The First Competition

The first Competition was held in 1976 at Cleveland State University. Judges included Higgins, McCracken, Antonio Iervolino, Louis Stout, Bill Slocum, and Burton Hardin. In 1980 Higgins moved to New Mexico and McCracken to Williamsburg VA. They agreed to have two competitions, with Higgins running a western competition and McCracken an eastern one. The 1981 competition was the last for McCracken.

In the west, the first American Horn Competition in 1981 was hosted by W. Peter Kurau of the University of Missouri at Columbia, who now teaches at the Eastman School of Music and is principal horn of the Rochester Philharmonic.

In 1983, Higgins contacted Steven Gross, the first Heldenleben winner, to host the next American Horn Competition.  Two years later, Steve was asked to chair the competition, with Higgins remaining a board member and director emeritus. At this time, Steve incorporated the competition as a non-profit organization and divided the solo competition into three rounds, covering the gamut of literature required of a horn soloist.

Typically, the repertoire list includes the following:

  • First round: first movement of a Mozart Concerto and a one-movement work such as the Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro or Cherubini Sonata No. 2.
  • Second round: one unaccompanied work.  In 2007 a mandatory accompanied, modern work was added.
  • Final round: a complete concerto.

A University Division was added to encourage younger players to compete with hornists at their own level rather than against professionals.

The Competition has experimented over the years with different categories, including valve horn, natural horn (1978-1989), duo concertos, and quartets. All have been successful artistically; financial realities, however, have limited the current competition to a Professional and University Division. Further, the Board of Advisers decided to hold the Competition once every two years.  The purpose of this change was to enable competitors and organizers to have more time to prepare for and publicize each event. A less frequent competition also presents a more prestigious face to the public.

A respectful atmosphere is created by contestants performing their complete selections without interruption, with standard concert etiquette, and written evaluations from each judge. In 1985 juror Francis Orval suggested permitting contestants, after they have been eliminated, to talk to the judges. Sessions with non-finalists and judges are well-attended and characterized by extensive mentoring, particularly among college students. Eldon Matlick (University of Oklahoma) compared competition participation to taking a private lesson with a dozen or more of the top professionals in the field." Over the years, it has been heartening to see first-time competitors return to place higher or win. Two examples of continued and successful participation are Michelle Stebleton (1989) and David Thompson (1994).

The competition traditionally includes a clinic on solo horn playing before the first round. Featured presenters have included Francis Orval, Brice Andrus, David Krehbiel, Tom Bacon, Lowell Greer, and Greg Hustis. More recently, the entire judging panel has given the clinic, with questions from the audience.

The competition now also includes several composers-in-residence:  Randall Faust, Lowell Greer, and Laurence Lowe. Other positions include David Thompson as European Coordinator, Skip Snead and Karl Pituch as Associate Directors, Lowell Greer as Artistic Coordinator, and Alan Mattingly as Electronic Media Coordinator. The current board of advisers includes William Capps, Cynthia Carr, James Decker, Randall Faust, Randy Gardner, Marian Hesse, Elliott Higgins, W. Peter Kurau, Larry Lowe, Alan Mattingly, Jean Martin-Williams, Robert Osmun, Karl Pituch, Charles Skip Snead, David Thompson, Rick Todd, and William VerMeulen.

Over the years, a number of generous contributions have augmented the first prize. Louis Stout, James Decker, and Karl Pituch gave generous cash donations. In 2007 Larry Lowe secured the opportunity for the winner to solo with the Temple Square Orchestra, with that appearance broadcast on cable television. Hoyer contributed a double horn, through the efforts of Rick Todd.

In 2007, the American Horn Competition became the International Horn Competition of America. The name change was made to emphasize the Competition's openness to hornists of all nationalities. In its thirty-three years of existence the Heldenleben/American/International Horn Competition of America has advanced the horn as a solo instrument, broadened the literature, elevated performing standards, provided a venue that treats hornists with respect, and has given every participant the opportunity for constructive and positive feedback.