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 at the end of the 2013–14 season, after 36 years. In August 2014 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 addition to teaching, he is the Bandmaster of the UGA British Brass Band, a member of the faculty Georgia Brass Quintet, coach of the Bulldog Brass Society, and occasional guest in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra trumpet section. As a soloist, he has appeared internationally and with the New York Philharmonic, with conductors Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel, Alan Gilbert, Erich Leinsdorf, Leonard Bernstein, Neeme Järvi, and Bramwell Tovey. He has also appeared with numerous symphonic wind ensembles, including the U.S. “President’s Own” Marine Band, West Point Academy Band, and major university ensembles. He has guest conducted the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Brass and Percussion, National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain Summer Course, and the Hannaford Street Silver Band. He also leads the Philharmonic’s annual Holiday Brass concert and conducted Members of the Philharmonic at the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in May 2014. Mr. Smith has served on the faculty of The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music, appeared as recitalist and clinician at numerous International Trumpet Guild conferences, and adjudicated the Prague Spring International Trumpet Competition, Ellsworth Smith International Trumpet Solo Competition, 25th Anniversary National Trumpet Competition, Osaka International Chamber Music Competition, and Eric Aubier International Trumpet Competition. 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. His latest recording is Trilogy, a three-CD set released in 2017.

“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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