Stephen Stirling, Horn

“After youth orchestras and music college my first three years in the profession were with a rather dispirited symphony orchestra. I knew that something was missing from my musical life and I resigned with the rather vague idea of playing chamber music and travelling a bit – I had exactly one wind quintet concert in the diary and a mortgage to pay…

The very first ‘gig’ that came in was when Robin O’Neill asked me if I would like to come to Pesaro with the newly formed ‘Chamber Orchestra of Europe’ – I’d never heard of it but three weeks in Italy sounded rather wonderful. It was, and a lifelong relationship with amazing food was cemented there: at a later ‘Pesaro’ Abbado turned up to a garden party where we had cooked a giant pesto for 27 people (requiring a production line of basil choppers, pine nut roasters and cheese graters) – he brought along a gift of quarter of a parmesan, which remains the largest lump of cheese I have ever seen. Years later I discovered that my nickname in COE was ‘Basil and Garlic.’ They were truly happy days.

Playing with a young, vibrant and idealistic orchestra was a thrilling breath of fresh air but my life changed when the COE wind players started working with Alexander Schneider. Sasha was speaking a language of passionate, joyful and profound music-making that went so far beyond ‘in time and in tune’. By the end of our first rehearsal at Forde Abbey in Dorset I was fighting back tears of relief and I knew I had found my spiritual home.

Abbado, Vegh, Berglund, the musical highs just kept coming, but when Harnoncourt appeared my life changed again. Cycles of Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven symphonies, not to mention extraordinarily touching Dvorak Slavonic Dances, are seared onto my memory and influence to this day every note I play. I doubt a day goes past when I don’t quote him to a student or to whoever is polite enough to allow me to repeat myself…”


One of the UK’s best known horn players, Steve’s early decision to focus on chamber music has led to a highly varied career with a great big mix of chamber groups, solo performances, contemporary music, chamber orchestras and vast experience of travel the world over. He has played in over 60 countries in most of the worlds finest concert halls but also in schools for street children in Mumbai, universities in Nigeria, the rainforests of Colombia and minute chapels in the Yorkshire Dales and the islands of Brijuni and Gozo.

Alongside solo recordings of Mozart Horn Concertos, Vivaldi Double Horn Concertos and the Weber Concertino in E, all with the City of London Sinfonia, he has recorded nearly 100 chamber works, many of them world premiere recordings and often of neglected British romantic composers from the 20th Century, His recording of the Brahms horn trio with the Florestan Trio was nominated for a gramophone award after it was released and recently was listed as one of the ‘all time great’ recordings of that work by BBC Music Magazine. Works written for Stephen include concertos by Gary Carpenter and Matthew Taylor, ‘Hunding’ by Martin Butler and a virtuoso study for wind quintet by John Woolrich. During lockdown he researched and recorded an album of unknown manuscripts and forgotten gems from Dennis Brain’s personal music library.

He has long been associated with innovative ensembles: With Endymion, Capricorn and the Fibonacci Sequence he has been involved in countless premieres of new music; with the New London Chamber Ensemble, theatrical and choreographed performances of wind music – now much imitated; the COE with Harnoncourt pioneered historically aware performance on modern instruments and recently he has relished taking part in memorised performances of symphonies with Aurora.

In his current position as Principal Horn with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields he is actively engaged in their programming committee and tours worldwide with both the orchestra and its renowned chamber ensemble.

Stephen is Professor of Horn at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London and a faculty member of the Yellow Barn International Summer School and Festival in Vermont, USA.


icon-arrow-left-white icon-arrow icon-caret icon-close facebook icon-idagio itunes icon-logo-small icon-padlock icon-play icon-plus youtube