Australian horn player Hector McDonald has been granted Honorary Membership of the International Horn Society, the society’s highest honour, recognising living hornists who have made a major contribution at the international level to the art of horn playing. The Toowoomba-born hornist, who is only the second Australian to receive the honour (the first was Barry Tuckwell) has had decades-long careers with both the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Concentus Musicus Wien, and was awarded the IHS’s Punto Award (for regional or national impact) in 2010.

“The award means recognition of a lifetime in music,” McDonald told Limelight. “Since I began on the horn at the age of 18 I have had a very intense involvement with the instrument, now almost 50 years.”

Hector McDonald, HornAustralian horn player Hector McDonald. Photo © Keith Saunders

McDonald has held positions in Australia, working with the Elizabethan Trust Orchestra in the 1970s, as well as in Europe, including Solo Horn with the Berlin Radio Orchestra in the 1970s and Solo Horn with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra from 1989 to 2018.

“I have also been Principal Horn with the esteemed period music group Concentus Musicus Wien for the last 30 years,” he says. “This has involved working very closely with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. I was Head of Brass at the ANU School of Music during the 1980s and I have also been Professor for Horn at the Graz University for the Performing Arts for the last 20 years. So the IHS Award is recognition by my colleagues and associates on an international level for a life devoted to all aspects of horn performance (Double horn, Vienna horn, Classical and Baroque horns, Wagner tuba and the Alphorn) and horn pedagogy. I have former students employed all over the world.”

There have been many career highlights for McDonald, who has worked with some of the finest orchestras and conductors in the world. “Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Herbert Blomstedt, Karl Böhm, Bernard Haitink, Zubin Mehta and Sir Simon Rattle to name but a few,” he says. “However, I cherished more than any other, the time spent with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The respect and friendship which built up over almost 30 years is unforgettable. An extraordinary musician with so much to give and always new ideas and insights. For this period in my career, I will always be grateful.”

What advice does McDonald have for young musicians interested in pursuing a career in horn? “Horn playing can be both very rewarding and very frustrating,” he says. “It’s a difficult instrument with many peculiarities. Some days it’s your best friend and other times it’s a rather moody companion. Enjoy the journey, respect those who have gone before you and try to maintain good relationships with colleagues and management. And don’t neglect the need to maintain a strong and healthy embouchure. i.e. keep practising!”