‘My life is gorgeous’: Felix Klieser, who performs the horn along with his toes, on making his Proms debut

When Felix Klieser was 4 he decided: he was going to study the french horn. “No one is aware of the place I’d even heard about this instrument,” he laughs. “There’s no one musical in my household. We by no means went to live shows. My dad and mom didn’t even know what a french horn regarded like!”

Göttingen, the small metropolis in the midst of Germany the place Klieser grew up, boasts only one music faculty. A trainer there, aware of the truth that the horn is a really bodily instrument, requiring spectacular lung capability and powerful lips, gently prompt some extra acceptable first devices. Would he wish to make some sounds on a piano, maybe, or bang a drum? “I keep in mind turning into a bit of bit offended,” says Klieser, “as a result of the concept was to not make music. The concept was to play the horn!”

Decided, focussed, a bit of cussed – all qualities essential to succeed with an instrument. However there was one thing else that may have made excelling on the horn tough for Klieser: he was born with out arms, that means that when he progressed to utilizing the instrument’s valves he must mount his instrument on a tripod and play utilizing his toes.

“I’m an individual who loves issues,” he says. “I discovered from very younger that issues may be attention-grabbing.”

Now 32, Klieser has comprehensively silenced any doubters. He gained the distinguished Leonard Bernstein Award in 2016, has recorded a number of acclaimed albums (together with his 2013 debut Reveries and a 2019 efficiency of Mozart’s horn concertos with the Camerata Salzburg); and had a two-year residency with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Subsequent week he makes his Proms debut, enjoying Mozart’s sprightly fourth Horn Concerto, first for a night efficiency after which once more the next day on the “relaxed prom” – the place viewers members are free to go away and re-enter the auditorium at any time and won’t be shushed in the event that they make a noise. This fits Klieser. “I’m not somebody who thinks everybody has to know so much concerning the composers, concerning the historical past. Individuals ought to merely come to the live performance and benefit from the music.”

‘I think it is possible to solve every problem in the world’ … Klieser.
‘I believe it’s attainable to resolve each drawback on this planet’ … Klieser. {Photograph}: ©MJ Kim

Klieser has confronted many challenges with the horn – “with the color of the sound, with excessive notes, with intonations” – however he shrugs off the suggestion that enjoying along with his toes has been one in all them. “The foot is perhaps the one and solely factor I didn’t must practise. It was working from the very starting.”

Watching him play, that is laborious to imagine. He smiles: “From the skin, after I see myself enjoying, I additionally suppose, ‘Wow!’ However for me it’s like sitting on a settee and watching a film – the place is sort of relaxed.”

Truly, Klieser believes his incapacity could have helped him obtain as a lot as he has. “When you might have one thing you dream of and an issue arises, most individuals surrender. However I believe it’s attainable to resolve each drawback on this planet, and I imagine this mind-set is extra necessary than expertise, or how a lot you practise.”

Klieser tells me a narrative. When he was about 14, he auditioned for the Nationwide Youth Orchestra of Germany. “And I performed very, very horribly,” he says with a smile. He didn’t get the place. Extra concerningly, he couldn’t perceive why, every time he performed on a stage, his abilities appeared to flee him. He was nervous, sure, nevertheless it didn’t really feel that easy. After a yr or so he labored it out: his dad and mom’ home was carpeted, and he related that along with his most relaxed enjoying. So he started to practise within the lavatory, the one room in his home with picket flooring like a live performance venue: “And at first I had the identical feeling there. The acoustics have been horrible, the environment was horrible. However I stayed there till I felt snug.”

Klieser made it into the orchestra. And these days, he says, he can play completely anyplace. That is what he means by mindset: “When one thing isn’t working, then it’s OK. You simply have to grasp why it isn’t working.”

Klieser approaches repertoire from a equally open-minded perspective. He loves enjoying the well-known concertos by Mozart, Strauss and Haydn, however is ever stressed and keen to find what he calls “new methods”. In 2021 he launched Past Phrases, for which he recorded baroque arias – written for the voice – for the horn and orchestra. Changing the vocals with the horn, he says, was one thing “nobody had tried earlier than”; he wasn’t certain if it could work.

Experimentation could also be a product of his musical upbringing: as a boy Klieser discovered largely movie music – Forrest Gump, Star Wars, Jurassic Park – earlier than he was sufficiently old to really watch the movies. “By experimenting you study extra about your self, you study extra about what you are able to do along with your instrument. It’s like in case you eat solely pasta and tomato sauce and have by no means tried to do one thing with pesto in your life – let’s attempt one thing new!”

One new factor is treating his instrument as a celeb in its personal proper. Through the pandemic, when all live shows have been cancelled, Klieser purchased a PlayStation and performed video games evening after evening – clearly as adept with a video games controller as he’s the horn’s valves. “After which I used to be a bit of unhappy for my instrument as a result of it’s doing nothing,” he says. “It’s darkish, it’s chilly. So I purchased some eyes and put them on him.” Thus Alex, as he calls his anthropomorphic horn, was born – and has since change into a minor social media star, proven dressing up for Christmas, cooking pasta and even studying his personal instrument on Klieser’s Instagram page.

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It’s a supply of frustration for Klieser, he says, that individuals don’t appear to simply accept that he has enjoyable and enjoys his life. “Individuals see me and suppose, ‘This particular person has some issues.’ And after I inform them, ‘No, I do all the pieces myself, I’ve a pleasant job, I’m actually glad’, they are saying, ‘However you must be actually unhappy and life needs to be laborious!’ No! My life is gorgeous. It’s as a result of individuals see one thing lacking. However the greatest limits individuals have are sometimes the boundaries you can not see. If individuals don’t perceive the probabilities they’ve, is that not a incapacity in itself?”

It’s maybe due to his uneasiness round these definitions that he doesn’t see himself as a task mannequin for disabled individuals. He’s not even certain if illustration is an issue in relation to classical music and incapacity. True, he’s the one particular person he is aware of enjoying with out arms. “However then to change into a classical musician isn’t a excessive probability, and to haven’t any arms isn’t a excessive probability. So to have each issues collectively, that could be a very low …” He pauses for a second, unable to select the right English phrase. Along with his toes he takes his cellphone out of his bag on the ground, swings his legs on to the desk and swiftly opens up a translation app. Inside seconds he has tapped within the German phrase and has the interpretation: “chance!” he says, triumphantly. Simply one other drawback solved for Felix Klieser.

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