January 15, the Strovolos Municipal Theatre on January 16, and the Larnaca Municipal Theatre on January 17. All performances start at 8.30pm. Tickets cost €12 and €7 (18-26 years old and pensioners) / free for under 18, and are available from the theatres’ box offices on 77777745, 24 665794 and 22 313010. For more information call 22 463144, or visit www.cyso.org.cy

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