The New York Philharmonic

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Orin O’Brien, NY Phil Bass for 55 Years


“It may sound naïve, but for a musician, playing in a great orchestra is like being at one with the universe. The whole is greater than any one individual, and you combine to make something that in the best concerts is like a religious experience.” Orin O’Brien said that some 20 years ago. Today she adds: “I’ve always felt this way.”

Her earliest memories include the New York Philharmonic. Her parents, both Hollywood actors, encouraged their children’s in­terest in culture, from books to ballet. She recalls: “They listened to classical music all the time” — including, on every Sunday, NY Phil radio broadcasts. Orin moved from piano to double bass at age 14 to join her high school orchestra. Her distinguished instructors included two NY Phil veterans, Herman Reinshagen and Freder­ick Zimmermann, the latter serving as Associate Principal Bass. “These teacher-players stressed clear articulation and fidelity to the musical page, and under­standing how to follow a conductor’s instructions,” Orin recalls. While studying at The Juilliard School she worked as a Carnegie Hall usher, an experience that enhanced her studies. “I heard the Philharmonic perform four, five times a week, with my teacher in the bass section!”

She passes these lessons on to her own students, focusing on how the individual fits in with the ensemble. “The bass is so low pitched that you have to be very precise in your articulation to make it clear when you’re playing in a section for an audience,” she explains. “I would insist that my students attend Philharmonic rehearsals so they could learn from a living example.”

Orin has handed down the Philharmonic performance tradition to orchestral bass players around the country, including three current members of the Orchestra. And she still teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and Mannes School of Music. (Note to would-be professionals: check out her Double-Bass Notebook, published by Carl Fischer.) She remains connected with the NY Phil, and will return this fall to listen in during the testing of the new David Geffen Hall’s acoustic. Still, leaving is bittersweet. “I miss the camaraderie of the bass section, and experienc­ing music in the midst of the Orchestra.” Yet her Philharmonic connection continues: she still attends concerts, and friendships forged with players live on.

On Orin’s retirement, Associate Principal Bassoon Kim Laskowski, one of her closest friends, says: “I was in complete awe of Orin O’Brien when I joined the Orchestra. She was hired by Ber­nstein, had played with so many legendary conductors and soloists, and had recorded so many of the LPs we all cherished as young musicians. As a teacher, she educated a generation of dou­ble bassists, many of whom peopled orchestras all over the world. We shared many of the same freelance experiences, and we both were mem­bers of the New York City Ballet Orchestra, al­though not at the same time. She also shared with me anecdotes, clippings, letters, and pro­grams from the Philharmonic’s past that edu­cated me. I will miss seeing her smiling, attentive face as I look to the left.”

In photo: Orin O’Brien with Philharmonic Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein, the Music Director during whose tenure she joined the Orchestra

Meet Sandra Pearson, Retiring New York Philharmonic Assistant Principal Librarian

Sandra Pearson’s career reflects her wide-ranging expertise. In addition to serving at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, she is the only person to have had the official title of Librarian for the Boston Pops. You may be surprised that she has worked with the likes of Cab Calloway, Conan O’Brien, and The Manhattan Transfer, and on the recording sessions for Saving Private Ryan.


But that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what interests Sandy, a multifaceted musician and researcher who is retiring after serving as Assistant Principal Librarian of the New York Philharmonic for 21 years. Here's her Q & A, followed by the speech she would have given the night the Orchestra would have celebrated this years retirees.


Q: How were you introduced to music?


SP: I grew up in a house filled with music in Madison, Wisconsin. My mother was a pianist, organist, and singer; my father had played trombone in the high school dance band, my uncle was a bassoonist, and we kids took piano lessons. There was a decent phonograph record collection; one LP I loved so much that I wore it out was an introduction to the instruments of the orchestra, with musical examples. I also loved the record of Peter and the Wolf. My mother played the postludes in church and, in the evenings, cocktail piano, so I already I knew that you could do music for a living and that music was going to be part of my life.


Q: When did you decide to pursue music as a career?


Meet Howard Wall, Retiring New York Philharmonic Horn

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. Read More...

Meet Eric Bartlett, Retiring New York Philharmonic Cello

Eric Bartlett came to the Philharmonic in 1997 after serving 14 years as a member of (and occasional soloist in) the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and principal cellist of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. The recipient of a Solo Recitalist’s Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, he has participated in more than 90 premieres with ensembles such as Speculum Musicae, New York New Music Ensemble, Group for Contemporary Music, and Columbia String Quartet, and has commissioned new cello works from American composers. He teaches orchestral repertoire and coaches the conductor-less orchestra at The Juilliard School.


It’s a long way from rural New England, where it all started. Here’s his Q & A.


Q: How did you discover music?


EB: I grew up in Marlboro, Vermont. While there weren’t musicians in my family, my father loved classical music, and the well-known music festival was right up the road. (Twice in the summer of ’71 I actually got a glimpse of Pablo Casals, and I mowed Hermann Busch’s grass.) Alan Carter, the founder of the Vermont Symphony, addressed the need for local string teachers by bringing one there from Connecticut, and provided student instruments for us to use for free.


My first teacher, the violinist Stanley Eukers, offered lessons on violin or cello. My father thought that the grumbly, out-of-tune cello playing of a beginner would be more bearable than a scratchy, screechy, out-of-tune violin. That’s how at age eight I started studying cello with a violinist in group lessons. Read More...

Meet Arlen Fast, Retiring New York Philharmonic Contrabassoon and Bassoon

Arlen Fast is the highly regarded contrabassoonist and bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic, as well as the husband of Anne Ediger, an applied linguist and professor at Hunter College. He is also a pioneer in instrument design who has introduced a dramatic evolution to his deep-voiced instrument that now enriches ensembles around the world, including The Cleveland and Metropolitan Opera Orchestras.


Arlen’s path to the Philharmonic (of which he has been a member for 24 years) and the frontiers of musical technology began on a Kansas farm and has been paved by persistence and a singular love for his instrument. Here's his Q & A, followed by the speech he would have given the night the Orchestra would have celebrated this years retirees.


Q: Would you tell us about your childhood?


AF: I grew up on a farm outside Moundridge, Kansas, that has been in my family since my great-grandfather’s time — I’m in the first generation not to have taken up farming, though we still own it. My grandparents and parents were instrumentalists and church singers, all of my siblings are musicians, and everyone could sing four-part harmony very well. Music was as essential as learning to read and write. Read More...