20 Questions with Stephen Laifer

This October we feature Stephen Laifer, 4th Horn of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and Adjunct Instructor of Horn at the Eastman School of Music. Laifer has worked with orchestras around the globe, touring and performing across Africa, Eastern and Western Europe, Singapore, and China. He was a member of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra from July 2005 until the orchestra’s closure in 2011. He joined the horn section of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as 4th Horn in September 2012. Outside of music, Laifer is a devoted dog dad, keen hiker, mountain biker, and kayaker, grows more than 200 orchids, and is a busy freelance writer and editor.

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

I was a late bloomer. I started the horn in my junior year of high school because all my friends were in the band. Never played anything before that. My first instrument was a used Holton Farkas 180 that my grandma got me before I went to college. 

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

Starting with a good strong coffee, continuing with a great hike somewhere with my dog, then ending with a bourbon and a great book.

3. Most memorable performance?

A few years ago the Rochester Philharmonic played in Carnegie Hall as part of the Spring for Music Festival. My parents came down to New York City for the concert, and a bunch of my cousins came in from New Jersey. It was wonderful to have all the support of so many family members out in the audience!

4. Significant  teachers/mentors in your life?

My undergrad teacher, Jack Covert, who taught me how to play the horn, and Dave Krehbiel in San Francisco, who taught me how to play the horn in an orchestra. 

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

Brewing my own beer. 

6. Favorite symphony?

Oooh, tough one. Probably the Sibelius 5th. 

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

Yesterday, in fact. I was in the car and Ravel’s Mother Goose came on the radio. That incredibly beautiful ending made me think about how much I miss playing in an orchestra right now.

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

A private jet with a full time pilot. And also a huge house which I’d fill with rescue dogs.

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

I’m a regularly published writer and a busy part time editor.

10. Opera or ballet?

Opera. I played associate principal in the orchestra in Cape Town, South Africa, and half the job was in the pit. I made a deal with the principal horn that he would play all the ballets and I would play all the operas. 

11. First job?

Supermarket checkout at Wegmans. First full time playing job: U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden Gate, near San Francisco.

12. Favorite sports team?

Not a big sports guy. Does drum corps count?

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

Nelson Mandela. 

14. Coffee or Tea?

Coffee. And lots of it.

15. Favorite book?

Dickens, Tale of Two Cities. Every time I read it, my faith in human nature is restored. 

16. Favorite movie?

Empire Strikes Back. And also the last 15 minutes of E.T.

17. Siblings?

Youngest of four. Brother and two sisters.

18. Favorite piece to play?

Rachmaninoff, Symphonic Dances.

19. Least favorite piece to play?

Tchaikovsky, 5th symphony. I know that isn’t gonna win me any points with other horn players. But I just can’t stand it. 

20. Dogs or cats?

Dogs all the way. My terrier Zoey would kill me if I answered that differently.

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