20 Questions with Ellen Dinwiddie Smith

Ellen Dinwiddie Smith has been a member of the Minnesota Orchestra since 1993 and currently serves as third horn. Smith is Adjunct Professor of Horn at the University of Minnesota and has served as Young-Artist-Program faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music Summerfest since 2015. She was the founding Artistic Director of the Colonial Chamber Series (2006-2017) and organized the Musicians for Tsunami Relief benefit concert (2005) and Community Emergency Service Benefit Concert (2012), both held at Colonial Church in Edina.

In 2014, she was a featured artist at the Mid-South Horn Workshop in Austin, Texas and also performed with her colleagues at the Mid-North Horn Workshop at the University of St. Thomas. She was a featured artist at the 2003 International Horn Society Workshop at Indiana University. Smith has served as an artist-teacher on the faculty of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival and has spent many summers on the faculty of the Kendall Betts Horn Camp in Littleton, New Hampshire. She has performed and toured with the Cleveland Orchestra, and as a guest with the Kennedy Center Orchestra and the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.

As a soloist, she has appeared with the Minnesota Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, National Repertory Orchestra, the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra, Kenwood Symphony Orchestra, Linden Hills Chamber Orchestra and Mississippi Valley Symphony Orchestra. Smith has performed with the Lakes Chamber Music Society in Alexandria, Minnesota and the Central Vermont Chamber Music Festival and collaborated with the Dale Warland Singers in performance and on their CD Britten, Bernstein, et al., as a soloist in Aharon Harlap’s Bat Yiftach(Jephthah’s Daughter). She serves on the board of the Twin Cities Horn Club, is a brass sectional leader for the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies and is a lifetime member of the International Horn Society.

Smith is a 1987 graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Myron Bloom and was a member of the Curtis Wind Quintet, a top prize winner in the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. Prior to studies at Curtis, Smith attended the Juilliard School and the University of Texas at Austin. Her teachers include Myron Bloom, Wayne Barrington, Greg Hustis and Michael Hatfield. While still a student at Curtis, she was named third horn of the Charleston (South Carolina) Symphony Orchestra and later joined the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra as co-principal horn. She has performed at the Spoleto USA, Waterloo, Chautauqua, Colorado Philharmonic, National Repertory Orchestra and Aspen summer music festivals.

  1. What was your first instrument and how old were you when you started? 

I played the ukulele when I lived in Hawaii as a 4th grader. However, after hearing a children’s concert with the Honolulu Symphony, I wanted to play an orchestral instrument. I was 12 years old and in 6th grade when I started the horn in Texas.

  1. Could you describe what would be your perfect day? 

Waking up with a cappuccino, playing Mozart horn quintet in the morning, perhaps a bike ride in the park and then in the evening playing a concert with Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 and Ein Heldenleben.

  1. Most memorable performance?  

Back in the 1990’s, the Minnesota Orchestra played a concert in Carnegie Hall with Kathleen Battle. The stagehand accidentally leaned on the light board and the lights went out, leaving us in the dark for 30-45 seconds. The orchestra didn’t stop–the show must go on!

  1. Significant teachers/mentors in your life? 

Wayne Barrington, Myron Bloom, Greg Hustis.

  1. Something you’ve been meaning to try, but just haven’t gotten around to it? 

I would love to speak Spanish–I hope to learn someday.

  1. Favorite symphony? 

Mahler Symphony No. 2, Bruckner Symphony No. 8, Mozart Symphony No. 25, the list goes on! 

  1. When was the last time you cried, and why? 

Three days ago–my student and his wife had their first child–a baby girl. The pictures were beautiful. What joy!

  1. If money was no object, what would you buy?

A boat (with crew!) that I could use for scuba diving all around the world with my husband and a handful of friends.

  1. One thing most people don’t know about you? 

I’m an Army Brat and was born at West Point when my father was teaching there. 

  1. Opera or ballet? 

Too hard!!! I love them both.

  1. First job? 

Third Horn, Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

  1. Favorite sports team? 

Minnesota Twins.

  1. If you could invite one person to dinner tonight, who would it be? 

My great, great Grandmother who immigrated to America from Ireland during the potato famine. 

  1. Coffee or Tea? 

Coffee in the morning, ice tea all summer long.

  1. Favorite book? 

A Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.

  1. Favorite movie? 

Cinema Paradiso.

  1. Siblings? 

Three brothers and two sisters–I’m the #5 child.

  1. Favorite piece to play? 

Anything by Brahms.

  1. Least favorite piece to play? 

Pomp and Circumstance March.

  1. Dogs or cats? 

A cat formerly owned me (she lived to be 23) but I now own 2 miniature schnauzers named Cece and Freya.

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