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Interview with Richard Watkins

Ahead of the opening of our 75th anniversary year in 2020, read about the history of the Philharmonia in this feature from the concert programme of one of our upcoming concerts.

Richard Watkins was the Philharmonia’s Principal Horn from 1985 to 1996. Like many of his colleagues, he grew up listening to Dennis Brain’s recordings. “If you turn on the radio in the middle of a recording, you immediately recognise his horn sound,” he says.

“You really make your own sound and I think that sound evolves from listening to other players. I certainly grew up with the Philharmonia tradition.”

The technical difficulties in the Serenade are still challenging. “At the time, it was considered unplayable. [Britten] composed the ‘Prologue’ and the ‘Epilogue’ to employ the instrument’s natural harmonics. These movements give the piece an ethereal quality. When I first played it, I was fortunate enough to work with Peter Pears. I asked him about the ‘Prologue’ and he asked me to imagine I was standing on the moon.”

Watkins has known the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage for a long time. “A few years ago, Mark wrote a cello concerto, and one movement was a soliloquy for cello and solo horn. [After I recorded that] he said he’d like to write something for me. Unbeknown to me, he actually wrote quite a lot of it straight away. He’d had this ‘seed’ in his mind and he just went for it. He doesn’t wait for commissions or deadlines to loom!”

“This concert has the feel of being a great celebration. I shall listen to the performance of Till Eulenspiegel with a glass of something refreshing in my hand!”

You can see Richard Watkins perform Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new horn concerto on 16 January 2020, 7.30pm at Royal Festival Hall.

This extract is reprinted with kind permission from Bachtrack. Read the full interview at You can also hear Richard in conversation with Mark-Anthony Turnage, talking to our Second Horn Kira Doherty, and playing Dennis Brain’s horn at the Royal Academy of Music, in a series of films on our YouTube channel,