George Vosburgh has been a maintastay for the American orchestral trumpeter for years. His time with the Rochester Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and now the retired principal trumpet of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and his past students have clearly laid a foundation for his continued legagcy. I recently reached out to Mr. Vosburgh and asked him a few questions, which he graciously allowed me to post for all interested readers. Enjoy.
Vosburgh… That's not a common surname within the US. Where did your family originate? Were they musicians? Was music an important part of your upbringing?
Vosburgh is a Dutch surname. Seven brothers came to New York with Henry Hudson in the early 1600s. As for my upbringing, my mother was a singer and piano teacher. My dad played saxophone and clarinet and taught elementary school band. I started singing and playing the piano around the age of six. There was always music around the house.
You studied at the Eastman School of Music. With whom did you study trumpet? What did you take from your experiences there?
I studied with Sidney Mear and Richard Jones. Both gave me my first instruction in orchestral excerpts.
What was it like winning a position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) at the ripe old age of 21?
I won the second trumpet position in the CSO when I was 21. That same year, I was in the finals for principal trumpet in the Boston Symphony and fourth trumpet for the Chicago Symphony. I did not get the fourth trumpet job, but Georg Solti invited me back for the finals of the second trumpet audition, which I then won. At such a young age, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
What kinds of “things” did you learn while a member of the CSO?
For one, I learned that all performances are equally important. It’s Super Bowl Sunday every day. And that’s the way the entire orchestra played.
Do you have a favorite Mr. Herseth story?
I don’t have a favorite story, but Bud loved to tell stories, and one of the things that I most enjoyed was asking him about particular pieces or conductors and listening to his incredible stories.
How did Mr. Herseth’s playing have an effect on you?
My style of playing is a direct derivative of his. When I played in the CSO, the whole trumpet section usually played the same horns. I spent many years experimenting with mouthpieces to try to match his sound as much as possible.
What is your favorite musical memory with the CSO?
Solti, Mahler 9, Concertgebouw
With the PSO?
Janssons, Gurrelieder, Pittsburgh
As a student?
Effron, Mahler 2, Eastman School of Music
Please give us your 5 tips for forging a trumpet career in the 21st century:
1. Articulation skills: single, double, and triple tonguing must be perfected. This is usually the area that drags candidates down in auditions.
2. Strength, range, and endurance are all interrelated.
3. Listen to great trumpet players and when you find something that they can do that you can’t, start working on it until you can.
4. Play for as many people as possible. Take criticism for what it’s worth.
5. Always be positive in rehearsals.
How has American orchestral playing changed/developed over the course of your career?
The style of American orchestras has become more homogenous over the time that I have been playing. Simultaneously, the quality of playing has increased dramatically.
I know you are into weightlifting. Do you find a correlation between weightlifting and trumpet playing? How has either informed the other?
Renold Schilke and Arnold Jacobs both encouraged me to weight-lift when I first went to Chicago, as they both believed that good musculature was advantageous for brass playing. The more body strength that you develop, the easier it is to play everything.
What do you recommend for having a healthy career on the trumpet?
I break my performance down into three areas. One is physical, one is intellectual, and the other is emotional. I always feel that I need to have at least two of these areas working in a positive manner in order to have a good performance.
Do you do a daily warmup and/or routine (feel free to elaborate)?
When I was in my teens and my 20s, I used to warm up quite regularly for the better part of an hour. The older I got, and the more performance responsibilities I acquired, the less I warmed up. I now feel like I have to save my best notes for the stage. I think warming up is a state of mind as much as it is a physical activity. I now literally warm up for five minutes, and I’m ready to play anything.
What equipment do you currently play on? Has this changed over the course of your professional career?
I play a Bach C trumpet, large bore, New York, New York, one of only 25 made at the time. Mouthpiece is generally a 1X, 7 backbore, with a 22 throat, and a 1C rim. I’ve been playing with this same setup for decades.
Is it important for you to also be a teacher, rather than just a player? What role does teaching take in your life/career?
I’ve been teaching at Carnegie Mellon University for the past 24 years. I teach private lessons, brass orchestral repertoire and pedagogy classes, and direct the wind ensemble. Teaching has always been an incredibly rewarding experience for me.
How do you see yourself within the pantheon of American orchestral trumpeters?
I’ve always been proud to be part of the Herseth legacy, which goes back to Mager, and further back to Sabarich. There’s a brightness, confidence, and distinctive style to that sound that I think represents the epitome of orchestral trumpet playing. I’m honored to be an heir to that legacy and to pass it on to my students.
This concludes our interview with the principal trumpet of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Mr. George Vosburgh. Mr. Vosburgh, it was a honor and a privilege! Thank you for all your time and effort that went into this interview.
An online Interview:
Ein Heldenleben, the Pittsburgh Symphony:
Mahler 5, the Pittsburgh Symphony:
The PSO Brass, Canzona Bergamasca:
A PSO Concert promo:
Mr. Vosburgh's website (music, arrangements): http://www.vosburghmusic.com
George Vosburgh, celebrated soloist and lecturer is internationally acclaimed for his virtuosity on the trumpet in recordings, concerts and recitals, as well as many guest artist performances in such locales as the Bonn Festival at Rolandsek, Germany, the Ravinia Festival, Chicago, and the Curs Internacional de Musica in Valencia, Spain. In 1992 he joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as Principal Trumpet.
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded George Vosburgh a Grammy as Best New Classical Artist in 1985 for the Reference recording of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat with Chicago Pro Musica. He is a Bavarian Radio International Music Competition prizewinner and a Gold and Platinum Record recipient for his work with the New Age music ensemble Mannheim Steamroller. In 2003 he was invited to become Principal Trumpet of the World Orchestra for Peace under the direction of Valery Gergiev. The orchestra has since performed on tour across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and produced many recordings and television programs.
Recordings featuring George Vosburgh include Trumpeter's Heritage, music by Bach, Böhme, Tomasi, Fasch, and Neruda with the Czech Philharmonic and Arnie Roth conducting, Trumpet Masterworks, pieces for trumpet and piano with Alaine Fink, and Four Trumpet Concerti, works by Haydn, Hummel, Telemann, and Leopold Mozart with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Gerard Schwarz conducting. All recordings are featured on the Four Winds label.
In 1994, Mr. Vosburgh organized the Pittsburgh Symphony Brass, a unique brass ensemble featuring some of the world's finest orchestral brass musicians in chamber ensemble. Since 1998, the Brass has enjoyed a flurry of recording and performance activity, releasing five CDs, including Bach's The Art of Fugue on the Four Winds label.
As an educator, Mr. Vosburgh has appeared in universities across Europe, Asia, and the United States, including Northwestern University, University of Michigan, UCLA, and Tokyo Music Academy, as well as the Tanglewood Fellowship program. He has lectured at the International Trumpet Guild's annual conference and recently published a critical edition of the Böhme Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E minor published by Vosburgh Music Inc. He is currently on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University.
Mr. Vosburgh is a graduate of the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music, where he was Principal Trumpet and featured soloist with the famed Eastman Wind Ensemble. He began his career as an orchestral trumpeter at age 19 as third trumpet and assistant principal of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of David Zinman. After three years with the Rochester Philharmonic, he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Sir Georg Solti as the youngest member of the orchestra's world-famous brass section.
George Vosburgh retired from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Martha Brooks Robinson Chair and is was an active member of various Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Committees.