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

Thursday, July 3, 2014

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Philip Smith — principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, former teacher of Wynton Marsalis and hero to brass nerds everywhere — is retiring. Hear what makes him so idolized.

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. Chris Lee

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.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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