September 5, 2016

Meet Nikolette LaBonte, new associate/assistant/utility horn

Nikolette LaBonte grew up in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and joins the RPO this season as associate/assistant/utility horn. She also will be returning to the Eastman School of Music to finish her degree in horn performance under the direction of RPO Principal Horn W. Peter Kurau (The Cricket and Frank Luellen Chair). In 2015, she was appointed acting assistant principal horn of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, and also served as associate principal horn of the Hawaii Opera Theater and Oahu Choral Society.
Nikolette LaBonte
c Nadine Sherman

When and why did you choose your instrument?
When I was nine years old, my mom enrolled me in band class. We went to the music store to pick out an instrument and I remember my band director had said that he’d like some new horn or oboe players. No offense to the oboe, but the French horn was just more visually appealing to my fourth-grade self. Only later, did I fall in love with all the characteristic traits that everyone comes to know and love about the instrument.

What is the role of the associate/assistant/utility horn?
It’s actually one of the more unique positions in the orchestra because of the strenuous nature of the first horn parts of the major symphonic repertoire. In almost every orchestral masterwork, the principal horn has a taxing part made up of solos, soft delicate passages, and expansive brass chorales. In order to ensure that he or she has enough stamina and strength to play all of these roles, the principal will call upon an assistant/associate horn to help out. Often times, I’ll be playing principal on one of the pieces on the first half and will be sitting next to the principal on the other pieces, taking over during parts of the piece that are particularly taxing. The “utility” portion of the job comes into play when another member of the section must take a week off. During those concerts, I’ll still take over principal duties when necessary but will be filling in on the other missing part in their absence. All in all, it makes for a varied job description that will certainly keep me on my toes this season!

You are the co-founder of a program called “Olympic Overtures” that ties Olympic athletes in with classical music. Tell me more about that.
Olympic Overtures was founded in 2014 by myself and a former Eastman colleague of mine, Carly Gordon, who is currently studying at McGill University. Carly and I both love the Olympics and see a lot of connections between the world of competitive sports and the world of professional music.  We work with athletes who are also classical musicians or music lovers and ask them to create a short video of them talking about their favorite classical piece: how they discovered it, if they use it to train/relax, what inspires them about it, etc. And it's been amazing to hear their answers and hear how the greatest athletes in the world derive inspiration from what I do, just as I draw inspiration from their performances!  Needless to say, every two years you'll find me squarely planted in front of my TV in red, white, and blue garb for the duration of the Games!

Favorite piece you are looking forward to playing this season at the RPO and why?
This is a tough one, but I’ll say Mahler 5 (April 20 & 22). It features one of the most prominent horn parts in the repertoire and there are six horn parts instead of the usual four. There are so many layers to the piece that it’s always fun to discover something new in a work that you think you know so well.

What advice would you give to a young performer who wants to pursue an orchestral career?
Unabashedly, be yourself. In any situation—audition, interview, college essay, rehearsal, performance--if you are able to let go, be vulnerable, and openly say ‘this is who I am and what I have to offer,’ you will be free to take risks, push your limits, and make confident decisions. The honesty that you project will be noticed. And often times, that honesty is what will win you that job, get you that acceptance letter, and allow you to connect with your audience resulting in a really powerful performance. It may seem simple, but that’s the best advice I can offer at this point. That or just practice your scales!

Anything else to share? I have one pet, a fish named John Gilliams!

Look for Nikolette onstage this fall, and read more about her on!


Mary Long said...

Awesome review! Makes me wish I pursued a musical career, studied music more seriously and just "Believe In The Dream" as Nikolette has! Great article for all young musicians to read! Thank you for sharing!.... M.L.

Mary Long said...

Awesome review! Makes me wish I pursued a musical career, studied music more seriously and just "Believe In The Dream" as Nikolette has! Great article for all young musicians to read! Thank you for sharing!.... M.L.

Heidi said...

Nikky has a HUGE career in front of her and I am jealous of those living in the Rochester area who can attend the concerts this season. She is an alumnae of the Music Academy of the West which is a real feather in her cap and on her resume. Go forth Nikky!!!!