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Greetings From Philadelphia

Mason Jones recently invited the horn section of the Philadelphia Orchestra and friends to dinner at the prestigious Union League following a performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in Verizon hall. The Union League was founded in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the policies of President Abraham Lincoln. Mason is a life member. A brief tour of the Historical Landmark included a walk through the main hall, complete with classic hunting horn sconces and the League’s impressive art and artifact collection. The evening became an informal celebration of Mason’s legendary career in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a chance to spend time with good friends and colleagues off the stage.
Former Principal Horn Nolan Miller and his wife Marjorie attended with Randy Gardner, horn professor at the University Of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and former second horn to Mason and Nolan for 22 years respectively. John Carabella, retired second horn of the New York Philharmonic, Lee Bracegirdle, composer and Associate Principal Horn of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and Adam Lesnick, publisher and member of the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra joined the current section of Jennifer Montone, Jeff Lang, Dan Williams, Jeff Kirschen, Shelley Showers and Angela Cordell. Angela is acting fourth horn this season. Former fourth horn Adam Unsworth was also in town for a jazz gig at the World Café Live, he attended the Mahler performance but unfortunately was not able to meet for dinner. Trumpeter Roger Blackburn was accompanied by his wife Marilyn. Mason mentored Roger into the orchestra.  Dan William’s wife, Yumi Hwang also attended.
We enjoyed a fascinating and humorous look back in time as Mason recounted terrific stories about conductors and players he encountered throughout his career. Mason was born on June 16, 1919 in Hamilton New York. From 1936 to1938 he was a student of Anton Horner at the Curtis institute of Music. Mason was Principal Horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1939 to 1978 and he served in the Marine Band during WW II. A member of The Curtis Institute of Music faculty from 1946, he was also the Orchestra’s personnel manager until 1986. Mason retired from Curtis in 1995. Mason is a regular matinee subscriber, and we always look forward to his friendly wave on Friday afternoons. Regardless of the repertoire, the thought  “Mason is listening” is always with you.  His new passion is the violin, and he faithfully practices every day. He performed a little impromptu recital at his home last spring and also gave us a peek at his cherished hand horn. Time with Mason is time well spent, and we all look forward to his upcoming Nintieth birthday.

In a few short years Mason went from studying in Anton Horner’s studio to playing horn on Disney’s epic movie Fantasia with Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Mason was also greatly influenced by Marcel Tabuteau and Fritz Reiner. He passed this knowledge and experience down to his brilliant student, Nolan Miller. Mason and Nolan are such complete musicians. They played with natural unforced expression and deep musical intelligence. Mason told us he would often have another part on his stand during a performance of a Brahms symphony. The viola line may have had his attention on one particular evening and the second clarinet the next. He would often test Nolan with little ear training quizzes. Nolan never missed.  He considered a career as a concert pianist and was a double major his first year of college. Nolan won a piano competition and performed the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto with the Reading Symphony. He recently performed the Mozart Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano K. 498.
Some noteworthy recordings of Mason are available on CD. From Sotone Historic Recordings comes a disc entitled Mason Jones-Solo Performances 1951-1954, which includes works by Mozart, Chabrier, Janacek and Brahms. A recording of the Mozart and Heiden Horn Quintets with The Philarte Quartet is available from Gasparo Records. Forms and Sounds on the RCA label is an interesting recording of the music of Ornette Coleman with the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet. The Saint -Saens  Morceau de Concert Op. 94 and the legendary recording of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto with Eugene Ormandy, Mstislav Rostropovich and the Philadelphia Orchestra are available from SONY Classical. The Orchestra continues it’s recording tradition on the Internet and a quick look through iTunes showed some performances in which one can hear the artistry of Nolan Miller. Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Rimsky Korsakov Scheherazade and the Beethoven Sixth Symphony with Riccardo Muti are available online. Nolan has also recorded the Schumann Andante and Variations Op. 46 for horn, two pianos, and two cellos, with Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Eugene Ormandy’s final Philadelphia recording, the Shostakovich Cello Concerto with Yo Yo Ma on Columbia Records. The most recent recordings of the Philadelphia Orchestra are on the Ondine label. These include live performances of Bartok, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Shostakovich with Christoph Eschenbach conducting. The orchestra’s web site also offers historical and live concerts available for download.
In related horn section news, Jennifer recently performed a solo recital at Carnegie’s Weill Hall. She will also be performing the Ligeti Horn Trio in Miami at the New World Symphony and the Bach First Brandenburg Concerto with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Jeff Lang performed the Gliere Concerto in October with the Delaware County Symphony and he will travel soon to Israel to perform the Mozart First Concerto and Hindemith Concerto with the Jerusalem Symphony. Shelley is performing various concerts with the Conwell Woodwind Quintet including an upcoming performance on the Orchestra’s Chamber Music series at The Kimmel Center. Dan and Randy look forward to the annual Holiday Brass concert at Glencairne. The unique arrangements of Hymns and Carols by Anton Horner date back to 1919 and are scored for brass quintet with two horns. They have been faithfully played every year at the former estate of the Pitcairn family. Our good friend Adam Unsworth has released Next Step, his second jazz recording.
The horn is alive and well in Philadelphia. Our city is also home to the Opera Company of Philadelphia, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and Peter Nero and the Philly Pops. All of these ensembles are thriving and each with a first class horn section. Horn students from The Curtis Institute and Temple University complete the picture of a city that is renowned for arts, culture, history, and education in America.
Three generations of principal horn players and sixty years of great horn playing in Philadelphia were represented at our table that evening. Horn tradition is rich and meaningful in virtually every country the instrument is played. This is our heritage.  When visiting Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love”, make sure to stop by and say hello to Mason on Friday afternoons, you know where he will be.


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