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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Shelagh Abate, French Horn Player to the Stars Our Coverage Sponsored by Maine Woolens

Shelagh Abate

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Shelagh Abate has been referred to by friends as “French Horn Player to the Stars.” A title that suits her just fine---for who knew back in school when she was trudging it out in the Marching Band, that she’d end up with such a cool job? Not her, that’s for sure. Her ‘title’ started as a joke between friends……then it suddenly began to make sense.

Born and raised in New York, Shelagh Abate has loved the horn since age nine. She studied formally in Boston, graduating with honors from Boston College with a BA concentrated in English literature and music. Shelagh’s MM from UMASS Amherst as a Howard W. Lebow Scholar was followed by an Artist Diploma from The New England Conservatory of Music as a Wilhelm Walkenier Scholar, where she studied with Richard Sebring, principal horn of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestras. Since then she has performed all over the world in many capacities. Since 1999 Ms. Abate has been principal horn with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, led by world famous violinist Jaime Laredo. She has also served as principal of City Music Cleveland, The New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, Opera North, The National Repertory Orchestra, and was a fellow at the famed Tanglewood Music Center. She has performed under the batons of Seiji Ozawa, James Conlon, James DePreist, Andre Previn, Carl St. Clair, Gunther Schuller, John Williams and Keith Lockhart. 

As a founder of the Triton Brass Quintet, an award-winning Boston-based chamber ensemble, Shelagh has been a member of the faculty at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and is currently in artistic residence at Boston College, The Boston Conservatory, MIT, at Boston’s King’s Chapel as well as with Boston’s Composers in Red Sneakers. The Triton Brass is a widely acclaimed ensemble having received top honors and prizes from the Lyon Competition (France), The Fischoff Organization (United States), and the Concert Artist’s Guild (United States), and the Coleman Association (United States). 

Since relocating to NYC in 2005, Ms. Abate has become a freelance artist in even higher demand. She performs on a regular basis with the American Ballet Theater, The Opera Orchestra of NY, The Wind Soloists of NY, New York Choral Society, The Greenwich Symphony Orchestra, American Symphony, and has played with over a dozen Broadway productions. Shelagh has been a contracted member of the Broadway companies of The Woman in White, South Pacific, and Mary Poppins, and is currently playing solo horn in the 2012 Broadway revival of Evita.

As comfortable in the commercial realm as any other, Shelagh has performed live and recorded with Placido Domingo, Michel LeGrande, Iggy Pop, Rufus Wainwright, Barry Manilow, Cyndi Lauper, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, Maureen McGovern, Peter Cetera, Olivia Newton John, Bjork, Brian Wilson, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, Barbara Cook, Ricky Martin, Ian Anderson, Linda Ronstadt, and Phish’s Trey Anastasio. Her playing can be heard on two of Trey Anastasio’s solo CDs (Elektra Records), four original Broadway cast album recordings, and she has performed on live television multiple times on A&E’s Live by Request, Good Morning America and the Today Show. Now if only Depeche Mode would call…..

Shelagh has played innumerable television commercial jingles as well—from ESPN and NFL Films to Coca-Cola, Ameritrade, Bank of America, and Zoosk. Anytime you sit down at an AMC movie theater, you can hear Shelagh playing in the opening credits (you know that part when the girls sit down with their Cokes and popcorn and get wrapped up in magical plants and magical flowers to the sounds of magical music?). 

When not gigging in NY, most of Shelagh’s spare time is spent riding the Fung Wah Bus between NYC’s Chinatown and Boston (to play with Triton), which is O.K.---as this also allows her to stock up on Gucci and Chanel knockoffs, and to increase her ridiculous shoe collection. In addition, she is an experienced mixologist, making her quite handy at parties, and an 80’s pop music fanatic making her quite handy at Karaoke. She also reads Tarot cards, but your money is better spent on her horn playing. We are absolutely delighted to present Shelagh Abate as our latest Mover and Shaker. Peachy Deegan interviewed Shelagh for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What is your first musical memory?
Shelagh Abate: 
Laying on my stomach with half my body under the Christmas tree playing with ornaments, listening to carols that mom and dad played on the hi-fi. Karen Carpenter. She was awesome. I have many crystallized musical memories, but that’s the earliest that I can recall. I was around 5 or 6.

What motivated you to pursue the French Horn of all instruments?
In fourth grade, when our elementary school brought in people to demonstrate all the instruments in band, I felt immediately that the French horn had soul. My 8-year-old self may not have worded it that way, but I knew it was special. The clarinet was SO third grade. The French horn was deep. It was the future.

What stars have enjoyed your French Horn the most and did you enjoy them?
Trey Anastasio and Barry Manilow. I have good professional relationships with both of them, and have played with them multiple times. They are both musical geniuses, and playing their music has been a highlight. In turn, they have treated me like they recognize what I have to offer and that my musical voice works well with their sound. If I had to pick one over the other, it would be Barry, hands down. Hard to beat Copacabana live with a 16-piece band and thousands of screaming middle-aged women and gay men. No lie. Amazing.

Why did you want to attend Boston College, best college in the world, and why do you love it?
Many answers to this question. Dad wanted Catholic, Mom wanted city, I wanted music. It had all three. In theory, it was ideal, and then once I physically got there to visit, I was sold. In love. History, amazing students and faculty. A big school with a cozy, can-do vibe. It felt like home from moment zero. I love it now for the good times and the bad, the classes, the band, my friends, and the faculty---without whom I would NOT be playing the horn. I am certain of that fact. All my musical friends and colleagues today balk when I tell them that I didn’t get to music conservatory until I was 23 and I tell them that only BC had the enabling, encouraging, and focused atmosphere that made me positive that I could do anything. I remember distinctly as a sophomore, descending Higgins’ Stairs thinking to myself: “I CAN DO ANYTHING! I can, and I will”. The minute I finally DID get to conservatory, all they wanted to do was beat you out and beat you down. Awful. As an 18 year old, I would have been so out of music so fast, it’s not even funny. Effing GO BC.

How do you try to make the world excel, as in Ever to Excel?
The fact that this question is here is amazing because on a regular basis I really try and maintain the perspective that will enable me to enable others. BC gave me so much and the greatest tribute that its graduates can do is to carry out its principles out in the world. Many of my colleagues are negative, hopeless, and worried sick about today’s economy, and what the crappy economy means for our industry. They are occasionally uncomfortable with their own abilities, surroundings, and let’s face it, life in NYC can be grueling. Though the same demons plague me sometimes, I really try my best to put good things out there, encourage others to look at the bright side, live in the moment and feel grateful to be where we are when we are there. I am not always in the right mindset to do this (let’s be honest), but I do try. Every day.

I detest Notre Dame and ALL THINGS Fighting Irish with the white hot intensity of 1,000 suns. I would bet my last dollar on principle. Regis may be a very nice guy, but his alma mater is inferior to mine. THE END.

What would you like to say to Depeche Mode should they ring you up?
I would say: “What took you so long? Been waiting since 1987. Thanks for calling. And whatever it is, I’m available.” After hanging up the phone, the peeps in Washington Heights would hear me scream from Hell’s Kitchen. Fact.

What should we all know about Evita and why?
First, Ricky Martin IS all that and a bag of chips. Second, the story of Eva Peron is a story worth knowing. She was a remarkable woman in history. Beat the odds, refused the limitations that her society and culture tried to force upon her, and had an EXCELLENT stylist. And say what you will about Andrew Lloyd Webber, the guy can spin a tune. Amazing ensemble cast, amazing orchestra led by amazing directors both dramatic and musical. 

What shoe designer do you love the most and why?
Realistically, I gravitate towards Stewart Weitzman and have many of his designs. His is a classic style, with some shoes that have an edge and a touch of whimsy to them as well. I LOVE Jeffrey Campbell also—he’s much more out of the box and vampy, as is John Fluevog and Irregular Choice shoes. If I could buy out Irregular Choice’s complete inventory of 8.5’s, I would. These are three favorite designers I can afford. Ideally, I look at Guiseppe Zanotti, Prada and Miu Miu for inspiration. They are dreamy, and when I win the lottery, I might scoop up a pair of these:
But until then I will continue to wear Jeremy Scott Adidas.

Do you have a favorite feature in our four columns devoted to footwear?
I enjoyed your feature on Paul Mayer, as I have been in pursuit of flats that are stylish and fun, and not frumpy, as some flats can be. Walking as much as we Manhattanites do makes the wearing of heels somewhat risky. Also, I was happy to learn about Modern Leather Goods, as I wear out my heels and straps pretty quickly. ‘Tis excellent to know of a close and reliable repair place to extend the life of my shoes. Finally, I would have never have known about the ‘Shoe Obsession’ exhibition coming to FIT this winter---can’t wait to go! Thanks for the tip!

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
In my case it would be what, not who. Drive. Although there have been so many who have inspired, supported and helped me on my way, my drive is fueled by the certainty that I have a voice or a sound to express. It’s always been there, and it has always been my responsibility to myself to practice and hone my skills so that I have the tools to do it justice in performances. Every performance is an opportunity. It is exhausting, time consuming and entails sacrifice, but the drive is still there and intact after all these years. 

What are you proudest of and why?
That my father passed away proud of me. He began as a serious skeptic. There were doubts, fights, and pleas for me to give up the dream and ‘just get a job.’ Eventually, he came around and changed his mind. By the end, he was right on board enjoying the ups and downs of my life in the business. It means everything to me.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Tour with a rock band. The Killers NEED a French horn, for crissake. Muse. Maybe Gaga? And yes, Depeche too. Especially Depeche.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
That’s a tricky one. As a student, I entered competitions, and won a couple. I won a lot of money in Lyon, France (2005) (as well as an Hermes scarf, but that’s another story). Here in the states, I won two other competitions, one in California (’01) and the other in Indiana (’03)—money and credentials there too. In the ‘real world’ post-school, however, we don’t have metal or even paper awards or the ceremonies to go along with them. As a freelance musician, the honors and awards that I receive come in the form of more JOBS. I don’t have an agent. I represent myself, and when I show up to a job, I do my best. When, over time, word of mouth creates a reputation that is good and calls come in from people whom I have never met, it’s a compliment. The closest thing to an honor or award that I have been given has come in the form of a Broadway show. I have been contracted on four of them—now THAT’S our street cred. Each show is like a badge that we wear forever in NY. It’s a little like the holy grail for freelancers in this fair city. Some people go their whole careers without one, and they can get by and be fine. But I have had four—I earned them all, and I am proud of ‘em.

What one word best describes you and why?
My husband said “Passionate,” but I think he’s being kind. Obsessive was a more popular answer. I asked around and the response was overwhelming. Not really sure what to think about that, but I’ll choose to take it in the spirit in which it was intended from my friends. In any case I more or less agree with them. I am not really ambivalent about anything---I am not sure it’s possible. I love things obsessively, and I hate them obsessively. I practice obsessively, eat obsessively, exercise obsessively, shop, laugh, cry, pine, want, need, and try obsessively. It’s tiring. I guess that’s why I’m a deep sleeper.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
At a bar with friends. A bar that serves delicious drinks in a space that is quiet enough where you can hear yourself think, and your friends talk. The Lantern’s Keep, Apotheke, the bar at the Hudson are some places that I frequent.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Pylones. Irregular Choice Shoes, Tip Top Shoes, and Murray’s Cheese. Saks and Henri for long browsing fixes.

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
Moschino to style some clothes for me. Especially for me. Love me some Cheap and Chic. At Century 21 & Loehmans, the only Moschino pieces left are sized for the anorexic and the French. Alas.

What is your favorite drink?
An ice-cold vodka gimlet. With fresh lime juice, and a dash of simple syrup. That Rose’s Lime crap is for the birds. Can’t wait to try one with Star Vodka.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
Oh, God. You’re going to be sorry you asked. True story: A friend’s friend’s friend threw a party in the W Village after a show, and I had no plans, so I went along. Beautiful, expansive 2 bedroom, exposed brick, museum pieces, plants, beautiful rugs, the works. I was nervous---the only person I knew was my companion from the show. Plus, it was POURING out, and I had no umbrella, and was soaked to the skin. Nightmare. I walked in the door and was immediately introduced to the domestic pet of the person who lived there. A monkey. Like the Indiana Jones monkey, minus the little jacket and fez. This monkey hissed at me, became agitated, and began acting generally hostile. We were not even really inside the apartment yet, still in our coats, in the doorway. The party’s host approached to greet us, and the monkey jumped up on his shoulder—still glaring, full of hatred. The host (Paolo, I later learned) looked at me and asked in a low, conspiratorial tone “Are you menstruating?” I was so completely shocked by his question, I answered it honestly. Yes, I said sheepishly, MORTIFIED. The host chuckled softly, and said, stroking his monkey, “Ah. The monkey knows.” I slammed one drink and left. Only in NY. Sorry if it’s not fit to print, but you asked……

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Blue Hill.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature?
Book: Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
A NYC Cab Driver. One day would surely provide perspective on life, and stories to last.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
A delicious cocktail at a beautiful establishent. I would love it if it were a spin-off of a vodka gimlet.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
Thanksgiving Turkey Trot in Central Park. An annual tradition for me and my older sister, Meg.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
You can decide at 2 am that you want French toast and tea, walk into a diner, order it, read your book and stay for as long as you want without getting kicked out. Diners are the BEST. There are two good ones in my neighborhood—The Cosmic and The Flame.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Johannes Brahms. He’s one of my favorite composers, and out of the lot of them, I just know Brahms is a nice guy. He’d be good company. A drinker, a romantic, and a deep thinker. I’d take him to The Lantern’s Keep. Or maybe Burp Castle. Then we’d go for dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai. My other favorite composers may have been geniuses, but they were mostly crazy and/or megalomaniacs. Forget it.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
Tim Burton exhibit at MOMA. Picasso at MOMA. Anything at MOMA.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
Ever to Excel. I dig deep and always try my best. I try to lighten the mood, keep people smiling. I hold the door for the person behind me, say God Bless You when someone sneezes. If I have change in my pocket, I give it to the homeless guy who sits in a blanket on 57th and 8th---he once told me that my fly was open. It was. Forever grateful to him. And I leave tips at Starbucks. It’s these little things that make the world bearable. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And I blow a mean horn.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Overrated: Nuts 4 Nuts. Disgusting. Also, the NY Yankees.
Underrated: Poise. Also, the Rubin Museum.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
I loved checking out Manhattan Tips and Cuisine and Drinks---love to learn about new places and products in NY that I haven’t checked out before. 

Have you tried the Peachy Deegan yet, and if not, why not? 
In the works, Peachy, as you know. It’s coming. Charles Ferri needs to expand and pick up more vendors. Just saying.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
Anything they want, just ask.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Twitter and Facebook.

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