Trumpet star dies, aged 62

CAMI have announced the sudden death of Rolf Smedvig, member of Empire Brass and soloist with many symphony orchestras.

Rolf started out as the youngest member of the Boston Symphony, aged 19,. He was married for a while to its PR, Caroline, before setting out on a solo career as trumpeter, conductor and composer.

He died reportedly of a heart attack. He is survived by four children.

rolf smedvig

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  • What a shame. Like me, Rolf Smedvig was from Seattle and part of terrific musical family – his mother was a longtime violinist in the Seattle Symphony, his father a longtime music teacher and composer. I haven’t heard him play in 30 years, but he was an amazing trumpet player back then. Don’t for the life of me understand why he gave up the BSO.

  • sorry listen sad news, forever I’ll remember fondly and thank God for having met one of the greatest trumpeters, your teachings for me and many trumpeters in Venezuela served us well and were always model to follow, how great Rolf

  • I fear that Rolf Smedvig will be most remembered for his sexist critique of a female brass trio in a masterclass at Boston University (as quoted in the Boston Globe in 1991.) He said: “Boys, I mean, we grow up at the age of 5, you know, and we’re playing in the dirt and you guys are playing with dolls. I’m sorry to say that, but…some women brass players have a really tough time leaving those womanly traits behind and getting more aggressive. You came out there and it looked like you had your doily dress on and you were going to tiptoe through the tulips, you know, and play this…You can’t do that when you have a trumpet in your hands.”

    In a later panel discussion at BU meant to defuse the situation, Smedvig questioned whether women had the endurance necessary for the orchestral climaxes of composers like Bruckner and Mahler, or if they could create the sort of “animal expression” necessary for Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”

    History ran past him. Trumpeters like Alison Balsom and Tine Thing Helseth went on to have much more successful careers than he did. Apparently the “doily dresses” weren’t a problem.

    • I seriously doubt he will be “most remembered” for the incident you describe — especially given the fact that I had never heard about it before. On the other hand, his recorded legacy will continue to provide illustrations of his remarkable musical abilities.

      • Quite. Mr Osbourne chooses in his usual addled pseudo-feminist diatribe to limit his comment to a single unhappy incident. This is quite different to the plethora of balanced obituaries already online that detail a highly successful career and important musical legacy and which make mention of the story at an apposite point in the text. He also ignores the fact that Rolf Smedvig not only apologised in public just two weeks later for the error of his ways, but later also appointed Michelle Perry as french horn in his Empire Quintet. Either Mr Osbourne is obtuse or deliberately missing the point or both. As for the nasty insinuation that the trumpeter did not enjoy a successful career, it seems that the quintet did very well indeed during the 1980s thank you.

        • Agreed. I would say that neither Alison nor Tine have yet accomplished what Rolf did. They are marvelous players, to be sure, but neither have made their mark as principal in a major orchestra AND founder of arguably the best brass chamber group ever AND phenomenal soloist AND highly regarded conductor AND teacher. Having studied with Rolf and having heard him perform many, many times I consider his artistry on a par with the very best. He was a mentor and inspiration to a generation of wonderful trumpet players. Further, Empire Brass is undoubtedly the most influential brass quintet of the last forty years. Simply look at the number of thriving pro quintets on the scene today that were at one time under the tutelage of Rolf and Empire. Rolf left an immense legacy and will be missed.

          • His career as a soloist was not on par with theirs, though as his student, I understand your bias.

        • There are more women hornists in orchestras than clarinetists, since it is is coded as an acceptable brass instrument for women. Impressive would have been a 2nd trumpet, trombonist, or tubist in the quintet. Women still represent about 1 to 2 percent of those instruments in top orchestras. BTW, Graham [redacted] deeply resents my work for women in music.

          • I have, thankfully, never been introduced to Mr Osbourne, with whom I seem to be on first name terms it seems, at least in his book. To set the record straight, I am not a “Celibidache groupie”. This is untruthful. Quite how Mr Osbourne purports to know my personal opinion of the conductor shall remain shrouded in mystery. Again, and in the interests of accuracy: I never met Celibidache, and I found his concerts anything other than inspiring. Of course, ad hominem attacks are the last resort of those with weak rhetoric. Thus, I’d like to ask the defamatory remark to be redacted, as it was made a) with the intent of doing harm and b) with reckless disregard for the truth, this as good a definition as any for proving malice in the sense of a tort.

          • I recently read an article about the gender demographic is starting to become more equalized and fair. I’m from St. Louis and in the late ’60’s now-retired principal trumpet Susan Slaughter was hired by the SLSO. Brass ensemble TenThing are all female and are phenomenal as well. For Smedvig to even intimate that female brass players don’t have the stamina to play the works of Bruckner and Stravinsky is as sexist as it is unrealistic. My first gig as a trumpet player was brass quintet, switched to Fr.horn in college, first quintet piece at that level was Dukas La Peri that I sight read through the first time without incident. While I do enjoy listening to Empire Brass, his arrangements tended to be on the bottom-heavy side. The interesting harmonic progressions were different from what I’d played before but managed to play through it. Have an interview next week with a local university re: MA in music candidacy.

    • You display a serious lack of judgment in what to post as well as making ludicrous claims.

      Rolf Smedvig had few peers as an expressive trumpet player. This is evident in his many recordings and live performances. That is how he will be remembered in his musical life.

  • What a thoroughly nasty, ornery, repugnant, unpleasant, eristical and as usual objectionable comment from Mr. Osbourne. How about saying “condolences”, or “RIP”, or at least something appropriate? Does he have no feelings or emotions about death, family, friends? Obviously not. About time Mr. Lebrecht exercised a firmer hand when moderating comments.

    • Many of the news reports of his death, including the one on NPR, note his sexist comments. Better run out try to get them all suppressed, Graham.

      • I think it would be salutary were Mr Osborn to ask family and friends as well as other musicians who knew and heard Rolf Smedvig whether in their opinion he will be most remembered for his sexist critique of a female brass trio in a masterclass at Boston University.

        • As one who studied with Rolf at BU, I can say with assurance that he will be remembered far more for his musical contributions and for being a gifted, inspiring teacher than for the comments made in that masterclass. Unless, of course, you use NPR as your primary source of information.

  • So sad!A trumpet giant!And he looked so youthful anf healthy,can´t believe it!
    Mr.Smedvig will always be remembered as a breathtaking player with an tone of rare,singing,and velvety radiance.As for Mr.Osborne,he sure will be remembered once chiefly for irrelevant,ill placed,and tasteless comments like the one here.

    • the first time I saw a concert of trumpet and my inspiration
      to study this beautiful instrument I thank God for allowing me to listen to Rolf decided by the trumpeting and I’m sure I was educated in his school and techniques
      given by my teacher Alfredo D’Addona thanks for always

    • Some of the commentators here are among those who consistently object to discussions concerning the rights of women in music. Their specious agenda is obvious. We can remember Smedvig for his fine playing, but until sexism in classical music ends, his legacy of chauvinism should also be noted.

  • the first time I saw a concert of trumpet and my inspiration
    to study this beautiful instrument I thank God for allowing me to listen to Rolf decided by the trumpeting and I’m sure I was educated in his school and techniques
    given by my teacher Alfredo D’Addona thanks for always

  • There are worse things. It is known that a trumpet audition at a major US symphony orchestra in the 1970s used a screen to protect the anonymity of the players who auditioned. Except that the screen stopped short of the floor so the auditioner’s shoes could be seen.

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