James Smelser joined the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra as second horn in the spring of 2000, fulfilling a lifelong dream of
becoming a member of the Orchestra, with which he had played as a regular extra
since 1986. In addition, Jim has been a member of the Civic Orchestra.
Born in Chicago, Jim was raised in a musical
household in Joliet. His mother, a violinist, was a school orchestra director,
and his father, a tubist, was a band director, and all five of the children
played instruments. Both his parents attended Northwestern University, where
his father studied with Arnold Jacobs, then principal tuba of the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra—thus beginning a long family tradition of CSO influence.
Jim’s father was his first teacher, and his second teacher, former CSO hornist
Frank Brouk, continued the Orchestra affiliation.
Following high school, where he became
interested in travel, music, and German, Jim attended Northwestern University,
and studied with former CSO second hornist Norman Schweikert. His other
interests led him to interrupt his work at Northwestern to study with Gerd
Seifert, then principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, at the Hochschule der
Künste in Berlin. Returning to Evanston, he studied with CSO principal horn
Dale Clevenger, graduating with honors from Northwestern with a double major in
music and German language and literature. He also holds bachelor’s and master’s
degrees in music.
Since graduation, Jim has had a varied and
extensive career in Chicago and elsewhere. He played over fifteen years of
Broadway shows, ballet, and radio and TV commercials. In addition, he has
served as principal horn with the Philharmonia Hungarica and the Deutsche Oper
am Rhein in Düsseldorf, Germany, as well as utility horn with the San Francisco
Symphony. He also has performed with the Göttingen Symphonieorchester, Dresden
Staatskapelle, Israel Philharmonic, and the Shanghai Radio Symphony Orchestra.
In the summer of 2010, Jim appeared as a soloist with the Orchestra in
Schumann’s Konzertstück at the
Ravinia Festival. He currently is the brass instructor for Den Nye Opera
Academy in Bergen, Norway.