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, Smelser has been a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.
Born in Chicago, Smelser was raised in a musical household in Joliet. Smelser’s father was his first teacher, and his second teacher was former CSO hornist Frank Brouk. Smelser 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.
Smelser has since had a varied and extensive career in Chicago and elsewhere. He played more than 15 years of Broadway shows, ballet, and radio and TV commercials. In the summer of 2010, Smelser appeared as a soloist with the CSO in Schumann’s Konzertstück at Ravinia Festival.
Also active as an educator, Smelser has been the brass instructor for Den Nye Opera Academy in Bergen, Norway and has given master classes and served as judge and soloist for international competitions. He is currently on the faculty of DePaul University School of Music in Chicago.