Sonata! features original work commissioned in Lithgow

PIANO AND HORN: Blue Mountains composer and Lithgow choir conductor Rowen Fox and horn player Robert Johnson. Picture: SUPPLIED.
PIANO AND HORN: Blue Mountains composer and Lithgow choir conductor Rowen Fox and horn player Robert Johnson. Picture: SUPPLIED.

Commissioning a song for French Horn is a peculiar thing to have on your to-do list. And Lithgow’s Susan Gregory has had it on hers for several years. 

Finally, she can tick the task off, having successfully put together a concert featuring a new work for French Horn and piano, written by Blue Mountains composer Rowen Fox.

“Well, it’s been a long-term thought in my mind to commission a piece for French Horn and piano,” Susan said. 

“My daughter was doing the HSC, and she studied French Horn. For the HSC recital she had to perform a piece that was written post-1945 and Australian. There wasn’t that much out there, and I thought, ‘we should fill this gap.’”

To top it all off, Susan’s commission will be performed in Lithgow by recently retired Sydney Symphony Orchestra principal horn player, Robert Johnson. 

A fan of classical music, Susan describes Johnson as a “long-term hero”.

She plucked up the courage to ask him to perform the new song.

“I just approached him in the corridor after a concert and asked if he would play a piece I’ve commissioned for him and he said, ‘Rightio’.” 

“It turned out that he had recently moved to Katoomba so he was happy for the piece to be premiered in Lithgow,” she said. 

CONDUCTOR: Rowen Fox and the Lithgow Community Choir. Picture: SUPPLIED.

CONDUCTOR: Rowen Fox and the Lithgow Community Choir. Picture: SUPPLIED.

As for the composer of the piece, Susan sings with him every week at LINC. 

Rowen Fox founded the Lithgow Community Choir and conducts the Blue Mountains ensemble ‘The Phoenix Choir’. He is a professional composer by trade. 

“I was delighted by the opportunity and I was also really thrilled that Susan had approached Robert as I’ve got to work with him quite closely throughout the composition process,” Rowen said.  

“Apart from the fact that it’s nice when people ask you to write songs for them, it’s a great opportunity to work with a world class performer.”

As the first solo piece Rowen has written for French Horn, ‘Sonata for Piano and Horn’ expresses what he has learnt about the instrument from working with Mr Johnson. 

“It’s a very versatile instrument and it has a beautiful high register and characteristic low tones. So I fully explore that in the piece. 

“The piece is in an accessible style, a few elements of minimalism at the beginning and then also quite romantic. It’s very melodic. I tried to match the work with what the horn is best suited to do.” 

Susan Gregory will hear the work for the first time when Robert Johnson performs it to the public at Hoskins Church, accompanied by pianist Phillip Shovk. 

The Sonata! recital will feature a selection of Susan, Rowen and Robert’s favourite pieces for horn, as well as a ‘surprise’ encore. 

Susan said she was excited by the prospect of attending a concert in Lithgow. 

“Well, it’s where I live and I think it’s good to bring these things to Lithgow. There’s not a lot of classical music that comes here and I know there’s an audience for it,” she said. 

Sonata! is on Saturday, May 19, at Hoskins Church. Tickets can be purchased at the door: $25 and $20 concession, special $10 concession for students.