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Principal Martin

Running a marathon and playing a horn are pretty similar, says the CSO's new principal trumpet

Straight out of graduate school, trumpeter Christopher Martin joined the Philadelphia Orchestra, and later moved to his hometown symphony, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, before ultimately winning the principal trumpet job with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last year. Adolph "Bud" Herseth was in that spot for 53 glorious years and set high expectations for whoever followed him. (Herseth's immediate replacement, Craig Morris, was let go two seasons ago.) Martin, who recently turned 30, talked to TOC about following a legend...and his thoughts on that other Chris Martin.

Time Out Chicago: You started playing with the CSO at Ravinia over the summer. How has the transition been from the ASO to the CSO?
Christopher Martin: Ravinia made it a little bit smoother. At Ravinia, you get to do a lot of big music and a lot of big tunes with a short turnaround time [between rehearsals and concerts]. The first couple of times I played here I was living in Atlanta and flying here. Sometimes when I was flying in, I'd have had a concert in Atlanta at night and then the next morning at 6am I'd be in the airport to fly here and then rehearse here that morning in Chicago. It was difficult to do your best work.
TOC: Playing with the orchestra those times was part of the audition process, right?
CM: It was. I played for a week in December and it was really kind of a get-acquainted time. Then in the spring it was more like closing the deal and making sure everything was going to work out.
TOC: Do you think about your role as Bud Herseth's replacement? Or do you try to block it out?
CM: It's both. The best way to describe my thought process on it is that Bud is a living legend and he really was the greatest first-trumpet player. It's universally acknowledged. My first trumpet teacher used to make me cassette tapes of, like, The Greatest Hits of Bud. I listened to Bud riding in the car, on the way to lessons, going to the store, going to band practice–all the time. So for me it feels very natural to be here because I've been listening to this orchestra and programming myself with the sound of this orchestra since I was a child. But at the same time, it can be a little daunting, following 53 years of the best trumpet playing on the planet.
TOC: Do people expect you to live up that?
CM: The guys here [in the brass section] have been really understanding and have accepted me, and I'm certainly expected to do my best to fit into what makes the Chicago Symphony. It wouldn't be the Chicago Symphony if every time they took a new player they came in and just did their own thing. I certainly try to match their sound and blend with what they're doing, because it's unique in the world. At the same time, they understand that I'm not Bud; I'm a different person.
TOC: You've said you have to play a lot louder here than in Philadelphia and Atlanta. How do you build up to that?
CM: It's very athletic. I've run marathons in the past and it's just like that. You can't wake up and decide, I'm going to run 20 miles, and be able to run 20 miles. I wasn't able to instantly keep up with the effort it takes here. I've spent a lot of time since the holidays doing things that amount to weight lifting and aerobic exercise, just on the horn. It's starting to take off now, because I feel like I'm 100 percent stronger than I was six months ago.
TOC: Are you running the Chicago Marathon?
CM: I'm not. But Atlanta has one at Thanksgiving and I may do that one.
TOC: Has anybody ever confused you with Coldplay's Chris Martin?
CM: [Laughs] I have this headline that I sometimes use as my computer's wallpaper from CNN that says, CHRIS MARTIN MARRIES GWYNETH PALTROW. I keep that up there for inspiration.

Christopher Martin gets inspired for Mahler's trumpet-featuring Fifth Symphony beginning Friday 14.