Tag Archives: James Sommerville

My Favorite Concert

Oh my gosh – this was going to be so great – Rossini’s overture to the Barber of Seville, horn concerti by both Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart and a symphony by the father of symphonies himself, Haydn. Like a kid in a candy shop, I was grinning from ear to ear from the moment I sat down in my seat Saturday night at the Southern Theatre until I exited to walk to my car.  Except perhaps Billy Joel’s Piano Man, the best music in the world (in this writer’s humble opinion) comes from classical and baroque-era composers and this concert was going to give us at least three major pieces out of the classical era. Awesome!


Playing a duel-role of both conductor and soloist was James Sommerville, principal horn player with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

When talking to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra horn players earlier this fall, I learned that our own Erin Lano had studied under James Sommerville at the New England Conservatory of Music. How fun to now play for her former teacher.

The concert was so enjoyable to me that I was on the edge of my seat – somehow trying to get closer to the source of the great music! Of course, part of that was out of necessity. It’s true that in the Southern Theatre upper balcony, short people (like me) can’t sit back in our seats if we want to be able to see the entire orchestra. I’m 5’3″ with shoes on – a benefit lost once I actually sit. Because of the high back of the seat in front of me, sitting back in my seat cuts off my view of the closest row of musicians, i.e. the concertmaster, the principal cello and the music director, so I lean forward. Totally OK with this – especially for this concert because it was so enjoyable!

Honestly, except for perhaps the performance of Mozart’s Requiem, this is my favorite concert of the year.  The CSO packed a lot of really great music into one concert.  Wow!

The concert started with a fun rendition of Rossini’s thrice-used overture to the opera, The Barber of Seville – something Mr. Sommerville commented would sound familiar to opera goers everywhere – as well as fans of Bugs Bunny. (upon hearing that the crowd laughed and the retired gentleman sitting next to me commented to his wife “I don’t get it.”  I didn’t explain it, but I’m sure his kids and grandkids would have understood the reference!)  Something I learned at last year’s concert at which Rossini’s William Tell overture was performed, was that Rossini was lazy.  Crazy talented, but lazy just the same.  The overture to The Barber of Seville was an overture to a comedic opera, i.e. a funny opera.  The overture itself is fun.  It’s lively.  It’s happy.  It’s energetic.

In an act that would make all environmentalists proud, Rossini recycled his overture for two other – dramatic – operas, including one written for the Queen of England called “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra” (Elizabeth, Queen of England).  Hers was a serious, dramatic opera, but it had an oddly familiar, happy and bouncy overture to it.  Hmm.

Keep that serious nature in mind as you watch this video of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd!

Next up was a lovely piece by a Ukrainian composer, Valentin Silvestrov.  It was the brand new music for me of this concert.  Overall, it was pretty mellow in nature, but I especially liked the second movement, the Abendserenade, because of the texture added with the plucking of the strings.  It was very pretty, but if it were the last number of the evening, we all would have NEEDED that Surprise in Haydn’s Surprise symphony!

Next up was the start of some really terrific classical music candy for me: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3.  And with this, I learned how the soloist also conducted the Symphony.  He got them started and then they all pretty much kept up by ear.  The beauty of being an ensemble of such incredibly talented musicians is that they can do that!

James Sommerville was exciting to watch and a real treat to hear.  No wonder CSO’s Associate Principal horn player, Julia Rose, was looking forward to hearing him! When I asked her to which concert she was most looking forward to playing, she told me this one!  About Mr. Sommerville, she told me,

“He’s one of the best horn players out there.  I’ve been a fan of his since college.  An amazing musician!”

She’s definitely right about that! He had such a beautiful, warm sound. His tone was fantastic – I can’t imagine the control needed to maintain the same quality of tone throughout the entire piece whether he was playing piano or forte– both being volumes we could easily hear even way up in the upper balcony.

Time for Dad

After the intermission came time for Mozart’s dad, Leopold Mozart.  He composed the second horn concerto of the evening, again beautifully played by Mr. Sommerville.  I’d heard a part of this one before – a movement or so, but not the whole thing.  It was a lovely piece as well, but a bit more subdued.  Bear in mind that that’s due to the composition itself, not the performance.

In the day, the music was primarily written for the patron for whom a composer worked. He didn’t write for himself, he wrote for money and that was usually when someone requested the music. It’s not like they could really go out and sell their music on the open market though some tried and a few probably succeeded.  No, music was typically written only at the request of the nobility.  In Herr Mozart’s case, he wrote for the Archbishop of Salzburg. The music was nice, pleasant on the ears, predictable, nothing out of the ordinary.  Subdued.

During the pre-concert chat, we learned from Christopher Purdy that the French horns of Mozarts’ day were more like something like a formal hunting horn – a brass look, but with one loop and no valves, meaning that notes had to be changed with the embouchure.  Try playing a clarinet without any keys!  That’s essentially what they did with the classical-era French horns.  Crazy, huh?


Last up on Saturday’s program was a great symphony written by the father of the symphony, Franz Josef Haydn himself!  Symphony No 94 “Surprise.”  Don’t know what the surprise is?  You will when you hear the second movement!  Back in the day, according to what Mr. Purdy told us, Haydn would compose and conduct music that was well-received all around Europe – England, Austria, etc. During some of his regular performances in London he knew that at a certain point in the music, some people would drift off to sleep, apparently not caring that they’re in a public place.  Well – Haydn had a sense of humor and decided to kind of get back at those sleepyheads the best way he knew how: with music.

So in the 2nd movement of his Symphony No 94, he composed a soft, slow, melodic portion of the movement – very soft.  Very tranquil and relaxing…just a few strings…immediately followed by a rather sudden – and rather loud – single note by the entire orchestra.  WAKE UP!!!  I can just picture the old guy in front jumping out of his seat as if he’d just heard what was essentially a sudden musical explosion of sound!

Hee hee!  Love it!

Watch the first minute or so.  It’s a clever trick, I think!

Come on – you have to chuckle at that.  Makes me appreciate and love Haydn all the more!

Ahh – what a great concert.  I absolutely loved it.  Like I said before – I was like a kid in a candy shop.  Give me Baroque or classical and I’m happy as a clam.  Give me Mozart and Haydn and all will be well in the world.

Next up

Well next up is a great and hugely recognized piece of music: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  Not sure you know it?  Well trust me – you do.


OK – what melody did you just hear in your head when you read that? Ten bucks says it was Beethoven’s 5th! Want to hear it for real? Well – you’re welcome to join me – and six of my friends (including my 11-year old nephew, Ben) on November 16th when we hear that along with Elgar’s violin concerto and a world premier by Stephen Montague. Beethoven’s 5th – it’s comfort music.  We all know it. We know what to expect and – for my nephew – it will have more “loud parts!” than last year’s Beethoven Symphony No 6.

Seriously – you can’t go wrong!

Julia Rose – Associate Principal French Horn

Welcome to day 3 of French Horn week!  Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Julia Rose - Associate Principal French Horn with the CSO. So glad the flute didn’t work out for her!



Hometown: Cannon Falls, Minnesota

Alma Mater: University of Wisconsin – Madison

Home Life: Julia has a husband and two children, Jack (8 years) and Judy (10 months).  They also have a very big, very affectionate 90-lb black lab / chow mix! (Very cute, too!)

Any fun hobbies? Yes – she’s an infant!

Why the French horn?  It was pretty! In 5th grade, I tried the flute, but couldn’t make a sound out of it, so I chose the French horn!

Instrument: I own 3- a Felix Cantesanu Horn as my primary instrument, a Finke Descant horn with Ron Pinc lead pipe, and a Rauch horn currently on the shelf as backup


How often do you practice? 3 hours / day Monday-Friday.  Weekends are tough with the kids, but I still try for 2 hours on the weekends.

Who are some of your favorite French horn players? John Zirbel, principal horn with the Montreal Symphony.  A former teacher of mine, and an incredible and inspiring musician.


With what other ensembles have you played?  New World Symphony in Miami, FL, Detroit Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony / Pops, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. (These days) other than the occasional freelance gig, I don’t play outside the CSO.  I occasionally perform for my church, but would love to play more chamber music.

What’s the best thing about performing in front of an audience?  We’re giving them pleasure.  People come to our concerts and want to be entertained.  This is their leisure activity.  Everybody’s stressed out – they come to our concerts to escape the bad things in life.  We’re part of what makes humanity human.  Work for me is a sort of escape.

Life is hard.  We work with the best that humanity has to offer, and I get to give the gift of it to others.  I love music!  It’s a privilege to have a job doing what I love.

Where’s the best place to perform outside of Columbus? Carnegie Hall in NYC for its great acoustics.

Any memorable performances? Rite of Spring (March 2013) – I FINALLY got to perform it! Also, I was the soloist in a performance of the Strauss 1st Concerto with the New World Symphony in 1997.  It was a transcendent experience – everything went right!  It was the perfect performance!

Which concert are you most looking forward to playing this year? Mozart – Father and Son with James Sommerville.  “He’s one of the best horn players out there.  I’ve been a fan of his since college.  An amazing musician!”


Year joined the CSO: 1997

What brought you to Columbus?  After three years with the New World Symphony in Miami, I auditioned for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and was the runner-up.  The lady who won the post, opted instead for a position playing in Philadelphia so it was offered to me.

Ohio Theatre or Southern Theatre? Southern

What should people in Columbus know about the Columbus Symphony Orchestra? 

It’s the best kept secret in this town.

Even with ups and downs the last several years, it’s virtually the same orchestra as when it was a 46-week orchestra.


What do you say to people who don’t think they like classical music?  If you’re on the fence, you should give it a chance.  It changes your mood – you can start in a bad mood and end up in a great mood afterwards. Don’t knock it until you try it.

If you don’t think you like it because you don’t know it, give it a chance!

Who’s your favorite composer? Mahler (at the moment)

What’s your favorite musical era? Romantic

What are your favorite pieces of music for the French horn? Anything Mahler, Brahms Horn Trio (Violin, Horn, Piano)

What French horn music should I have in my music library? Schumann Concert Piece for 4 horns and orchestra, Mozart Horn concertos, Richard Strauss horn concertos


Igor Stravinsky – Rite of spring: Genius?  Or just plain weird? Genius!

Oh yeah – I’m totally outnumbered on this one!  Come back tomorrow to meet Principal Gene Standley!

Bring on the Horns! (Preview) – Don’t Look ‘em in the Eyes – Erin LanoAdam KochJulia RoseGene Standley – Soul of the Orchestra – Thank you! 

Erin Lano – Acting Fourth / Utility French Horn

Erin Lano, is the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s newest horn player. She joins the CSO this year as a full-time musician after having subbed for two years.   

Originally from Richmond, VA and a veteran marathon runner, she’s currently in the process of moving from Chicago to Columbus in the next week or so.  She was kind enough to talk to me via Skype, hence the reason behind her having lent me some pictures – which are a tad more formal than those I took of her fellow horn players!  

So please let me take this opportunity to introduce you to her.

Everyone: Meet Erin!

Erin Lano


Hometown:  Richmond, VA

Alma Mater: B.M. New England conservatory of  Music (studied under James Sommerville) and Master’s degree (M.M.) from Rice university.

Home Life: Husband Matt Lano, who plays the bassoon, and a pet snake named Chloe.

Any fun hobbies? I like to run and have run the Chicago marathon 6 times.


Why the French horn? My parents told me I had to be in band.  Mom used to play the French horn.  It sounded pretty and we had one sitting around the house, so I might as well have played that!

What kind of instrument do you play? Ricco Kühn

How often do you practice? About 2-4 hours per day

Who are some of your favorite French horn players? Radovan Vlatković – I love his sound, how smoothly he plays and how musical he is.  James Sommerville, William VerMeulen (Rice University also 1st horn of Houston Symphony)   The Chicago Symphony horn section!  Sarah Willis, Low horn with the Berliner Philharmoniker – definitely a huge inspiration.


With what other ensembles have you played?   I’m Principal Horn with the West Michigan Symphony, 3rd horn at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, OR and I play with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. In Chicago, I sub with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera, Grant Park Orchestra and have also subbed with the Cincinnati and Milwaukee Symphonies.

What’s the best thing about performing in front of an audience?  I want to play my best.  Each time I perform a piece, I learn a little more about it. I hope to learn more about the other parts to see the big picture.

I hope the audience is moved in some way.  I want the orchestra to get the emotional content of the music and for the audience to feel an emotional connection to the orchestra and to the music.

Being in an orchestra – being able to recreate these great masterpieces.  It’s so rewarding!

Where are some great places to play outside of Columbus: Symphony Hall in Boston or Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park, Chicago

Any memorable performances?  Playing principal on Mahler’s 9th with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Orchestra Hall.

Which concert(s) are you most looking forward to playing this year? Mahler 2nd, Brahms 4th


Year joined the CSO: 2013, Subbed for two years prior.

What brought you to Columbus?  I’ve been Freelancing in Chicago for 6 years now.  A couple of years ago, Adam (Koch) called me to play a gig in Cleveland, which was right before Columbus Symphony Orchestra Sub auditions.  He told me I should take the audition, and I have been coming out a lot since then.

Ohio Theatre or Southern Theatre? Ohio Theatre

What should people in Columbus know about the Columbus Symphony Orchestra? We are really lucky to have such a great orchestra.  Columbus does far more in terms of a meaty, classical repertoire during the year than some other orchestras of its size.  Such a great variety and we have a huge hall, too, so there are plenty of seats!


What do you say to people who don’t think they like classical music?  I’d offer up some suggestions or suggest they hear a live performance just to get a full sampling of it.  If you find a piece or a composer who really resonates with you, then work your way out from there.  There’s such a huge variety to the classical repertoire, I think everyone could find something to love about it.

Who are your favorite composers? Mozart, Brahms

What’s your favorite musical Era:  Romantic

Favorite show off piece for the French horn: Mozart Horn concertos, Former professor James Sommerville plays so expressively, so musically – he taught me how to play the Mozart concertos.  “No – you CAN’T do it that way.  Do it THIS way…”

What French horn music should I have in my music library? Till Eulenspiegel, Don Juan by Strauss


Igor Stravinsky – Rite of spring: Genius?  Or just plain weird?  Genius!

I don’t know, but I might end up being outnumbered on that last question!


Special thanks to Erin for the use of her pictures for this post.  

Come back tomorrow to meet Adam Koch!

Bring on the Horns! (Preview) – Don’t Look ‘em in the Eyes – Erin Lano – Adam Koch – Julia Rose – Gene Standley – Soul of the Orchestra – Thank you!  

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