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Established Over 40 Years Ago

International Horn Competition of America


The International Horn Competition of America is a biennial solo horn competition open to Professional and University level horn performers of all nationalities.  The goal of the competition is to advance the horn as a solo instrument, broaden the literature composed for it, elevate soloist performance standards, and provide an opportunity for hornists to gain constructive and positive feedback.   


The four day event includes an opening clinic with the International Horn Competition of America’s adjudicators and its Board of Advisors, rehearsals with collaborative pianists, a first round, semi-final round, and final round of the competition, and an awards ceremony.


Each competition takes place at a different geographical location in the United States.  The 2022 Competition will be held in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the University of Alabama.


The First Competition


The first Competition was held in 1976 at Cleveland State University. Judges included Elliott Higgins, George McCracken, Antonio Iervolino, Louis Stout, Bill Slocum, and Burton Hardin. In 1980 Higgins moved to New Mexico and McCracken to Williamsburg VA. They agreed to have two competitions, with Higgins running a western competition and McCracken an eastern one. The 1981 competition was the last for McCracken.

In the west, the first American Horn Competition in 1981 was hosted by W. Peter Kurau of the University of Missouri at Columbia, who now teaches at the Eastman School of Music and is principal horn of the Rochester Philharmonic.

In 1983, Higgins contacted Steven Gross, the first Heldenleben winner, to host the next American Horn Competition.  Two years later, Steve was asked to chair the competition, with Higgins remaining a board member and director emeritus. At this time, Steve incorporated the competition as a non-profit organization and divided the solo competition into three rounds, covering the gamut of literature required of a horn soloist.


Typically, the repertoire list includes the following:

  • First round: first movement of a Mozart Concerto and a one-movement work such as the Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro or Cherubini Sonata No. 2.

  • Second round: one unaccompanied work.  In 2007 a mandatory accompanied, modern work was added.

  • Final round: a complete concerto.


A University Division was added to encourage younger players to compete with hornists at their own level rather than against professionals.

The Competition has experimented over the years with different categories, including valve horn, natural horn (1978-1989), duo concertos, and quartets. All have been successful artistically; financial realities, however, have limited the current competition to a Professional and University Division. Further, the Board of Advisers decided to hold the Competition once every two years. The purpose of this change was to enable competitors and organizers to have more time to prepare for and publicize each event. A less frequent competition also presents a more prestigious face to the public.

A respectful atmosphere is created by contestants performing their complete selections without interruption, with standard concert etiquette, and written evaluations from each judge. In 1985 juror Francis Orval suggested permitting contestants, after they have been eliminated, to talk to the judges. Sessions with non-finalists and judges are well-attended and characterized by extensive mentoring, particularly among college students. Eldon Matlick (University of Oklahoma) compared competition participation to, "taking a private lesson with a dozen or more of the top professionals in the field." Over the years, it has been heartening to see first-time competitors return to place higher or win. Two examples of continued and successful participation are Michelle Stebleton (1989) and David Thompson (1994).

The competition traditionally includes a clinic on solo horn playing before the first round. Featured presenters have included Francis Orval, Brice Andrus, David Krehbiel, Tom Bacon, Lowell Greer, and Greg Hustis. More recently, the entire judging panel has given the clinic, with questions from the audience.

The competition now also includes several composers-in-residence:  Randall Faust, Lowell Greer, and Laurence Lowe. Other positions include David Thompson as Associate Director, and Natalie Brooke Higgins as Electronic Media Coordinator. The current Board of Directors comprises Steven Gross, David Thompson, Skip Snead, Lowell Greer, John McGuire, and Karl Pituch.  The Board of Advisors consists of Michelle Stebleton, Peter Kurau, Annie Bosler, Jeff Nelsen, Larry Lowe, Jean Martin-Williams, Alan Mattingly, Gene Berger, Richard Todd, Brent Shires, William VerMeulen, Randall Faust, and Natalie Brooke Higgins.  The late Elliott Higgins is Founder and Director Emeritus.

Over the years, a number of generous contributions have augmented the first prize.  Louis Stout, James Decker, Steve Gross, Larry Lowe, Randy Gardner and Karl Pituch gave generous cash donations. Hoyer contributed a double horn, through the efforts of Richard Todd.

In 2007, the American Horn Competition became the International Horn Competition of America. The name change was made to emphasize the Competition's openness to hornists of all nationalities. Since 1976, the Heldenleben / American / International Horn Competition of America has made awards to international hornists, advanced the horn as a solo instrument, broadened the solo literature, elevated performing standards, provided a venue that treats hornists with respect, and has given every participant the opportunity for constructive and positive feedback.

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