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In my own words

A biography in my own words? Hmmmm. Not easy. How do I pick out the most influential and inspiring events in my horn-playing life? When I was little, my parents would insist that I did my piano practice, and I am grateful for that now. Living in different countries as a child gave me a deep love for global experiences, something I still have today. My dad was a journalist, my mum is a ballet critic and they were always very proud of me, my sister and my brother.

I decided I wanted to be a horn player at my very first horn lesson. Really! My first teacher was a trombone player and I adored him and the horn, so much so that I practiced as much as I could. And because I was spending all my time with my horn, school became quite a lonely place as my fellow classmates didn’t really understand my passion. So I lived for Sunday evenings when I rehearsed with a youth orchestra. I have to say that being a member of various youth orchestras was one of the most important and enjoyable parts of my musical training. Here, I found other young people who did not think it weird to spend lots of time alone practicing and listening to classical music. And nothing beat the fun we had on our tours…!

After 3 years at music college in London I “discovered” Berlin. The city was incredibly vibrant and exciting, and the first time that I heard the Berlin Phil live, I decided that I just had to be as close to this orchestra as possible. My first job was with the Berlin State Opera in 1991,just after the fall of the Berlin Wall so it was an exciting time to be in the city. Before I started there, I was worried that I would not enjoy playing opera… but I ended up adoring it.

In 2001, I got into the Berlin Philharmonic- something I had dreamed about but had never thought would ever become a reality. It probably sounds corny, but it’s the truth when I say that I am proud and grateful every day to play in this incredible orchestra.

I started playing on an Alexander horn when I was 16. My teacher at the time told me that the sound I made on the horn suited an Alexander. This was very unusual at the time in England! I fell totally in love with the sound of this horn and wouldn´t play anything else. The Alex I play on now is a hand-hammered 103 Model with a yellow brass mouthpipe. It is a luxury for us in the Berlin Phil that we all play on 103s, it makes blending as a section a lot easier and we enjoy the close collaboration we have with Gebr. Alexander

My “day job” takes up most of my time and head space, but since I began doing interviews with soloists and conductors for the BPh´s Digital Concert Hall, and also being involved as a mentor and a presenter for the You Tube Symphony Orchestra 2011 in Sydney, I have become very passionate about online music communication. So I am hoping my new website is going to help with this. I would love to connect with musicians all over the world, to reach people who may not have easy access to live concerts or teachers, and also to try and encourage the younger people to realize how great classical music is. So please watch this space and feel free to let me know your suggestions, thoughts and wishes!

Click here to see a list of Sarah’s recordings


The Official Version

Sarah Willis was born in Maryland, USA and holds dual citizenship, British and American.

Her father was a foreign correspondent and her family lived in the USA, Tokyo and Moscow before moving to England when she was 13. She began playing the horn aged 14 at school and then attended the Royal College of Music Junior Department. She went on to study full time at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where her teachers included Anthony Halstead and Jeff Bryant.

She later studied with Fergus McWilliam in Berlin, where she became 2nd Horn in the Berlin State Opera under Daniel Barenboim in 1991. During this time, Sarah played as a guest with many top orchestras such as Chicago Symphony, London Symphony and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and performed worldwide as a soloist and in various chamber music ensembles.

In 2001 Sarah Willis joined the Berlin Philharmonic, becoming the first female member of the brass section. She has recorded various acclaimed CDs including works such as the Brahms Horn Trio and the Rosetti Double Horn Concertos as well as the much celebrated CDs Opera! and Four Corners! with the Berlin Philharmonic Horns. Her latest solo album “Horn Discoveries” was released in 2014.

Sarah is involved in many of the Berlin Philharmonic education projects and especially enjoys creating and presenting Family Concerts. She also interviews conductors and soloists for the Digital Concert Hall and in 2011 she presented live to 33 million viewers during the Final Concert of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Sarah is passionate about music education and makes full use of digital technology and social media to reach audiences world- wide. She was chosen to be one of the first testers of Google Glass and used this experience to see how new technology could be used in classical music.

She is also a regular broadcaster and interviewer on TV and online and fronts the classical music programme Sarah´s Music for Deutsche Welle TV.

Sarah Willis plays on a Gebr. Alexander hand-hammered Model 103

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