Opera! Opera! Opera!
Cornucopia, January 2001
"There was a gasp from the committee when I, a woman, stepped from behind the screen," says Julie Landsman of her audition for Principal horn at the Metropolitan Opera. "I'm absolutely convinced that if it hadn't been for the screen, I would not have won the position."
That win 16 years ago was a dream come true for Julie. She had studied with Howard T. Howard, one of the two Met principals, during high school and listened to many Met performances. She promised herself that she would become first horn at the Met. The audition came after attending Juilliard, three years as co-principal in Houston, and several years of free-lancing in NY.
"I am committed to opera," says Julie. "I love the anonymity, being part of an accompanying ensemble. It is a joy and inspiration. However, it is a high maintenance chair, and it is probably shortening my career as a player." The Met maintains two horn sections (with a shared assistant, Javier Gandara). One of the two principals must be there for every service.
"My section is usually requested for Wagner," Julie continues, "so I play many of the long, heavy operas." How does she get through such a demanding schedule? "It is my choice to use the assistant or not," she explains. "We have a good one, and I use him generously, especially in Wagner and Strauss, but usually not for lighter composers such as Rossini." Julie also depends on her second horn, Michelle Baker, who was her student in Houston. "Michelle is a perfect second horn, worth her weight in gold. She has a fat, dark sound. My sound is brighter, and Michelle's sound adds a dimension of depth to it."
Because of the heavy Met schedule, Julie plays little else. However, she is passionate about teaching. She points to Carmine Caruso, whose material she uses extensively, and James Chambers ("for style and concept of sound") in addition to Howard as inspirations for her teaching style, synthesized by her own experience.
The section at the Met is now totally different than when Julie joined it. Julie runs the horn auditions, but has only one vote along with the other horns, other brass, and the music director, James Levine. "Since the whole audition is conducted behind a screen, we have to evaluate everything by ear," Julie explains. "We are looking for something different than we would in a symphony audition -- we want a player who blends, who can follow the singer and conductor, we put less emphasis on power and more on lean and flexible. Finally, we come to a sense that this person really listens. In opera playing, you are a soloist for only a few seconds. You have to sound great for those seconds, then blend into the background again."
Julie gave a masterclass at the 2001 Northeast Horn Workshop. Email Julie Landsman
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