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The New York Times
August 1, 2000, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final
A Natural for Outdoors (and Street Corners)
By ALLAN KOZINN
"Playing outdoors really isn't a problem in terms of the instrument," said Philip Smith, the principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, who is to play the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto with the orchestra tonight in Central Park and also at parks in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Westchester this week. Unlike a string player, who might worry about the effect of heat and humidity on his instrument's intonation, Mr. Smith has no concern about the effect of the weather on his gleaming brass trumpet. What he worries about is his lip.
"One of the things I hate," he quickly added, "is that if it's too hot and muggy, all the perspiration makes it hard to keep the mouthpiece from sliding around. So that will be an issue, I'm sure. You need to keep a handkerchief close by. But apart from that, playing the trumpet outdoors is great. What better instrument could you have?"
Mr. Smith, 48, has led the Philharmonic's trumpet section for nearly half his life, having joined the orchestra when Zubin Mehta hired him away from the Chicago Symphony in 1978. He has performed as a soloist with the orchestra about 75 times, most recently in May when he gave the world premiere of a concerto written for him by Lowell Liebermann. Concerto performances aside, his contributions to the orchestra's sound are hard to miss, given the prominence of trumpet lines in everything from Mahler and Bruckner symphonies to works like Copland's "Quiet City."
Possibly because the trumpet is a natural solo instrument for an outdoor concert, he has also been the orchestra's soloist in several of its park programs, including a set of Gershwin duets with the jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis two summers ago. Mr. Smith has performed outdoors in colder weather too, as part of the Salvation Army Band, which enlivens street corners and shopping malls during Christmas season.
Mr. Smith's involvement with the Salvation Army, in fact, is a central part of his life, and not only because it was under the organization's auspices that he had his first trumpet lessons. It is also his church. Besides playing in its ensembles and teaching the trumpet to its younger members, he teaches a Bible course and performs at Sunday services with his wife, Sheila, a singer. This summer the Smiths spent 10 days teaching at a Salvation Army music camp in Plon, Germany.
"My family has been involved in the Salvation Army for four or five generations, right back to its beginnings as a church," said Mr. Smith, who was born in England and whose family moved to Long Island when he was 7. "So I was brought up in it, and I continue. Music is really part of the social life of the church. When you're a little kid, someone slaps a brass instrument in your hands, and you start to learn. It's passed down from generation to generation. My father was a fine cornetist, and he taught me to play. He's retired now, but he also conducted the Salvation Army New York Staff Band for 10 years."
If the Salvation Army gave him a solid technical foundation as a trumpet player, and a good deal of performing and ensemble experience, it did not quite prepare him for the professional life he leads now -- something he discovered soon after he was accepted as a student at Juilliard. Now a faculty member, Mr. Smith looks back with amused disbelief at how little he knew about orchestral playing when he entered the school. Having played only in brass bands, he did not realize that in the orchestra, the trumpet is a transposing instrument: when it plays a note written as a C, the actual sound is B flat. The trumpeter must account for this by transposing up a step.
"In a brass band, you play what you see," Mr. Smith said, "so when I first heard about transposing, I had no idea what people were talking about. The first time I played in the school orchestra, Jean Morel gave us 'Peter and the Wolf.' I played what I saw on the page, which came out a tone lower than the rest of the orchestra. Morel stopped and berated me, and I had no idea what was wrong. So my first year of college, I didn't make it into the orchestra.
"But I learned other things in the Salvation Army. Obviously there's a connection between the music and our religion. When we play hymns, there are lyrics, and my dad always used to tell me that I should say the words through the bell of my horn. That was something special I had, that sense of communication through music. You know, if you're playing, 'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,' you can play it with a connection to the words or not; but to me it only makes sense if that connection is there."
How does that help in the mostly abstract music that Mr. Smith plays with the Philharmonic? "Obviously, you don't have lyrics, but the idea is the same," he said. "You have to find the heart in the music, and the heart has to express itself. There are times I put lyrics to the notes, just to help me. There's a place in the Bruckner Seventh Symphony, about five minutes into the piece, where the horn has a theme, and the trumpet echoes it. It's very quiet and touchy, a nerve-racking moment. I put the words 'God's been faithful in the past' to that theme. It keeps me thinking my thoughts and singing through the line."
At Juilliard, Mr. Smith studied with Edward Treutel and William Vacchiano, and in 1975, when he was working on his master's degree, he auditioned for the Chicago Symphony. Its brass section was reputed at the time to be the best in the country, and Mr. Smith had no expectation of being offered the job. As it turned out, he won the position -- fourth trumpet -- and played with the Chicago Symphony for three and a half years, completing his course work at Juilliard by mail. He remained in Chicago until the principal trumpet chair at the New York Philharmonic became vacant.
"I loved playing in Chicago; that was the pinnacle for a young trumpet player," he said. "But first trumpet openings don't come along very often. It's the difference between being a starting pitcher and a reliever. I spoke with Bud Herseth, the principal trumpet in Chicago, and he said, 'Look, if you don't take the audition, you'll always wonder whether you should have, and you'll regret not taking the chance.'
"So I took it, and I won it, and I had to decide whether to come to New York. Chicago gave me a year's leave of absence, so that if I didn't like New York I could come back. But I let them know pretty quickly that I would be staying here."
In his solo appearances with the Philharmonic, Mr. Smith has played mostly contemporary works. This week he is playing Alexander Arutunian's Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, a virtuoso showpiece composed in 1949.
Mr. Arutunian's Trumpet Concerto is now so entrenched in the instrument's repertory that, Mr. Smith says, students use it frequently as an audition piece at Juilliard. "One of the reasons this piece has become so popular among trumpet players," Mr. Smith said of the concerto, "is just that it's a flashy piece. It has a very Gypsyish, Russian, Armenian kind of sound, with very soulful, beautiful melodies and plenty of exciting rapid-tonguing kind of things."
Mr. Smith plans to bring something new to his performance. In place of the standard cadenza, composed by Timofei Dokschitzer -- the trumpeter for whom the work was written -- he hopes to play a cadenza he has just received from Joseph Turrin, an American composer. "I thought it would be fun to have a new cadenza, having played Dokschitzer's," Mr. Smith said. "It's just arrived in the mail, so I have to see if I can learn it."
Cilicia.com Article Source: Katy Pearce
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