In May of 2005, I hosted a trumpet conference that featured the former principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony, the great, Adolph Herseth.  It was a three-day event that not only showcased him in recital with none-other than Doc Severinsen, but featured him in a number of educational settings.  What follows is an article written by a former student, Jerod Sommerfeldt, and myself that appeared in the September 2005 ITG Journal.

Adolph Herseth Convocation

The festival began with a convocation featuring Adolph Herseth. In the University’s Annett Recital Hall, Mr. Herseth walked out on to the stage, and promptly received a standing ovation. He sat down next to Dr. Cooper and proceeded to answer questions that Dr. Cooper and the trumpet studio at the University had prepared. The emphasis of the talks was not so much on technique, but they provided an opportunity for Mr. Herseth to share the seemingly infinite number of stories he has acquired through his time with the CSO. The discussions covered a number of topics; equipment, different orchestras, different conductors, fellow colleagues and players, composers, as well as auditions and the audition process.

First, Mr. Herseth was asked, as many are curious about, his audition for the Chicago Symphony. He stated that things were very different back then, compared to the way things are run these days. Many who take auditions today understand just how arduous they can be, with a lot of rounds to get through. In his day, however, one would receive an audition through a referral, or a recommendation from a colleague. At the time, Mr. Herseth was a student at the New England Conservatory, and was recommended by his teacher, Georges Mager, to take an audition for the CSO principal trumpet spot. The audition itself consisted of playing excerpts for Arthur Rodzinski in a 5th Ave, New York, loft. He was under the impression that the audition was for third or fourth trumpet, so he was quite surprised to hear that he had gotten the job for principal. Before officially winning, however, Mr. Herseth was asked to audition again in Orchestra Hall in Chicago. He did, in order for the committee to hear him in the acoustical situation that Orchestra Hall presents.

Many times, he shared, a committee will ask the one auditioning to play the same excerpt in a different style. Perhaps more staccato, slower, or whatever it may be. It is important to remain flexible and able to play in many different styles, as conductors will change often, and everyone is looking for a different interpretation. Because of this, he states that he will never mark in breath marks on a part, because the phrasing can change with each maestro who steps up to the podium. Being able to adapt to different musical situations is a very strong quality to have.

The talks shifted to equipment, and Mr. Herseth stated that it is important for the trumpet section to use the same equipment, in order to achieve a more blended sound. He also talked about how he uses several different mouthpieces, in order to achieve the best sound for the situation. In playing Brahms, for example, he uses an old German mouthpiece that pre-dates the Monke factory. (He also uses a Monke “B” rotary trumpet, in addition to his Bach, large-bore C trumpet.) Again, it appeared that it is very important to be able to adapt, not only musically, but on equipment as well.

One of the highlights of the talks was hearing him talk about different composers and conductors that he has played with throughout his tenure. The amazing thing about these stories is that, for many of us, they are the things that we only read about in books, and he was there living through all of them. He had many things to say about his summers at Tanglewood, during his time as a student in Boston. He met many giants of the twentieth century there, including Koussevitsky, Bernstein, Copland, and Britten. He watched Bernstein conduct Copland’s Appalachian Spring, the original chamber version, from Copland’s own manuscripts, and he performed Britten’s Peter Grimes, with the composer in attendance. Each example was told with such captivity, and the whole audience listened with an eager enthusiasm. His discussions on conductors ranged from his admiration for Pierre Monteaux, his experiences playing under Fritz Reiner, Sir Gerog Solti, and the different techniques of many other conductors. The list is seemingly a “who’s who” of the conducting world; Ormandy, Walter, Stokowski, Ozawa, and many, many more.

One thing that several people were curious about was the story of Mr. Herseth’s famed rehearsal of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra with Fritz Reiner. Reiner was one who was very interested in keeping players on their toes. In this case, he had gotten the rehearsal up to the moment where the trumpet has the octave leap up to high C. He would stop the orchestra each time after Mr. Herseth had played the part, and would ask to have it done again, always making it seem as though he had trouble with another section in the orchestra. This was an attempt, obviously, to test Mr. Herseth’s ability to continue hitting the infamous passage. He, of course, hit it each time, and after a while, Reiner inquired as to whether or not he would like to play it again for himself. Mr. Herseth said that he just looked at his watch and replied, “Well, I’m here until 12:30.”

The last important thing to take away from the convocation was one of the most interesting stories that can seemingly change the way anyone looks at the Hindemith Sonata. Mr. Herseth and a group of CSO wind players sat down with Hindemith, while Hindemith was conducting the orchestra, and discussed the various Sonatas he had composed for their instruments. It is in fact true that Hindemith could play all of the pieces on the respective instruments, just not all the way through, and, as Mr. Herseth told us, Hindemith would not have charged anyone to come and listen to him try! Mr. Herseth was curious about the chorale at the end of the Trumpet Sonata, and asked Hindemith why it was marked so slowly. (He said that it was marked at eighth note=49.) The chorale has long been one of the more difficult tasks to play, because the end is so fatiguing. Hindemith claimed that the tempo was an editor’s mistake, and that it should be played as it would be sung in church. Mr. Herseth then played the opening passage, this time not as slowly, and it changed the way many of us look at the end of the Sonata.

The convocation was a true highlight for everyone who attended, and was the best way to start the festival. He even gave demonstrations of some famous excerpts, such as Pictures and Mahler 5. Hearing him play those parts was truly a special moment, and the convocation was even that much more memorable, due in part to the endless stories that he shared.