Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Howard Wall began playing the horn at age ten and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in music performance at Carnegie Mellon University. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 19 performing Schumann’s Konzertstück for Four Horns, the same work with which he made his Philharmonic debut in 1995; he has since reprised it with the Orchestra, both in New York and abroad. Howard is among the performers awarded Gold Medal and Top Honors at the 2018 Global Music Awards.
We usually honor our retiring musicians at a special concert and reception, but this year that isn’t possible. We therefore invite you to get to know Howard Wall as he retires as Philharmonic horn, The Ruth F. and Alan J. Broder Chair, after a 26-year tenure. Though he is man of few words — the Gary Cooper of the French horn world — we managed to get him to open up a little about how he came to music and to reflect on his Philharmonic tenure. Here's his Q & A, followed by the speech the night the Orchestra would have celebrated this year’s retirees.
Q: How did you come to play the French horn?
HW: My older brother played the clarinet, so I wanted to play an instrument. When I decided to join the school music program it was in the middle of the school year, so when I asked to play the trumpet, the available instruments had been claimed and the teacher suggested horn.
Q: Did your parents support your interest in music?
HW: They realized I had an interest in classical music, so they started turning on the Philharmonic’s televised Young People’s Concerts — unless there was a Steelers game on at the time.
Q: When did you decide to pursue music as a career?
HW: Just a few years after I started. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Q: What do you love about the French horn?
HW: There is a physical sense of pleasure when you make sounds that end up being music. And the horn plays so many roles in the orchestra — heroic, romantic. I hope to be able to keep playing in some capacity.
Q: Where did you work before you joined the Philharmonic?
HW: I started at the Phoenix Symphony, then the Denver Symphony Orchestra, and I was in The Philadelphia Orchestra for 18 years
Q: What made you decide to audition for the New York Philharmonic?
HW: My wife, Elmira Darvarova, was a Metropolitan Opera Orchestra concertmaster, so when I was in Philadelphia, we couldn’t be together as much as we wanted. When the New York Philharmonic had a horn opening, I took the audition.
Q: Looking back over your decades at the Phil, what moments stand out in your memory?
HW: Joining my colleagues as soloists in Schumann’s Konzertstück in New York and on tour, and I have always enjoyed playing chamber music in the Philharmonic Ensembles series at Merkin Hall. And traveling on tour is another amazing thing I’ve gotten to do over the years. A particularly strong memory is of the audience’s response at the concert in North Korea [in 2008] — we could feel how much they appreciated our being there. The applause lasted for about ten minutes!
Q: How has the Orchestra changed since you first joined it?
HW: When I first got here a lot of the players were older; they had come in during the time when conductors had more power and control, and they had fought to improve salaries and working conditions. Most of those people have since retired, and when you look at the stage now you see a whole younger crowd — and many more female colleagues.
Q: Has your life in music been all you’d hoped it would be?
HW: It has been wonderful. The level of the people here is just remarkable. Especially the horn section: they are amazing — and it helps that we all get along. Also, as I got older, I more and more appreciated how fortunate I have been to have a career that allows you to enjoy the satisfaction, all the time, of making music.
Howard Wall’s Farewell Remarks
Because there was no Retirees’ Concert this season, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all who worked in Avery Fisher / David Geffen Hall, both past and present, since 1994 (the year of my appointment to the New York Philharmonic). This includes security guards, staff, administration, stage crew, musicians, librarians, and conductors. No one was less than kind to me. Thank you for that.
More specifically, I would like to thank the Orchestra musicians, both past and present, for their artistry, friendship, professionalism, and collegiality. It was my great honor and privilege to be one of you.
Even more specifically, I would like to thank the New York Philharmonic brass section, both past and present, for their fabulous playing, friendship, and outrageous hilarity which made coming to work such a joy.
To my beloved horn section, both past and present, thank you for your friendship and awesome artistry, which I will always carry in my heart.
Thank you, librarians, for your unending work, which you did with such good nature.
Thank you, stage crew, for taking care of all our needs, on and off stage.
I haven’t forgotten about you, the New York Philharmonic audience. We strive to do our best whether we are practicing for ourselves, or in rehearsal and performance with our colleagues. But you, the audience, are the ingredient which truly brings a performance to life and makes it special. Thank you for loving music.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two people in my life: my friend of over 50 years, former Principal Horn Philip Myers, who through his friendship, musicianship, artistry, and generosity helped me be the horn player that I became. He also introduced me to my wife, which brings me to the other person whom I need to speak about. My marriage to Elmira Darvarova, former Concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, pretty much coincided with my New York Philharmonic career. Being married to her has made my New York life a paradise. The combination of my marriage, playing in the New York Philharmonic, and being a part of the horn section with my best friend was like a dream come true.
I wish all of you lots of great health and happiness. Thank you for allowing me to take part in this wonderful profession of ours.