I have mentioned the Boston Symphony Orchestra here several times, having seen them a
few million number of times from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. Many of those who were BSO members during those years have already retired or died now. And now Rolf Smedvig, who was the BSO’s principal trumpet from 1979 to 1981, and assistant principal from 1972 to 1979, has died of a heart attack at only age 62.
Smedvig was known for quite a diverse repertoire, from classical to jazz. And he was also at times a somewhat controversial performer.
In the early 1990s, Smedvig angered some feminists after he was quoted making supposedly sexist remarks regarding female brass players. According to the New York Times in its obituary, Smedvig remarked, “Women have a really tough time playing brass instruments because your basic nature is not terribly aggressive … Boys, I mean, we grow up at the age of 5, you know, and we’re playing in the dirt and you guys are playing with dolls.” And while apologizing for stating his honest opinion that apparently people are no longer allowed to have, he said, “There is a design problem inherent in the basic personalities of women when it comes to brass instruments.” (To be fair, Karin Bliznik is principal trumpet of the St. Louis Symphony — no small potatoes there — and Megumi Kanda is currently principal trombone of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra — no small potatoes there, either.)
Besides having played with the Boston Symphony for 10 years, Rolf Smedvig was probably better known as the founder and lead trumpet of the Empire Brass Quintet. He started the Empire Brass in the early 1970s, according to the Times, and had continued with them until his recent untimely death.
Here is Smedvig and his Empire Brass playing a suite arrangement of Handel’s Water Music with a small orchestra accompanying them.
And here are the Empire Brass playing a suite from Leonard Bernstein’s score for the musical West Side Story.