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From Where I Sit: The Philadelphia Orchestra's Principal Trumpeter David Bilger

On May 17, The Philadelphia Orchestra performs its final program at Carnegie Hall this season. The orchestra's principal trumpeter David Bilger discusses highlights of the season and this concert program, which includes works by Webern, Berg, Ligeti, and Beethoven.  

Clearly the 2012–2013 had many highlights for me, many of which centered around the arrival and artistic vision of our new Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Getting to grow a new relationship with the maestro who will be leading the orchestra into the future is of paramount importance, and the musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra, critics, and audiences have all embraced Yannick and heard what a wonderful match he is for the orchestra.

Sir Simon Rattle's programs with the orchestra were the other huge highlight of my season. He is a longtime podium guest, and the significance of his regular and continued presence in front of the orchestra is not lost on me. We are truly fortunate to get to experience his music making, and as usual, his programming this year has been a fascinating mix of old and new.

When I saw the program that we are bringing to Carnegie Hall on May 17, what immediately jumped off the page was Ligeti's Mysteries of the Macabre. I have a strong connection with the piece, as there is a trumpet solo version (with piano and percussion), but my experiences with the piece, up until now, have been limited to this smaller-scale arrangement. A fine video of trumpeter Brian McWhorter performing the trumpet reduction is worth experiencing: 


Mysteries of the Macabre is an excerpt from Ligeti's opera The Grand Macabre. Barbara Hannigan is extraordinary in the way she brings this score to life, combining the requisite vocal gymnastics with attitude and drama. She "owns" the piece, and I can't wait to perform it with her and Sir Simon Rattle. Watch an excerpt of the two of them collaborating:   


As I looked at the first half of the program that Maestro Rattle has assembled, it was even more fascinating to me. The program begins with Webern's Passacaglia, which is actually his Op. 1. This work blends a traditional musical form of the passacaglia, but takes the harmonic language to the fringe of atonality and back again, all wrapped in the colorful orchestration that marks Webern's personal compositional style. This is the kind of music that Rattle brings to life in a unique and personal way, and to experience how he shapes the phrasing and colors helps to remind me of what is possible to say through music.

The Three Fragments from Wozzeck that follow the Webern are both the perfect introduction to Ms. Hannigan's voice and a fitting transition from the loose tonality of Webern to the Ligeti that follows in the second half. As an orchestral performer, I don't often get the chance to perform opera like Wozzeck, and getting to do these three scenes with Simon Rattle is a rare treat. He has a way of making the harmonic language of serialism connect to the musical expression that is contained within. That is no small feat and is an experience that I will treasure.


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