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Anne Arundel 100
The Many Influences on Jeff Silberschlag
Written by Ross Wixon ’10, music major
Playing music goes back many generations in the Silberschlag family to include a European circus bugler and a jazz drummer. Above, St. Mary’s music director Jeffrey Silberschlag conducts in Alba, Italy. ( Photo by Bruno Murialdo)
As the timpani sounded the battle music from “Gladiator,” Chesapeake Orchestra music director Jeffrey Silberschlag faced the audience and gazed up into the night sky, his arms spread wide to conclude the summer’s River Concert Series held annually on the St. Mary’s College of Maryland campus. Thanking both nature and the crowd was a fitting end to a summer that saw audiences and performers brave searing heat and rain to share these terrific concerts. It was also classic Silberschlag: very funny, but with a grain of truth – and with the orchestra behind him making music at the highest level.
Born in Pikesville, Maryland, Silberschlag was molded at a young age by the two worlds of music and business. His father was a businessman by day, and successful jazz drummer by night. His grandmother introduced him to the trumpet, handing him a bugle that her father had played in the European circus. “One afternoon when I was about five or six, she showed me how to play the bugle, how to hold my lips,” Silberschlag describes. “Ever since, people have said that I have a natural embouchure – but it was my father’s mother who showed me how to play.”
Through his father, Silberschlag met and heard many jazz greats, including Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry, and Count Basie. His father organized lessons for the young trumpeter with Don Tison, principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony. Silberschlag soon went on to play in the Maryland Youth Symphony and the Peabody Conservatory Brass Ensemble.
His maternal grandfather had other plans for him, however.
Silberschlag was molded at a young age by the two worlds of music and business. His great-grandfather, Morris Schwartz, far left, played a horn in a European circus. His father, Herb, center, was a businessman by day and a notable jazz drummer at night. And he worked for his maternal grandfather, Reuben Grodnitzky, right, who ran a successful fabric company in Baltimore.
The owner of a successful draperies and fabrics company, he had young Jeff working in the summers, moving 100-pound bolts of fabric and installing drapery. Even today, Silberschlag remembers with pride installing all of the window treatments for the Bromo- Seltzer tower, something he is reminded of every time he watches the Orioles (it is the view from home plate). His grandfather groomed him as his successor, and held that dream close, but Silberschlag went on to establish himself as a successful musician.
“I had already been associate principal trumpet at the Jerusalem Symphony and principal trumpet at the Italian National Symphony, RAI, in Torino when I arrived at St. Mary’s College in 1988. We did a concert at the Baltimore Museum, and Ted Lewis, president of the College at the time, attended, as did my grandfather. When they met, Ted Lewis said, ‘We’re so excited to have Jeff on the faculty, he’s so full of energy!’ My grandfather just looked at him and said, ‘I don’t know why he didn’t just stay with me and make real money.’ ”
After high school, Silberschlag started college at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, and studied with Robert Nagel, an important mentor who, as founder and first trumpet of the New York Brass Quintet, also played a seminal role in the development of brass chamber music as a performer, arranger, and publisher.
Even there though, Silberschlag was juggling two worlds: “When I entered school in Hartford, I was pre-med and music, and had as much trouble figuring out what I was supposed to be as most 18-year-olds. I think more people probably expected me to go into medical school or to be in business than to go fulltime in music.”
He went on to study with Pierre Thibaud at the Institute for Advanced Music Study in Montreux, Switzerland, and later with William Vacchiano at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Vacchiano was then the principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, a position he held for 38 years. These three teachers were among the most important trumpet pedagogues in the world.
Being in New York in the 1970s was an exciting time for brass music. The city was home to trumpeter and publisher Charles Colin, whose New York Brass Conference brought together for the first time the world’s greatest brass musicians. Gerard Schwarz was also active in exploring new approaches to the trumpet solo repertoire, and would later become the conductor of the Seattle Symphony. Between these men and Vacchiano, Silberschlag was learning strategies for musical creativity and entrepreneurship that he would carry with him always.
Vacchiano placed great emphasis on the orchestral repertoire and had a no-nonsense approach to lessons. “If you missed a note in a lesson, Vacchiano would say things like, ‘I don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do, because you’ve got family money, right?’ ”
This strictness paid off.
“When I won the job of associate principal trumpet of the Jerusalem Symphony and went on to play first trumpet in the New York City Opera National Company, Vacchiano told me, ‘I always knew you would be a great first trumpet player, because you have the character for it. Other guys can’t take it.’"
Around this time, Silberschlag discovered his family’s musical lineage went back far further than he thought. “I knew that my great-grandfather had been a trumpeter and euphonium player in the European circus. I didn’t find out until much later that he came from a long line of trumpet players that went back hundreds of years through Europe. It was very reassuring to find out that trumpet playing in my family went back generations. I used to say that I was like I was a fish trying to decide if I should swim!”
He next moved to Torino, Italy, where he was principal trumpet in the Italian National Symphony, RAI. After finding great success there as a performer and a teacher, he found he still needed to do more with music. That was when his worlds collided, and he began to draw on his complete background, fusing the business savvy of his grandfather with his music mentors’ enterprising spirit and his own musical passions.
“I had a very strong music influence, and also a very strong family business influence,” he explains. “That was how I was raised, and those two things probably are the ingredients for what makes a music director. And so I turned to conducting. I came into it understanding that to make music, you need to create the opportunity, and that means focusing on both the artistic and the business sides.”
And a great sense of humor that also is a part of his family legacy. “Some people think I’m funny,” Silberschlag says. “In addition to being a drummer, my father had a fantastic wit. He was not alone. I remember a giant family reunion. It was like a roast! My great-great aunt, who was then something like 80-years-old, was walking around smoking a cigarette, saying things like, ‘I used to look like a little old woman. Now I look like a little old man!’ This was a family reunion, but daughters, cousins, and aunts were roasting their parents like it was the Buddy Hackett Show! So I think I come by this humor honestly; it’s all written on my DNA.”
Silberschlag met his wife, Deborah Greitzer, when they both were playing in the Jerusalem Symphony, he as the associate principal trumpet, she as principal bassoon. When they became engaged, he remembered that his primary teacher, Vacchiano, had told him that if you marry too early, you stop getting better. He phoned Vacchiano to say he was worried about ignoring the advice.
Conductor Leonard Bernstein and violist Sol Greitzer, Silberschlag’s father-in-law and principle violist for the N.Y. Philharmonic. He met his wife,Deborah Greitzer, when both played in the Jerusalem Symphony.
“Vacchiano replied emphatically, ‘Oh, no no! You are marrying a Greitzer. That’s like getting married to a music school. You will get better and better!’ He was very funny about it, and he was right because Debbie’s father was the first violist of the New York Philharmonic, her mother was a pianist at Julliard, and her sisters a cellist and a flautist. Everything was all music, all the time, and you couldn’t even practice in Debbie’s parents’ apartment without her father wandering in with a tip.”
From the moment he became a professional musician, Silberschlag also began to give back. His replacement in Torino was a former student of his. Both in Italy and at St. Mary’s, he has mentored a generation of notable trumpet players and conductors, and I am proud to count myself as one of his students. He and Debbie are passing on the long Silberschlag/Greitzer tradition to their sons, Zachary and Nathaniel, who play trumpet and horn.
Silberschlag’s sons, Nathaniel and Zachary, are following the family legacy.
This year’s River Series is over, the tent on the Townhouse Green has come down, but there is no time for rest. There is the College’s bursting performance schedule to organize for the school year, the College orchestra to direct, students to teach, and the College’s signature semester in Alba, Italy, to coordinate. Ever the juggler, Silberschlag has also begun to plan exciting programs for next summer’s concerts at both the Alba Festival and the 13th River Concert Series. As he keeps all these balls in the air, he will draw on the advice from all of his past mentors, his current colleagues, and his family. And, as he often told me when we worked together, he will remember that the musician’s calling is to create experiences that use music’s power to move, entertain, and inspire.
Silberschlag conducts flautist Giuseppe Nova and harpist Floraleda Sacchi at the River Concert Series on the College’s Townhouse Green this summer.