Roger Voisin, Principal Trumpet, Boston Symphony

Roger Voisin, (who died at age 89 last February in Newton, Mass), was my teacher, one of my teachers at the New England Conservatory of Music during my education there. He was a great player, and individual kind of player, a player with a signature sound and musicality which I will never forget . Nor will anyone who ever heard him play or studied with him. I first met him at a party at his home one evening. I can’t remember how and if I was invited, but there I was being treated with the greatest of charm and respect. I think many of them were students.

There was a lot of alcohol, and there was Fondue and there was his wife Martha, and a good deal of very relaxed talk. I was impressed to be there, for this fellow was the Principal Trumpet of the Boston Symphony Orchestra! He sounded like a million dollars every time he played, but more than that he was so very decent to all of us. I studied orchestral playing with him in a class . We would read everything there was  regardless of the makeup of the class and he would conduct. There was more learning, more instruction in that class than I have ever been around in my life. We would play out of solfegio books in many different clefs at the same time, or same exercise switching to perhaps a half dozen different clefs during one exercise. Then he would conduct something like Le Sacre du Printemps and we would each play our parts, perhaps as few as a dozen players. It was truly memorable. I have never had or experienced teaching like that, at that level except perhaps with Madeamoiselle Boulanger, also a truly great teacher.

Frankly, I have been called many different things because of my complete and utter scorn for bad playing and teaching, which I have found is in abundance and fostered in many places, or perhaps accepted is the word.

But these teachers at NEC at the time included Fernand Gillet, Principal oboe of the BSO, Gaston Durfresne for solfege, with whom Roger gimself had studied, and Rosario Mazzeo, Bass Clarinetist of the Boston Symphony, with whom I studied for 6 years. There were others as well and the standards were very high without ever being talked about, which is only talked about in many universities these days.

There were many less players around then and there were positions to be had and many of us achieved positions during those years of the 50s and 60s.

One time, one Friday afternoon I was walking past Rogers studio and he saw me and called me in. I had my clarinet and he asked me to help him warm up for the orchestra concert that Friday afternoon. So we played duets, and I was in awe. I remember he had a little elctric meter  which measured the exact attack each time he would articulate a note. Just one note, mind you, and the thing would go to the exact same place on the meter.He was that meticulous a player; I don’t think I was ever so impressed with a player or a teacher.

Roger also conducted the Chamber Orchestra at the time and I was asked to play many times in workds like Divertissement by Jacques Ibert and the Stravinsky Ragtime. Perform, perform, perform, that was all we did.

For those Friday afternoon concerts by the BSO we would all get tickets, which were usually complimentary. Concertgoers who could not make the concert would phone in their ticket numbers to the office of NEC and these were given to students. So, we were always there, and all the time. We sat in the second balcony, as close to our teachers as was possible. And they knew we were there, the sight lines were so incrediblly good in Symphony Hall. Once, before a big solo, ( I think in the Sorcerers Apprentice of perhaps the Ravel Piano Concerto, he would take a handkerchief and put it over his fingers as if to hide from our prying eyes, with a wink and always that gorgeous most beautiful and perfect execution.

He knew all there was to know about the trumpet in the orchestra and the orchestra itself, and I will always remember his integrity, his charm and his playing and teaching with great fondness.

As time went on , there came a new music critic for the Boston Globe. His name was Michael Steinberg. Steinberg started writing about the Boston Symphony in a critical manner, especially centering on Roger Voisin, his vibrato especially and of course ,his sound. Somehow his opinions began to hurt Mr. Voisin and I think it broke his heart. I’m sure it did mine and the rest of us who so admired his playing. I think it actually lead to his relinquishing his principal position,* which he had held for many years to Armando Ghitalla, who had a beautiful sound.. But Mundy as he was known to us, seemed not as consistant as was Voisin.But Mr. Ghitalla was certainly a superb performer. The reviews in the Boston Globe for me were disgraceful. Steinberg didn’t last all that long with the Globe, but long enough to have destroyed a career. But Roger Voisin will always be for me, and I’m sure for many many , one of the great heros of our education and certainly of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

keep practicing.

Sherman Friedland

the story seems to change with the passage of time. I’ve heard that Mr Ghitall was hired and that mr Voisinagreeable moved to playing third in order to give the new player time . S.F

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3 Responses to Roger Voisin, Principal Trumpet, Boston Symphony

  1. […] Go to the author’s original blog: Roger Voisin, Principal Trumpet, Boston Symphony […]

  2. danop says:

    Sherman, thanks for sharing this. I never heard Voisin personally, but my brother, a trumpet player, had some Voisin recordings which I enjoyed listening to. I agree completely with your opinion about his playing.

    Music is an art, and as an art, there should be room for artistic interpretation. No two players will some exactly alike or play the same concerto in exactly the same way, (although they may come very close), and that’s fine. When I was in college, there was a clarinet professor who had a reputation (well deserved) for trying to turn students into clones of himself/herself (a loud air leak was part of the package). I avoided this professor, and looking back now, I’m glad I did.

    I enjoy listening to a wide variety of clarinetists, ranging from Sabine Meyer to Emma Johnson to Richard Stoltzman. Good artistry, technique, intonation, tone, and rhythmic accuracy are the important things. I don’t like to hear bad playing, but I should add that I have little tolerance for musical nitpickers. It sounds like Steinberg was trying to boost his own career by being a nitpicker–shame on him.

    As experienced clarinet players, our ears have become so well developed that we can hear all of the subtle differences between the different schools of clarinet playing. I think it’s safe to say that most of us clarinet players would have a harder time if we had to listen to and distinguish between different schools of piano or violin playing. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think it’s safe to say that the average concertgoer–even the most experienced one–doesn’t really care about the various schools of clarinet, trumpet, violin, or piano playing. He/she just wants to hear a nice artistic performance. I’m guessing that the average Boston Symphony concertgoer really didn’t care about Voisin’s vibrato or his sound. As long as he was accurate and played musically, that’s what really mattered to them. An experienced musician would be able to detect major differences between Voisin’s and Ghitalla’s playing, but I’m guessing that the average concergoer really didn’t notice or pay much attention.

  3. Hello everyobdy. My comments concerning a favorite teacher, friend, mentor and conductor were meant to reflect what we as a groupf students st NEC felt abd the subject of the articl. They were made and formed more than 50 years ago,so no slight to Amando Ghitalla who will be remembered as a superb player. or anyone was meant, ony the most repspectful intent was the purpose. So, if as someone once said, “if I have offended anyone, I’m sorry.

    sherman Friedland

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