When Michael Winter won the spot as third horn with the Boston Symphony Orchestra earlier this year, the 28-year-old Jamaica Plain resident marked
the day as a dream come true. A California native, and part of a family of
musicians, he came to Boston to study at New England Conservatory, and
afterward landed jobs with the Syracuse Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic orchestras. But the pianist-turned-horn player knew all along that he wanted to play with the BSO. We recently spoke over coffee at Caffé Aromi.
Jamaica Plain Patch: Before we discuss the BSO, how did you happen to switch from piano to French horn?
Michael Winter: I started playing piano when I was 8 because my mom said it would be the best way to learn the basics of notes and rhythms. My twin brother was playing piano, too. But I wasn’t particularly good at it, and I didn’t really like it. My grandfather was a pretty well known horn teacher in California, and one day, when I was 11, my mom said, “Your Grandfather called and asked if one of you wants to start the horn.” I said, “Does that mean I can quit the piano?” She said, “I guess so.” So that was a good way out for me, and my grandfather was a great teacher.
JPP: What was your earliest connection with the BSO?
MW: I saw my first concert with them, at Symphony Hall, in my freshman year. It was an all-Wagner concert. I thought, “What an unbelievable sound!” Then I studied and studied, I did my four years of undergrad, then stuck around to do my masters, too. I did one year of that before I won my first
job in Syracuse. But during that year, I started to play with the BSO as an
extra. The first concert I played with them was last-minute. I got a phone call about 30 minutes before the dress rehearsal. They said, “We’re doing Tchaikovsky 6. The person on second horn just got sick. Can you come over and do it?” So I did, and that was when I thought, “OK, this is about as much fun as I’ve ever had. I have to figure out how to do this.”
JPP: But you went to Syracuse instead.
MW: Yes, I showed up there and auditioned, and I played well enough that day that they hired me as principal horn. But in April of my third year, the orchestra went bankrupt. Two days after our last concert, there was an audition in Buffalo for a one-year guest appointment as principal horn, which I won. I was basically keeping someone’s seat warm while they took a year off. I knew the job would disappear at the end of that year so I took every audition I could possibly squeeze into my schedule, with the number one goal being I wanted to win the one in Boston. I auditioned last April, and started in September.
JPP: Do you have a favorite piece of music?
MW: Stravinsky’s “Firebird” is one of my top favorites. Part of it is the versatility of the piece. It’s got some of the greatest woodwind writing that you’ll ever hear, but there’s also some great lyrical horn writing to go along with all the bombastic parts as well. As a total orchestral piece, it’s an absolute gem.
JPP: You did some teaching in Buffalo. Any time for that now?
MW: I don’t have any teaching engagements at the moment, but if the phone rings with a teaching opportunity, I’d be happy to do that. I’ve had some of the finest teachers on the planet, and for me to just sit in the orchestra and play the horn, and not share this would seem like a real waste of what’s been offered to me.