Philip Smith, Principal Trumpet

The New York Philharmonic

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Philip Smith

Philip Smith joined the New York Philharmonic as Co-Principal Trumpet in 1978, became Principal Trumpet, The Paula Levin Chair, in 1988, and retired from that position at the end of the 2013–14 season, completing 36 years of service to the Orchestra. He joined the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia as the William F. and Pamela P. Prokasy Professor in the Arts in August 2014. In addition to teaching his trumpet studio, he is the bandmaster of the UGA British Brass Band, a member of the faculty Georgia Brass Quintet, and the coach of the Bulldog Brass Society. He has made appearances internationally as a soloist, and with the Philharmonic he performed with conductors Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel, Alan Gilbert, Erich Leinsdorf, Leonard Bernstein, Neeme Järvi, and Bramwell Tovey. Mr. Smith has also appeared with many symphonic wind ensembles, including the U.S. “President’s Own” Marine Band, the West Point Academy Band, and many major university ensembles. As a conductor of brass bands and ensembles, recent guest appearances include the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Brass and Percussion and National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain 2016 Summer Course. He has led the Philharmonic’s annual Holiday Brass Concert, and he conducted Members of the Philharmonic at the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City on May 15, 2014. Mr. Smith has served on the faculties of The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music, appeared as recitalist and clinician at numerous International Trumpet Guild conferences, and been an adjudicator for the Prague Spring International Trumpet Competition, Ellsworth Smith International Trumpet Solo Competition, 25th Anniversary National Trumpet Competition (USA), Osaka (Japan) International Chamber Music Competition, and Eric Aubier International Trumpet Competition in Rouen, France. In 2005 he was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, and in 2006 he was given the International Trumpet Guild Honorary Award.

“I love the creativeness and expressiveness of being a musician. It allows me to lose myself in someplace special. I was very shy as a kid so it was a comfortable place where I could dream and achieve.”

Q&A with Philip Smith
THE FACTS: Born London, England. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School, studying with Edward Treutel and William Vacchiano (former Principal Trumpet, New York Philharmonic). Prior to the Philharmonic: Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At the Philharmonic: Joined as Co-Principal in October 1978; became Solo Principal in June 1988; solo debut in 1979 in Henri Tomasi’s Trumpet Concerto with Zubin Mehta. Teaches at The Juilliard School. Most recent recordings: a series for Curnow Music Press

EARLIEST MUSICAL MEMORY: Listening to my dad, Derek Smith, who was principal cornet in Her Majesty’s Royal Horse Guards in London and a worldwide cornet soloist. The first piece I fell in love with was Erik Leidzen’s Songs in the Heart, which was written for and premiered by my dad in 1965. My dad taught me the cornet when I was seven, and I started trumpet in high school; he was my teacher until I went to Juilliard. My father, and trumpeters Maurice André and Adolph (Bud) Herseth were my most important influences.

HOW MANY INSTRUMENTS DO YOU HAVE? Probably a dozen plus. The trumpets in the Philharmonic are pitched in C, but I have trumpets in B-flat, C, D, E-flat, E, F, G, A, and high B-flat; they are needed for different repertoire. I also have German trumpets, cornets, and flugelhorns. I play both the trumpet and the cornet in the Philharmonic.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A MUSICIAN? I love the creativeness and expressiveness of it. It allows me to lose myself in someplace special. I was very shy as a kid so it was a comfortable place where I could dream and achieve.

WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT ASPECT OF YOUR JOB? Being a brass player, you’re always out there; everything shows. I’m a perfectionist and put my own demands on it. If I’m not careful, the pot can boil over into a goulash of pressure and anxiety.

WHAT WOULD YOU BE IF NOT A MUSICIAN? I’ve always been fascinated with being a cop, especially a detective.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS WITH THE ORCHESTRA: When I came here I was a greenhorn. Zubin [Mehta] was on the podium exuding such joy. I remember him looking at me and grinning from ear to ear. He gave me the confidence to play the best that I could.

MOST INSPIRING COMPOSER: For trumpet players, it’s more exciting as we get more contemporary. But I also love Handel and Bach.

DO YOU EVER PLAY IN OTHER GROUPS? Brass bands, orchestras, wind bands, and my gospel group, “Resounding Praise,” with my wife, Sheila, a soprano. I also play with Joe Alessi’s (Principal Trombone) jazz band. But I swing like a rusty gate.
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