Off the Clock: Professor Performs with National Symphony Orchestra

Posted: April 30, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Ryan Effgen

When Robert Hazen, Robinson Professor of Earth Science, is not in the lab, teaching, or traveling to exotic places to conduct research, he plays the trumpet—occasionally with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO). Hazen has been filling in as an extra with the NSO for 25 years. This past February, he joined in for an eight-concert tour, culminating with two performances at Carnegie Hall.

“The NSO needs extra players from time to time. I’ve been on their list for many years and have played a concert here or there, often an offstage part. Actually sitting in with the orchestra is a rare opportunity,” says Hazen. The concert series in February required all four of the full-time trumpet players in the orchestra. One of them had to take medical leave. “It was serendipitous. I teach on Mondays, but all of the Mondays were free, and there were no other scheduling conflicts. It somewhat miraculously worked out.”

Robert Hazen
Robert Hazen

Under the direction of famed conductor Leonard Slatkin, the orchestra performed Gustav Mahler’s editions of Beethoven’s Third and Ninth Symphonies. “The Mahler versions are rather unusual. He reorchestrated Beethoven’s symphonies. He doubled things—the trumpets went from two to four,” says Hazen, a longtime admirer of Mahler. “Slatkin handled each performance as a kind of lecture-demonstration. We’d play excerpts and then he’d describe what Mahler had done with Beethoven.”

The tour featured concerts in North Carolina, Florida, and, finally, Carnegie Hall: a total of eight performances over 12 days. Hazen used the free time between concerts to work on his latest book.

“There is a long history of people in science who love music, and some of the aspects of musical theory are highly mathematical,” says Hazen. The combination of science and music has been with him since childhood. His first musical influence was his father, who was both an electrical engineer and concert pianist. Hazen began playing trumpet when he was nine years old; it was a versatile choice that allowed him to play in everything from pep and jazz bands to symphonies. Hazen also plays the cello for fun and accompanies his wife, Margaret Hindle Hazen, who plays the viola.

“When people hear that I play the trumpet, they often say, ‘Oh, you must be a creative person,'” says Hazen. “It actually is a total discipline. A musician playing in a symphony is very much constrained and requires a great deal of concentration. Whereas with science, you go into a laboratory, and there’s nobody telling you what to do. There you’re moving forward and exploring things we don’t know. Science is the creative part of my life. Music is the discipline.”

Though his research, lecturing, and writing place great demands on Hazen’s time, he keeps his musical schedule full as well. In addition to his work with the NSO, he takes various opportunities to fill in with other ensembles such as the George Washington University Orchestra and the Washington Bach Consort.

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