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.