It’s time once again to talk about one of our favorite topics: musical chairs in major orchestras, particularly the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
There has been a lot happening since last we broached the topic, and by the end of the beginning of the 2016/17 season, one current principal will have retired and there’ll be three new principal players with the LA Phil that weren’t in their jobs at the end of this past Fall/Winter season. There’s more besides that in San Francisco, Portland, New York, and Chicago as well. Here are the specifics:
When the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Carlo Maria Giulini held auditions in 1983 to find a new percussionist, they chose a local. Raynor Carroll was in his last year of undergraduate studies at Cal State LA when Mitchell Peters, his teacher and the LA Phil’s Principal Timpanist at the time, encouraged him to try out for the job. Not only did he win the position, three years later he was promoted to Principal Percussionist. For a kid who had lived in Pasadena since he was four-years old, it was quite the coup.
More than thirty years have passed, and Mr. Carroll is retiring this Summer. His final concert with the orchestra will be on Sunday, September 4th, the last of the annual concerts John Williams spends at the Hollywood Bowl.
The musician filling his spot has already been chosen, and once again, the LA Phil selected a 20-something from the area who went to a local university and studied with orchestra members: Matthew Howard.
The Los Angeles native got his Bachelor of Music in 2012 from the USC Thornton School of Music, studying with Joseph Pereira (Principal Timpanist) and James Babor (Percussionist). He followed that up with a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory and a year as a Fellow at the New World Symphony (NWS), Michael Tilson Thomas’s prestigious post-graduate training orchestra in Florida.
Despite the parallels between his journey to the LA Phil’s Principal Percussion chair vis-a-vis that of his predecessor, actually having it happen was not something he dared imagine. “It’s pretty ridiculous. I was not expecting getting my dream job off the bat,” he said in an interview with Tamika Bickham of the NWS about his new gig.
Yes, it’s hard for anyone to get any job in a professional orchestra. Make it a principal’s chair in one of the top orchestras in the world that happens to be in your hometown, and it’s that much harder. But that’s not all he was talking about.
Earlier this year, the LA Phil announced auditions to find a new Principal Percussionist. Mr. Howard applied for the opportunity — and was denied.
He was put on the standby list instead, and as luck would have it, the orchestra reached out to him two months later: a number of people offered an audition spot could not or chose not to take it, so Mr. Howard would have his shot after all. Unfortunately, by then the audition was merely a month away, giving him only one-third of the usual time to prepare.
“In order to get to that level you have to have months of intricate and stressful training on a two second blurb of music,” he said in same interview. “I was prepared enough and experienced enough in audition taking to know how to prepare for this most efficiently.”
Obviously, one month was enough. No word yet on when he’ll officially begin his new job, but don’t be surprised to see him at Walt Disney Concert Hall in late September when the new 2016/17 season begins.
Trying to replace Nitzan Haroz as Principal Trombone hasn’t been the fastest process, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Tom Hooten, Principal Trumpet, told me in a 2014 interview, “We want to take the time to find the right player, and Nitzan set a very high bar.”
After open auditions held two years ago failed to yield a job offer, several musicians were invited for trial weeks and private auditions with the orchestra. The most recent of these candidates, Jörgen van Rijen (Principal Trombone of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam), played the iconic first trombone part in the Mahler 3rd Symphony with the orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall this past March and knocked it out of the park. He then joined them on their tour of Europe and New York, and appeared with the rest of the brass and percussion sections on The Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert to play Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (BTW: videos of that performance were all over the internet when it was first broadcast; they’ve since been pulled, likely because of copyright issues). Mr. Rijen was offered the job, but after some consideration, decided to stay in Amsterdam.
Fortunately, he was not the only stellar trombonist under consideration. In May of 2015, David Rejano Cantero, Principal Trombone of the Munich Philharmonic, played as guest first chair for a program of works by Falla and Rodrigo. The concert wasn’t quite the showpiece for trombone that Mahler 3 is, but I thought that Mr. Rejano’s performance was superb nonetheless. In fact, more than one noteworthy listener was surprised when he wasn’t given the position outright.
Regardless of the delay in the decision making, he was eventually offered the job and subsequently accepted. His tenure as Principal Trombone of the Los Angeles Philharmonic officially begins on August 15. In the meantime, enjoy this video of him as soloist in the third movement of the Trombone Concerto by Launy Grøndahl:
Principal Clarinet, First Violins, Cellos, and Associate Principal Horn
There are a few other bits to mention
- Boris Allakhverdyan officially took over as Principal Clarinet on July 4.
- Nathan Cole is still First Associate Concertmaster. He had previously been offered the position as Concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony, but ultimately turned them down. Mr. Cole is an excellent violinist, and Seattle’s loss is Southern California’s continued good fortune.
- After playing almost the entire 2015/16 WDCH season as Acting Assistant Principal Cello as a guest player, Dahae Kim officially joined the orchestra in that role in May. One source stated that she has already been given tenure.
- Other relatively recent additions to the orchestra who’ve reportedly been given tenure: Denis Bouriakov (Principal Flute), Stéphane Beaulac (Third/Utility Trumpet), and Andrew Lowy (Second/E-flat Clarinet). They’ve all been fabulous additions to the orchestra, and I would’ve been surprised had any of them NOT been given tenure.
- One titled chair still vacant: Associate Principal Horn. Open auditions held this past February yielded no offers or even trial weeks. The parade of guest hornists occupying the first chair has continued since then, many/most are likely passing through without actually vying for the job. One of them stood out: Robert Johnson, Associate Principal Horn of the Houston Symphony, who led the section in late April while LA Phil Principal Andrew Bain was doing a guest stint of his own with the Berlin Philharmonic. I saw one of the concerts in which Mr. Johnson performed works by Mussorgsky, Grieg, and Janacek, and he was excellent. His playing was full of nuance, bold without ever being bombastic. Rick Schultz also praised him in a concert review for the Los Angeles Times, saying that Mr. Johnson’s “horn playing in a warm duet with [pianist Jean-Yves] Thibaudet was especially impressive.” His appearance was not an official trial week, but let’s hope that Mr. Bain and the powers that be decide to give him one. IMHO, he’d be a great addition to the orchestra.
News from orchestras in San Francisco, Portland, New York, and Chicago
The Los Angeles Philharmonic isn’t the only orchestra with personnel news of note. Here are some quick updates from farther afield:
- The San Francisco Symphony has been without a Principal Timpanist since David Herbert decamped the Bay Area in 2013 in the midst of that orchestra’s labor troubles for the Chicago Symphony, leaving a rather pointed indictment of SFS management in his wake. After three years and multiple auditions, they appear to be close to filling the void: an offer has been given to Edward Stephan, currently Principal Timpani of the Pittsburgh Symphony. No word yet on if he’s accepted. If he doesn’t, expect Michael Israelievitch to continue as Acting Principal.
- News from the Pacific Northwest: the Oregon Symphony announced that the contract of Music Director Carlos Kalmar has been extended to the end of the 2020/21 season, after which he will step down. He will have held the position for 18 years, second only to James DePriest’s 23 years. (A tip of the hat to Charles Noble for mentioning it in light of the classical music vacuum that The Oregonian has sadly become.)
- This happened in May, but for completeness sake, I’ll mention it anyways: Chris Martin, Principal Trumpet of the Chicago Symphony, is leaving the Midwest to take the same position with the New York Philharmonic. He fills the chair most recently held by the legendary Phil Smith, himself a former Chicago Symphony player. That a trumpeter would willingly vacate the CSO chair once held by the equally legendary (if not more so) Adolph “Bud” Herseth is a shock to begin with. That the NY Phil reportedly offered Mr. Martin the position WITH tenure is almost unheard of. Draw your own conclusions about the mad trumpet skillz [sic] he possesses. . . . As you might expect, there is much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth by classical music fans in the Windy City, to which Riccardo Muti, the CSO’s Music Director, replied to the Chicago Tribune: “I spoke with Chris Martin today. He is very close to the Chicago Symphony but he wants another experience (away from the orchestra). So we shall see. Change is natural in symphony orchestras. The important thing is to find replacements who are very good. Everybody wants to play in the CSO, so I’m not worried.” Everybody except Chris Martin. And Eugene Izotov. And Mathieu Dufour. And David McGill. And others. . . . There is no doubt that the CSO is still one of the premiere orchestras in the world and will have it’s share of top-notch musicians from whom to choose replacements. But with yet another principal player in his prime deciding to leave the orchestra, you can’t help but say, “Hmmmmm.”
- Speaking of the Chicago Symphony, they did fill one of their empty principal chairs, reaching into their past to do it: Alex Klein is Principal Oboe once again. He had previously held the position from 1995 until 2004 when complications of focal hand dystonia forced him to step down. Thankfully for him and classical music fans in Chicago, he has recovered. He played as guest principal with the CSO in April and won an audition with the orchestra in late June.
- Boris Allakhverdyan will be the next Principal Clarinet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
- Raynor Carroll holding cymbals: courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
- Matthew Howard playing: courtesy of the New World Symphony
- David Rejano Cantero without glasses: courtesy of Antoine Curtois — Paris
- Raynor Carroll in suit: courtesy of California State University, Los Angeles
- Matthew Howard portrait: courtesy of the New World Symphony
- David Rejano Cantero with glasses: courtesy of International Summer Brass Festival Alicante
- Robert Johnson: courtesy of the Houston Symphony