For orchestral trumpet sections, striving for a unified concept of sound across the section is of great importance. Traditional and historical factors usually contribute to this concept, including what ensembles the members performed with previously, their past education, the desire of the music director and how a section was made up in decades past–among others. But probably the biggest factor in the search for and creation of a sound concept that is similar is the instrument choice of the section members.
Vincent Bach Stradivarius trumpets have traditionally been the industry standard model of trumpets on which many orchestral sections, for years, have built their sound concept. In recent years, other manufacturers have entered into the market, and these instruments are used regularly by sections across the world. But many trumpet sections have relied on the workmanship of Bach Stradivarius trumpet for almost a century and continue to do so to this day.
The Pittsburgh Symphony trumpet section is unique in our approach, in that while many top tier orchestras are searching for the “latest, greatest” design and model of instrument, we are actually, intentionally, going the other direction. In fact, we go back as far as we can. Today, the serial numbers of Bach Stradivarius trumpets number around 700,000, but our vintage instruments number in the 7,000 range, and were built originally in the 1940s. Specifically, there were only around 20 instruments of our particular models ever manufactured, so the fact that we have three of them in Pittsburgh is very rare. So rare, in fact, that it took me, for example, almost seven years to find mine, turning over every rock and investigating every source. Each of us has a story behind how we acquired our instruments.
The primary reason for the choice of these vintage models is sound, as mentioned before. Our principal trumpet, George Vosburgh, was first attracted to these vintage instruments while performing with the Chicago Symphony, an orchestra that owns a set of a slightly (by around 10 to 15 years) more modern version of our trumpets. He brought this concept of sound to Pittsburgh from Chicago, and we have continued the tradition. It’s interesting to note that to my knowledge, we are the only section in the world that plays on this vintage of instrument on a regular basis. This is partly because there are so few instruments in a playable condition from that era, even if someone wanted to find one. But over the years, Vincent Bach changed the basic manufacturing of his instruments, and he eventually sold the business to the Selmer company in Elkhart, Ind. Another reason for the instrument design change was because the instrument production went from hand-made to assembly line produced. You can still buy a good, professional quality Vincent Bach trumpet today, but the difference in workmanship, design and above all sound is clearly evident between today’s trumpets and our vintage models.
If you watched our video last week from Berlin, you saw (and heard) the three of us play Ein Heldenleben on these vintage model trumpets. Here’s a picture of the bells of these instruments. Notice the “New York 67” on the bells, indicating these were manufactured in New York, N.Y., with the 67 being the last two digits of the Bronx, N.Y. zip code.
We are excited to own these trumpets and perform on them for audiences abroad and especially the audiences back home in Pittsburgh. While all of the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony have stories about how they acquired their instruments, now you know a little bit about our stories, and why we play what we consider to be some of the most rare but exciting sounding instruments in the world. Thanks for reading!