Not to toot his own horn

James Som­merville on mak­ing it as a clas­si­cal mu­si­cian

Midtown Post - - Inspire - by Ju­lia Mas­troianni

James Som­merville, prin­ci­pal horn in the Bos­ton Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, is one of the lucky few. Not only was he pretty cer­tain of the ca­reer he wanted to pur­sue early on, but he made it hap­pen.

“You have to be very hon­est with your­self about whether you love it enough to put in the work when it’s not easy. Be­com­ing a mas­ter at any creative en­deav­our takes years and not just putting in your time, but putting in your men­tal en­ergy ev­ery sin­gle time you go into the prac­tice room,” Som­merville says.

Som­merville knew he wanted to pur­sue mu­sic out of high school at

I learned about world mu­sic and jazz and rock mu­sic too.”

Uni­ver­sity of Toronto Schools. That path led him to the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto where he was taught by revered mu­si­cian Eu­gene Rit­tich.

His first pro­fes­sional gig was with Sym­phony Nova Sco­tia, fol­lowed by the Mon­treal Sym­phony, Toronto Sym­phony Or­ches­tra and Cana­dian Opera Com­pany, be­fore he landed a job with the Bos­ton Sym­phony Or­ches­tra in 1998.

Look­ing back, Som­merville says he was for­tu­nate to learn mu­sic from John Faut­ley at Uni­ver­sity of Toronto Schools be­cause of his broad ap­proach to mu­sic.

“So while most peo­ple in sym­phony or­ches­tras typ­i­cally have pretty nar­row train­ing in clas­si­cal reper­toire and drilling their in­stru­ments, I learned a lot of dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments, and I learned about world mu­sic and jazz and rock mu­sic too,” says Som­merville.

He also cred­its Faut­ley for his open-minded ap­proach to mu­sic and creative ap­proach to solv­ing prob­lems on the in­stru­ment mu­si­cally. He also men­tions that his ex­po­sure to mu­sic and pi­ano lessons in his child­hood helped too.

“There was al­ways a lot of mu­sic around the house. My mother used to write pop songs, so there was a lot of folk mu­sic and pop mu­sic around all the time,” Som­merville says. “And I think it’s like a lan­guage, like a real lan­guage if you’re ex­posed to it young enough be­cause it’s easy to soak up mu­sic and be­come sort of flu­ent in it.”

One of his fond­est me­mories of his ca­reer was that he was the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind Amer­i­can com­poser El­liott Carter’s cre­ation of his 2006 Horn Con­certo. Som­merville per­formed it in 2008 as a soloist in Am­s­ter­dam at the Con­cert­ge­bouw, a con­cert hall known for its un­usual struc­ture.

“The en­trance to the stage in­volves walk­ing down this very long steep per­ilous stair­case in front of the whole au­di­ence,” Som­merville says, “so I re­mem­ber com­ing out, and the or­ches­tra is down there wait­ing, and the au­di­ence is clap­ping, and I’m mostly try­ing not to fall.”

On his way down, he says he was “think­ing about this in­cred­i­bly hard con­certo that I’m go­ing to have to play when I get to the bot­tom of this flight of stairs!”

He and the Bos­ton Sym­phony Or­ches­tra also played Mahler’s Fifth Sym­phony at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 20, an­other mem­o­rable mo­ment. They’re cur­rently record­ing the Shostakovich sym­phonies.

Som­merville started with the Bos­ton Sym­phony Or­ches­tra in 1998

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