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A French Horn From Lansing To Berlin And Back

Mark Kitaoka
David Cooper, French horn with Berlin Philharmonic and guest artist with the Lansing Symphony this Saturday night.

Saturday night, the Lansing Symphony welcomes a Lansing-born soloist that nowadays spends his time as the first ever American principle French horn of the Berlin Philharmonic. And when it comes to how David Cooper began his path on the French horn, like many great stories it starts with his grandmother.

"Oh, yeah," recalls David Cooper about his first French Horn. "It was Conn 6D that my Grandma had bought in 1939. John Philip Sousa's band had come to her school and the brass quintet played in front of her band. She saw the horn and she thought 'That's the instrument that I want to play.' So, in those days, women didn't play French horn. It was not very commonly done. It was kind of a male driven profession. So I went to my Grandma's house when I was 11. It was about -- I had to pick an instrument for band. And I remember she had this French horn in her closet. She opened up the case, went to a cigar box and pulled out a mouthpiece. Polished it up and then she put it in the horn and that was my first French horn. And I'd make all these excuses like, 'Oh, Grandma needs help with the lawn! Grandma needs help with the dog!' You know, and I'd go over to my Grandma's house, you know, just so I could play this horn. And she taught me my first scale. I think I still have, like, the notebook paper that she wrote the lines on and wrote the fingerings down and yeah, my Grandma taught me my first scale."

Nowadays, Cooper’s technique has excelled to the point where he auditioned and won the coveted spot as principle horn with the Berlin Philharmonic, but his first encounter with that German ensemble was right here in Michigan.

"Well, I heard the Berlin Philharmonic for the first time in 2001 and it was with Claudio Abbado and I remember like finding out maybe a week before that like the Berlin Philharmonic was coming to town and some of the guys in the Symphonic Orchestra at Michigan State were talking about the Berlin Philharmonic and I was like "Mom! Can I please go? Can I please go?" So, I went with the assistant director, Glenn Clausen. And remember like, it was unbelievably cool that my mom let me go with College students to Ann Arbor and then from the first note, I was just blown off my chair. I remember, like, I heard them do this 'ba da da daaaa!' and like the horn sound was like none other that I'd ever heard. I remember thinking to myself 'Someday I want to play with that orchestra.' And, you know, of course you grow up and you realize that's maybe a dream that might never happen. I didn't study in Germany. I never lived in Germany. You know, for me to be sitting here today saying that I get to play with the Berlin Philharmonic, it's a dream come true."

This Saturday, however, he’ll be playing with the Lansing Symphony at the Wharton Center as soloist for the Horn Concerto by Reinhold Gliere. "It's almost like Rachmaninoff wrote a Horn Concerto."explains Cooper. "It's that very luscious, romantic Tchaikovsky tradition. Has soaring melodies and a bunch of modulations through different keys. But what's beautiful about it is there are heroic moments, there are soft and soothing moments, but there are exciting moments. It starts off with this heroic fanfare and the second movement is very kind of melancholy, and then the third movement is this sailor's dance. This Russian, kind of sailor's dance. And there's something for everybody. It's not just for brass players. It's not just for classical music lovers. It's for anyone that likes going to STAR WARS and listening to the horns in the movies. It's for anyone that likes music, in general. It's for anyone that likes a good story."

Lansing native David Cooper, who is currently principal French horn with the Berlin Philharmonic, comes back to perform the Gliere Horn Concerto with the Lansing Symphony under the direction of Maestro Timothy Muffitt while rounding out the rest of the program is Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and the Beethoven 2nd Symphony. Tickets and more information at LansingSymphony.org

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