Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Gene Standley – Principal French Horn

Of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s French horn section:

These folks are phenomenal.  They always deliver with precision and passion.  And to think that the section has changed so much over the years in terms of personnel, it is all the more a tribute to consistent leadership of Gene and the luck we have had at acquiring the right talent at the right time.

 – Maestro Peter Stafford Wilson

Welcome to Day 4 of French Horn week!  Today we have the pleasure of meeting Principal horn player, Gene Standley, probably one of the nicest people you could ever meet! 



Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Alma Mater: Curtis Institute of Music – studied with all the principals of the Philadelphia orchestra

Home Life: Wife, Jocelyn – also a horn player, four children and lots of livestock!  I live on a working farm.

Gene is also a cancer survivor of 3 years!

Any fun hobbies?  Collecting classical music LPs – lots of classical music LPs!  Also model trains and bargain hunting!

Why the French horn?  Both parents played the French horn with the Pittsburgh Symphony (back in the 1950s).  Mom was really helpful in getting me get started and then Dad, a well-known horn teacher, helped me from there.

Instrument: C.F. Schmidt (Carl Fischer – a repairman and dealer in Chicago)  My particular horn was originally made in the 1930s, but bought by my dad in the 1980s and didn’t play well, so I had it fixed up.  Dale Clevenger, principal horn in the Chicago Symphony, played a C.F. Schmidt, too!

How often do you practice? About 1 hour every day, but about 2 hours per day during the season.

Who are some of your favorite French horn players?  Radek Baborák, Sarah Willis and Stefan Dohr.


With what other ensembles have you played?  Once in a while I play with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and I played with the Philadelphia Orchestra back in the 70s-80s, when Riccardo Muti was at the podium, also with the Pittsburgh Symphony with Lorin Maazel for the Wagner Ring excerpts.

What’s the best thing about performing in front of an audience?  If you know the people understand and know the music, then you’re playing for a group of people who know what to expect.  It’s definitely more rewarding if you pull it off and play it well.  You can feel a lack of intensity from the state if the audience is bored.

For myself, I gain a reaffirmation of what I know I can do.  Hopefully I’ll play it better than the time before.  It’s always a learning experience.

Bud Herseth always talked about his lifelong quest to learn and grow.

What’s the best place to perform outside of Columbus?  Denison University (Granville, OH)

Any memorable performances?  Tchaikovsky’s 5th under Gunther Herbig.  I first played at rehearsal and knew I was off.  It was going to be my first concert after cancer.  Maestro Herbig asked me how I was going to do it?  “Figure it out!”, I told myself.  I pulled it off and Maestro Herbig said, “What a wonderful recovery!”

Which concert are you most looking forward to playing this year?  Mahler’s 2nd, Bruckner 9 (Wagner horn), Brahms Symphonies



Year joined the CSO: 1990, Principal as of 1991

What brought you to Columbus?  Imra Szukfu, then-personnel manager with the CSO, finally called me before I’d already signed up for another year with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  I auditioned and won a one-year appointment.

Ohio Theatre or Southern Theatre?  Both – depends on the kind and size of piece being played.

What should people in Columbus know about the Columbus Symphony Orchestra?

They should know how important it is to support the local symphony.

People en masse have so much power – if everyone in Columbus donated $2-5, we’d be set.


What do you say to people who don’t think they like classical music?  Get to know it!  Try it!

Start with the basics – Peter and the Wolf, Beethoven’s 5th, etc.

Who are your favorite composers? Mahler, Brahms, Bruckner, Beethoven, Ravel, Debussy, Prokofiev

What’s your favorite musical era: Romantic

What are your favorite pieces for the French horn? Mahler 5th, Tchaikovsky 5th, Shostakovich 5th, Wagner operas (Wagner knew how to write for the horn!)

What French horn music should I have in my music library? All the 5ths! (5th Symphonies – Mahler 5th, Tchaikovsky 5th, Shostakovich 5th, etc!)

Here’s a quick bit of music that Gene was nice enough to play for me – with no warm up but a quick run through of the Star Trek theme right before! (I couldn’t get him to play THAT for me on video, but I think this is quite good, don’t you?!)


Any rival sections?  The loge.

Any good quotes about French horns?  Yes –don’t mess with a French horn player.  Dale Clevenger was tough – you just didn’t mess with him!

What exactly IS hand stopping?  It’s when we actually ‘jam’ our hand firmly inside the bell to seal off the sound. This creates a high pitched ‘sizzle’ sound that is used in works by French composers as well as Mahler and others.

Igor Stravinsky – Rite of spring: Genius?  Or just plain weird?  Both – he definitely liked to be different!  It’s easy for musicians to overdo it though.

Hey – a little support on Stravinsky’s weirdness!  Of course, his music IS growing on me!  And the math really is impressive!  Something to think about, I suppose!  Come back tomorrow for the soul of the Orchestra!

Bring on the Horns! (Preview) – Don’t Look ‘em in the Eyes – Erin Lano – Adam Koch – Julia RoseGene StandleySoul of the Orchestra Thank you!  

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