Exclusive: Berlin Philharmonic loses its American principal horn

Exclusive: Berlin Philharmonic loses its American principal horn


norman lebrecht

August 10, 2018

Corks popped in December 2016 when David Cooper, principal horn of the Dallas Symphony, won the equivalent seat in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sadly, it hasn’t worked out.

David is returning to the US for what the orchestra describes as ‘private reasons’.

Auditions will be held in the next couple of months for both 1st and 3rd horn in the Berlin Phil.


  • Anthony Kershaw says:

    Happens. Shame. Very fine player.

  • Cuerno F. says:

    Germany’s loss, America’s win.

  • Mark says:

    It’s a club and if your face does t fit the Berliners will make your live uncomfortable

    • Allen says:

      I don’t know anything about this particular case but a “fit” has to work both ways.

      • MWnyc says:

        Don’t forget, folks: it’s entirely possible that David Cooper’s reasons for returning to the US are entirely personal (family- or romantic-partner-related, for example) and have nothing to do with the Philharmoniker as such,

        • BillG says:

          His wife did stay in Dallas where she has a small ballet company. That is theory #2, among the most popular 4 as to his return.

    • I play the flaut says:

      I had an opportunity with them years ago that I am not going to get into here. But I was told by an honest German insider, “Sie sind sehr Deutsch” which means “Don’t even bother trying, dumb American.” Of course they hired a German for the position I was interested in. Her playing is an embarrassment relative to the playing of the principals who are both phenomenal players.

  • Simon Evnine says:

    Maybe Sarah Willis will step up to become principal ?

    • Kerry Thompson says:

      I doubt it. She likes low horn. She’s capable of playing principal, but Stefan Dohr is still there, playing principal (the Horn section carries 2 principals). They will bring other players, some to audition for the spot, some to fill in.

      Now I’d like to know who is leaving the 3rd horn position open.

      • Tichy1988 says:

        Fergus McWilliam…sadly.

        • Adrian says:

          No, it’s Stefan de Leval Jezierski who is vacating 3rd horn.

          • Shalom Rackovsky says:

            Fergus has been in the BPO for 33 years, and Stefan for 40(!!!). They both still play beautifully, but have reached compulsory retirement age. They are both shining lights in the horn-playing world, which, due to the extreme demands placed by the instrument, is remarkably collegial.

          • stefan jezierski says:

            Adrian,this is not true,it is uninformed speculation! I am not leaving my position now!I will be starting my 40th season next week

          • Adrian says:

            I apologise unresevedly to Stefan for my uniformed speculation – I should have known better.

        • Samuele says:

          Fergus was 2nd horn
          3rd horn position is from Paolo Mendes that did not pass his trial…
          I think Stefan de Leval will retired in feew years

          • Kerry says:

            I won’t speculate on who it is. Speculation is just idle gossip. And, in fact, I have inside information from a member of the section who was over for dinner recently, and I’ll likely have dinner at his/her place when I’m in Berlin in a few weeks.

            I have a pretty good idea who it is, but I don’’t repeat things told me in confidence.

          • err says:

            sit down kerry

          • Thomasina says:

            It’s true about Paolo Mendes? I have the impression (of non-musician) that the rate of leaving brass section is very higher than that of string section.

          • 5566hh says:

            Are you sure about Paolo Mendes? He’s still listed on the website. It seems much more likely that the vacancies are due to the retirement of Fergus McWilliam and Stefan de Leval Jezierski.

          • Alun says:

            Read a few lines above 5566hh – Stefan has posted. Great news!

          • Samuele says:

            Pretty sure…yes

          • BillG says:

            Kerry, really playing I know a secret and you don’t? Not the best form don’t ya know. If it’s to remain confidential why bring it up at all?

          • Samuele says:

            Comment on facebook from Stefan de Leval…[David Cooper and Paolo Mendes will not be returning this coming season]
            Happy now…genious??!!!

      • Marge O. says:

        What happened in the Orchestra of Boston civic, they had an unreal horn section. Perhaps they can draw on their excellence?

  • Neville Filar says:

    Could it be that he couldn’t get on with an Alex 103. I dont know what he was playing previously but the one on YouTube didn’t look like and Alex

    Shame cos he is a very fine player

  • Mark says:

    Are principal horn positions still open in Chicago and Cleveland?

  • BillG says:

    It’s been known in Dallas, and the horn community, for over a month. David Cooper was on leave of absence from the Dallas Symphony. He notified them of his desire to return and the accepted.

    Rumors and such are floating around Dallas as to this move. I know of 4. It is hard to give validity three of them. The one that is probably the most reasonable is that he is looking at a shot for the New York Phil.

    From information on the NY Phil web site, they haven’t filled that position. Van Zueden selected him in Dallas. There was a bond with the two in Dallas. Van Zueden came to Dallas and convinced the DSO to hire a co-Concert Master. He has some loyalty to individuals he really likes.

    Some symphonies have stipulations in their contracts that new principals can not be hired in the first or last year of a music directors tenure. I don’t know if this applies to the New York Phil. If it does, look for a potential move next year.

    All of that and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. If you just offer them cash, it’ll cost three bucks.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      Bill, I totally disagree with you! Depending on the locale, approximately $2.50 will get you a Grande of plain black coffee at Starbucks! {;-)

      OK seriously, thanks for the inside scoop. I can’t say I’m unhappy about a highly talented American player returning to our country.

    • anon says:

      Even if he were aiming for NY, why would he give up prematurely a tenured post (assuming tenure was extended) in Berlin, just to wait in Dallas, until NY hopefully opens up?

      Makes ZERO sense.

      And to play under Fabio instead of Petrenko? C’mon.

      • Dweezil says:

        Read again. It was not suggested that leaving Berlin was by choice.

      • barry guerrero says:

        Makes perfect sense to me. Berlin is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ (it isn’t mine), and Dallas is not the ‘hell hole’ many people make it out to be. Could the difference in taxes be a factor?

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Probably not, as the nominal tax rate in Berlin may be somewhat higher in the kind of income bracket a BP principal is in, but you also get a whole lot more services back from the government for your taxes. The quality of living is far higher in Berlin for less money, the costs still aren’t quite as high as many other metropoles.

    • Anton says:

      No offense to the young man, but I don’t see him fitting into the sound of the NYPhil very well. He is certainly a fine horn player, but his playing and the current established section seem like oil and water to me. I know he’s be principal, as such it would be the sections job to blend with him, but mayb the rest of the brass section vetoes it?

      • BillG says:

        Music Director can over ride the musicians in selection of section principal. It happens.

        • Anton says:

          I totally understand that, certainly, which bothers me to a degree since a principal can last beyond a music director and in turn altering the overall sound/quality of the ensemble.

          It’s all conjecture, and maybe he’s perfectly happy to stay in Dallas.

          • BillG says:

            See my earlier comment about it’s all speculation. I reckon we won’t know the answer about NY until after Van Zueden’s first year is completed.

    • BillG says:

      Another reason bandied about is money. Dallas is rumored to have paid more than Berlin. I believe I saw something in SD about the top paid member of the DSO was the concert master (not sure which one) and then principal horn.

      • barry guerrero says:

        . . . and taxes; don’t forget the difference in taxes. Also, having a decent salary in Dallas will afford one a nice home. Berlin? . . . perhaps not so much.

        • Cuerno F. says:

          This weird narrative that DC simply chose to leave the Berlin Philharmonic is not helping anything. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

          • BillG says:

            Which is probably a better way of saying “All of that and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. If you just offer them cash, it’ll cost three bucks.”

  • BPhil Fan says:

    In the digital concert hall (I never attended a concert of him) it looked like his sound was not big enough.

    • BillG says:

      His ability to fill the Meyerson was remarkable. He compared to Tuckwell in filling the Hall.

    • Tommy says:

      Exactly my feeling too! From (the little) I understand he was not a very good fit for the BPO. He clearly sounded different (yes – weak and thin) compared to how Stefan Dohr and Eric Terwilliger sounds in that orchestra. As long as BPO can share Terwilliger with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra they have another perfect first horn. And they can take another 5-10 years to find the next perfect one… 🙂 Work on that, I’d say.

      I wonder if there are different schools in French Horn-playing? Or is it just their instruments… or the halls? On discs I can listen to the Cleveland with Szell and what I hear is super-refined and beautiful horn playing, but it is kind of more in line of how I find Cooper to play. There is quite a difference between that and what the BPO normally produces (say under Karajan and Rattle). The best of two worlds? Lucky me to be able to just sit back and enjoy it.

      • Craig Kowald says:

        I have heard both Dohr and Cooper play in small master class settings. Both are among the best in the world. Stefan has an enormous sound and David has super clean articulation, which sounds effortless. I am somewhat surprised by comments that Cooper sounds “raucous”. In general, the much brighter sound of Chicago overshadowed the darker Cleveland sound, so American players will likely have that more Chicago sound that cuts through the massed forces of strings more easily. Dave did play on the Chicago standard Steve Lewis horn in Dallas and is on the brighter side

        • Cuerno F. says:

          If you’re getting feedback that you need to step up with a “bigger” sound, it’s not inconceivable that the result could be a sound that’s not pleasing to some.

        • Hank Browne says:

          here we are 10 months after your chicago comments, and CSO has just announced that cooper is the principal in chicago. this, after a very long vacancy (6 years) since the rather troublesome retirement of the great dale clevenger. cf. losing principal flute to los angeles for a trial, but ultimately to berlin. similarly, cso principal clarinet briefly held the same position with new york, but finally settled for chicago.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I heard him solo several times in Dallas and he can nail highs notes from a mile away but I also thought his sound was too coarse and raucous for orchestral music.

  • Kundry says:

    BPO decided not to confirm Martin Owen as solo horn a few years back , which was stupid on their part. Now they need to invent one. There are very few excellent players of that level , who are also great colleagues. BPO ‘s loss !

    • Anthony Kershaw says:

      Agreed. That surprised me.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I heard a concert in which he played Poème de l’extase a few years ago (incidentally, that was conducted by Petrenko and the last program he did before he was elected principal conductor) and Owen’s playing was not very impressive. When he could be heard, he sounded quite good and he is obviously a highly accomplished player. But the sound did not carry well and quite often, he could be seen moving (more animatedly than many other horn players) but not quite heard.

  • Robert Larm says:

    I doubt if it has anything to do with him being an American. One of the Concertmasters is an American, Noah Bendix-Balgley.

  • Cornista says:

    Stefan plays much louder than David and Baborak. All BPhill horn section wants is a big sound.

  • Richard Reissig says:

    The NY Philharmonic Principal Horn position is open. Richard Deane continues to be listed as ‘Acting’ Principal. No NY Phil horn auditions are scheduled at this time. As far as ‘conjecture’ and ‘speculation’ are concerned, David Cooper and Van Sweden did well together in Dallas.

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    Stefan Jezierski’s comment above is wonderful news. I have rarely been happier to be wrong.

  • nml hats says:

    I don’t care what transpired; I am thrilled to have him coming back to Dallas and hope is here for a long time. However, it would not surprise me if he did follow Jaap to NY at some point. On the other hand, there was a good deal of friction between Jaap and some members of the DSO in his final years; and perhaps that had something to do with David’s looking for employment elsewhere in the first place and going to Berlin. Who knows? Maybe he is even happy to come back because Jaap is gone!? (I am not knocking Jaap’s conducting–it’s fantastic–but I have personally heard some thinly disguised comments about Jaap’s demeanor in conversations with musicians.)

    • BillG says:

      David and Jaap were close. Selection to replace Hustis were tied. Musicians wanted one guy, Jaap wanted Cooper. Jaap did not treat the head of the musicians committee with great bon homme after the selection was made. The rumors that wandered my way were that Jaap might have a “victim of the day” picked for some unknown reason.


    After reading all the politics going on, I have decided not to submit my application for Horn 1 or even 3, but to stick with 4th in my community orchestra and have lots of FUN!

  • Erin says:

    Maybe due to FATCA and Citizen-Based Taxation–CBT (only the US and Eritrea do this) to its US persons? VERY difficult to live an independent life without massive US tax/document compliance costs (double taxation) and banks won’t let US persons bank due to FATCA/CBT.

  • Erin says:

    Also, he appears to be a copy-cat of Erik Ruske. Even looks like him, talks like him, laughs like him, even same embouchure. LOL!

    Very clean, clear articulations-however, that horn sound is more hollow and perhaps, did not fit a more ‘mellow’ or lyrical section. The FATCA and CBT thing for US persons trying to “live” abroad is certainly a reason for forced returning to the States, as the US govt (along with Eritrea) makes it VERY difficult (unless on renounces) to live abroad in FATCA and CBT compliance.

  • Hornboy says:

    He’s laughing all the way to the bank as the new principal horn designate of the Chicago Symphony, a position last filled during the Johnson administration.