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After 36 Years, A Trumpeter Sounds His Last Note In New York

New York Philharmonic principal trumpeter Philip Smith plays at New York's Park Avenue Armory in a performance in June 2012.
New York Philharmonic principal trumpeter Philip Smith plays at New York's Park Avenue Armory in a performance in June 2012.

This Saturday evening, the New York Philharmonic is bidding a fond goodbye to principal trumpeter Philip Smith, who is retiring after 36 years with the orchestra. The NY Phil brass and percussion ensemble is putting on a special concert in his honor.

Smith joined the New Yorkers as co-principal in 1978 after being hired away from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A decade later, he became the Philharmonic's principal — and an idolized figure among brass aficionados. True fact: The only time I have personally ever heard audience members cheer for a player by name after an orchestral concert was after one of his performances. It was Mahler 5, which opens with this solo, and the cry that rang out was: "PHIL! PHIL! PHIL! PHIL!" (Speaking of Mahler, there's a YouTube clip of the famous chorale from his Second Symphony with a delightful though very possibly apocryphal Smith anecdote in the comments section.)

But you don't have to take my word for it. Here's what the legendary Wynton Marsalis — one of his former students — has to say about Smith's artistry:

Meanwhile, here's an exemplary performance of the third movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 conducted by Lorin Maazel, with Smith and his colleague Sheryl Staples, the Philharmonic's acting concertmaster since Glenn Dicterow's recent retirement:

Smith has a sense of humor, too. Check out this teaser video featuring Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question:

Here's the extra punchline: The change-dropper above is Joseph Alessi, Smith's colleague and the NY Phil's principal trombonist since 1985.

And before Smith heads down to Athens, Ga. to become a University of Georgia professor, the orchestra is sending him off with one last little video, newly published. They call it The Trumpet Whisperer.

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