Just in: Chicago scoops ex-Berlin Phil principal horn

Just in: Chicago scoops ex-Berlin Phil principal horn


norman lebrecht

May 20, 2019

We hear that David Cooper has been named principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

David, originally principal at the Dallas Symphony, went to the Berlin Philharmonic in 2017 but went home a year later.

Now, he’s back in the front line.



  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    They should be a perfect match. -a fantastic horn player. Nothing but the best will do for Chicago, and they’ve got it.

  • Elaine Calder says:

    David was Acting Principal Horn of the Victoria Symphony from 2006 to 2008. That’s Victoria BC in Canada. At that time their Principal Guest Conductor was Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

  • Bill Gross says:

    Announcement was delayed until strike resolved.

    • Max Raimi says:

      This board is bearing more and more resemblance to a bathroom wall. You have no idea what you are talking about, Bill.
      Mr. Cooper was awarded the job after playing Principal for the Muti concerts the first week of May. He played absolutely brilliantly, not least in the outrageously difficult “yodeling” solo in the “Danses Suisses” from Stravinski’s “Fairy Kiss” Suite. This, reinforced by glorious playing in previous weeks on trial, clinched the decision and he was offered the position. I am extremely excited to have him as a colleague, and as far as I know this view is pretty much universally shared in the orchestra.

      • John Kelly says:

        Good note. I heard him play with the Berlin Phil at their two Proms in London last season – the Schmidt 4th as well as a glorious La Peri. Top player with a terrific sound. Alexander horn – not sure if he keeps that for the CSO……………..

      • Bill Gross says:

        All I can say in reply to the above is the fact wasn’t released publicly in Dallas till yesterday (see headline above). I had talked to a retired DSO member who knew Mr. Cooper in late April. He told me Mr. Cooper was going to leave once the strike was resolved.

    • knowstoomuch says:

      No, he still had several more trial weeks after strike was resolved.

  • anon says:

    I would’ve thought the NY Phil, under his former boss Jaap, would’ve offered him whatever it was necessary to swoop him up (I would think that principal horn in Chicago is worth at least $400,000, more than any other principal besides the concertmaster), not less than what the NY Phil offered Martin to leave Chicago for NY as principal trumpet, especially now that NY is one of the few remaining orchestras with a defined benefits pension (even if salary in NY is lower than Chicago and cost of living is higher than Chicago), although I wouldn’t hold my breath for NY retaining defined benefits pension for long, not with Borda as president and she decides otherwise.

    (Aside: The strikes at Pittsburgh and Chicago showed that it is futile to strike to try to retain defined benefits, the musicians can never hold out as long as management.)

    Financial gossip aside, I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. If Muti succeeds in rebuilding the brass section as he did the woodwind section, CSO will be formidable and a wonder to hear.

    • PHF says:

      400,000? This is a joke, right?! Not a single orchestral musician worths this… that’s why orchestras are going bankrupt, how many tickets needs to be sold in order to pay his annual salary only?

      • Robert Garcia says:

        The CSO isn’t a community orchestra. It is one of the finest orchestras in the world.

        • PHF says:

          Yes… the amount of strikes and bankruptcy cases in the last decade are signs of their great economical strength…

          If you let your egos away for a minute and look what kind of professionals earn this range of salaries in the real world, soon you’re gonna notice that this model of “business” are not possible in the long term these days.

          Musically speaking, well… some of these “finest orchestras” appeal to putting DJs as their residence artists and making questionable collaborations to keep their seats always warm. Priorities, right?!

        • Tamino says:

          Not sure how ‘community’ and ‘one of the finest’ are mutually exclusive as you seem to think.
          But maybe that’s an American thing.
          Berlin Philharmonic is a community orchestra for instance.

      • anon says:

        According to the 2016 IRS Form 990:

        Concertmaster Chen: $539,900
        Principal Trumpet Martin: $339,104
        Principal Clarinet Williamson: $335,578

        So by extrapolation: no one can make more than the concertmaster, there are a lot of good clarinetists out there, a principal French Horn that Chicago hadn’t been able to fill for 4(?) years must be worth his weight in gold, ergo, his salary must come in somewhere between $335K and $539K, which is $400K.

        In 2016 terms.

        In 2019, CSO just got raises across the board.

        So $400,000 is just about right.

        If he didn’t get that much, I’m available to be his agent, for the usual 10% cut. ; )

        • SEATAC says:

          Keep in mind that these salaries also move with seniority. A brand new principal horn isn’t going to earn right off the bat what Clevenger was making when he retired after being principal since the late 60s!

          • anon says:

            1) For Clevenger’s last full compensation year (fiscal year ending June 2011), here’s his compensation relative to the other top principals:

            Concertmaster: 469K
            PRINCIPAL HORN: 296
            Principal Cello: 295
            Principal Flute: 277

            2) For fiscal year ending June 2017:

            Concertmaster: 555K
            Principal cello: 365
            Principal clarinet: 362
            Principal tympani: 338

            3) Those are the comparative data points, extrapolate what you will from them, based on the trajectory of salary increases through 2019, and one’s assessment of the rarity of principal horns and their market value.


          • SEATAC says:


            I don’t believe Clevenger played a full season in his last year. He was out quite a bit (sabbaticals for family reasons etc.). Do you have numbers from previous years?

          • knowstoomuch says:

            Clevenger retired in 2013. You are outmatched by someone who knows their facts, sorry.

          • anon says:

            Just look at the New York Philharmonic (fiscal ending June 2017):

            Concertmaster: 622K
            Principal Cello: 566
            Principal Viola: 521
            PRINICIPAL HORN: 466
            Principal Oboe: 459

            There you have it, $466,000 for Principal Horn in 2016 in New York.

            The only thing I have to say is, there goes the myth that NY is paid less than Chicago, the principals in NY are raking it in, cost of living adjustment or not!

            If anyone at the CSO should go on strike, it should be the principals, LOL!

          • Bill Gross says:

            Earlier in a discussion about Cooper’s return to Dallas someone dug up the IRS info on Dallas and Cooper’s pay was just under the Concert Master. Too bad there isn’t a way to search archives of Slipped Disc.

          • anon says:

            For fiscal year ending May 2017, the Dallas concertmaster made 291K, while the principal horn made 211, the lowest of the principals, the others coming in at 224, 250, 258.

            My 2 cent editorial:

            Hey classical musicians, I bet you didn’t think that going into classical music, that IRS returns with your personal income would be more accessible than Donald Trump’s?

            Chilling thought in a democracy.

          • Bill Gross says:

            Where in the 990 are salaries listed? I just found the DSO 990 for 2017 but went through it and couldn’t find them

          • anon says:

            Schedule J.

          • Bill Gross says:

            Thanks for the info. Just to quibble a bit on the tax thing. The information is on the DSO Tax return not, David Coopers.

    • Henry Rosen says:

      Maybe he auditioned and the NY Phil didn’t want him…

      • NYMike says:

        He did indeed sit in as guest principal and was determined not to fit NY’s horn section sound.

        • anonymous says:

          You can’t be principal for a life tenure job and be expected to fit into the section, rather, it has to be, I’m the principal, this is my sound, if you don’t like it, don’t hire me, but if you like it, then you, the section, must fit my sound.

    • John Kelly says:

      Already is a wonder to hear. If I had to play in Geffen Hall vs Orchestra Hall I think it would be an easy decision in favour of Chicago. NY is also more expensive to live in. Pittsburgh horns were in a class of their own at Geffen yesterday mind you

      • NYMike says:

        Actually, neither hall’s sound is world-class.

        • Tamino says:

          Which halls in the US sound world class?
          Boston and Dallas, AFAIK. Anything else?
          Certainly not Geffen, Chicago or Disney.

          • Max Raimi says:

            Kansas City is visually gorgeous and sounds wonderful. I would include it among any of the great halls around the world where I have played.

          • Payne says:

            What are your thoughts on Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis?

  • David Hyslop says:

    David is a great player and fine person .

  • Axl says:

    Bravooo David!!!!!! This is a super thing!!!! And plus a fact that David replaces his own horn hero!
    HUGE congrats to David and CSO!!! Well done!

  • Larry W says:

    Congrats, David! A huge win in the Game of Horns.

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    Any news as to a front runner for principal trumpet or who is in the running?

    • Brian says:

      @Enquiring Mind: This article may shed some light on your question:


      • Rodrigo says:

        Seriously? OMG. This guy has been tooting his own horn on social media in Spain for as a long as I can remember. A real self promoter.

        He was Principal in Granada for many yrs. which is kind of a B level orch. Good but not the best. Now it looks like he’s in Hong Kong. He hasn’t won the Chicago job, he’s TAKING THE AUDITION in June. This article is so typical of the stuff he posts about himself. Self promotion.

        Without even looking I know that he’s from Valencia. Valencians are a clannish, tight-knit and very insular group of musicians who help their own and are known to do damage to non-Valencians professionally in order to get ahead. The testimonial posted in this article, for example, is from another Valencian trumpet player. They stick together.

        I wouldn’t count on this guy winning until he actually takes the audition in June. All the other stuff in this article is just what he SAYS happened. It’s typical of what I’ve seen about him on social media: pure self promotion.

        I don’t know much about trumpet, but I see it as a stretch, given his background and training, that he’d be filling Hirseth’s position.

        If he wins the audition, fine, then he can celebrate. Right now he’s just another candidate and any speculation that he’s a “frontrunner” is coming from him. It’s what he himself is putting out there

        • Mick the Knife says:

          Whoa! He has played principal in La Scala, and with the Chicago Symphony many times, including tours. As far as Granada, its a pretty good orchestra and his starting gig. He was good enough to get noticed by the upper echelon…they wouldn’t keep rehiring if he wasn’t doing the job. No guarantee he will eventually be hired but he is certainly has to be considered a front runner based on all of his appearances with the CSO.

        • Sandwich says:

          Esteban Batallán is not from Valencia. He is from Galicia.

    • Axl says:

      Norman! Have you noticed and/or heard that if it’s true – Esteban Batallan has win the CSO’s principal trumpet position. Now he’s lifelong dream will be official true

  • fflambeau says:

    What strikes me about him is his youth; probably about 35.

    He’s a Curtis grad by the way.

    Since he was born in Michigan, Chicago is like a “home” city for him. The CSO should be set for a long run at this position.

  • Anonymous says:

    Why did he leave Berlin?

    • Axl says:

      I don’t know the absolutely truth but my guess is because family reasons. If I’ve understand right – during David’s time in Berlin, his wife was stayed in the US so I think that it was difficult to be away from his family. Plus he and his wife have their own company in Dallas area – Avant Chamber Ballet. Here’s the reasons what I’ve been thought

    • Bill Gross says:

      I believe the Berlin has a two year trial period instead of a one year. (I heard an explanation for this if you are interested.) I did pick up some unconfirmed talk about the fit not being just right. He did earn more money in Dallas according to figures getting tossed around.

      Since he never said, it’s just who guess is better than the next guys.

  • I heard him play the Britten Serenade here in Dallas. He could turn some very scary shades of purple purple to nail those high notes.

    None-the-less, I always felt his sound in his orchestral solos was coarser and grainier than a solo horn should be and was surprised that that was the sound JvS wanted.

  • Bill Gross says:

    Speaking of Horn Player, Chicago and Dallas, the Dallas 4th Horn is Kevin Haseltine, from Houston, joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as fourth horn player in 2015. He was still in Northwestern when he auditioned. An exceptional horn player who had to endure a lot of humor at the expense of his age. Including guys in the trumpet section asking him if he was saving yet and stuff like his mother had to drive him to the audition.

    From where he’s sitting and his ability on the horn he’s got a great future ahead.

  • Sara E. says:

    What will happen to his alexander horn? Also, he’s simply a copy cat of hornist Erik Ruske. Same playing style, mannerisms, laugh, embouchure, etc… Let’s hope he stays and is not let go like so many others.