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Meet the artist - Jesse Clevenger


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No one would blame Jesse Clevenger, the new principal horn player with Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, for feeling a bit intimidated. The Indiana University senior is the son of Grammy-award-winning horn player Dale Clevenger, who has held the position of principal horn player with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1966. His mother, the late Alice Clevenger, also was a horn player and frequently played alongside her husband.

“I know because of my background, people are expecting a lot,” Clevenger said. “But I am going to give them twice that. I don’t feel hindered by the pressure.”

Instead, what is most apparent about Clevenger is his sheer love of performing. Since taking up the French horn in eighth grade, Clevenger has appeared with Midwest Young Artists Youth Symphony, Chicago Youth Symphony and the IU Philharmonic. In 2011, he played alongside his father when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was in need of extra horn players for a summer performance.

Clevenger said the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had exhausted its list of back-up horn players and was still coming up short when his father volunteered him for the job.

“I still think it was an act of charity, but he swears it’s because he had faith in me,” Clevenger said.

Beyond being a prime chance for father and son to bond, Clevenger said that appearing alongside professional musicians before a rapt audience became a defining moment in his musical career thus far.

“It confirmed everything I thought I wanted,” he said.

Catch him at 7:30 p.m. Friday when Columbus Indiana Philharmonic presents “Le Grande Orgue Magnifique de Columbus” at First Christian Church.

For information: 376-2638.

Have you always been musical?

I started out playing piano when I was 4 and added the trumpet to the mix when I was in third grade. Then I switched over to the horn in eighth grade.

Why make the switch over to the French horn?

There was a cute girl playing the horn that I wanted to get the chance to talk to.

When did you decide you wanted to make music your career?

I have spent every birthday of my life at the Marrowstone Music Festival in Bellingham, Wash., with my parents. My brother and I used to just wander around and look at the mountains. But the summer after my freshman year of high school, I decided to participate. We performed Brahms’ “Tragic Overture.” It was such an incredible experience, and I looked out at the audience and at my parents, and thought, “They get to do this for a living.” That was it. I knew I wanted to perform.

Do you get nervous before performances?

Yes, but I don’t like to think of it that way, because it sounds negative. To me, it’s really a hyper-awareness, and a deep sense of caring about what I do, and wanting to do it well.

How do you prepare before a performance?

The day of a performance, I try to just get a good night’s sleep and all that normal stuff. But there is a long process of internalizing the music in the weeks before a performance. I like the music to feel instinctual.

Did you feel pressure to be a musician because of your parents?

Actually, both of my parents tried to talk me out of being a musician, because they understand the hardships that being a professional musician can bring. But I love talking shop with my dad. He is my musical hero.

What is your favorite kind of music to play?

I don’t have kids, but I think picking my favorite piece to play would be like picking a favorite child. Composers make so much great music, and there are so many composers, and so much music I don’t know anything about yet. And I want to hear it all. I want an infinite playlist in my head.

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