Classical Music & Dance

Meet Julian Kaplan: principal trumpet at KC Symphony who’s zen about auditions

Special to The Star

Julian Kaplan, a native of Cleveland, has enjoyed a career with an upward trajectory so far.

The 28-year-old earned his first professional job when he was 20. He played in orchestras in Lexington, Ky., and Jacksonville, Fla., before landing the job in Kansas City. He studied music at the University of Kentucky. The Symphony is the largest orchestra to date on his resume.

“I think everybody ultimately aims for orchestras like Cleveland and Chicago and New York — the Big Five,” he said. (The other Big Five orchestras are in Boston and Philadelphia.)

“I’d like to be somewhere where I know I can make a really positive difference, so at a certain point you start thinking: What impact would I have on an orchestra like Cleveland?” he said. “Hopefully it would be something positive. But I would like to be somewhere where I can have a really profound, positive effect.”

At the time of the initial interview, Kaplan had been at the Symphony for two months.

“I’m definitely learning a ton from the guys around me, and I hope I have something to offer them as well,” he said.

Julian Kaplan, principal trumpet for the Kansas City Symphony, was born in Cleveland and grew up in Charlotte, N.C. He previously played with the Lexington Philharmonic and the Jacksonville Symphony. He performs Tartini: I. Allegro moderato from T

As principal trumpet, he communicates with other section leaders “to make sure there’s cooperation. I kind of work with the other sections and make sure we all agree and come together and act as a singular unit at all times.

“I think that our job as a brass section — I’ll talk mostly about the brass section because that’s where I live — our job is to bring something to the rehearsal for the conductor to work with. If you just bring a plain block of wood, he’ll have too much work to do. If we can say: This is the style we believe in for this piece, then he’ll have something to work with.”

Union rules dictate orchestra rehearsals last no longer than 4  1/2 hours. The musicians perform virtually every weekend. And Kaplan practices on his own three to five hours a day, depending on how brass-heavy an upcoming concert may be.

“So it’s just time management and knowing your limits,” he said. “But we always have more folders of music to learn for the coming months. I stay about four or five weeks ahead, sometimes more, depending on the piece. It just keeps coming. I always have things to learn, and I’m trying to better myself fundamentally as a player as well.”

Kaplan said the audition process at the Symphony was the best he has encountered.

“For sure,” he said. “I think I’ve taken like 12 auditions, but this one by far was the smoothest.”

The auditions are “blind,” meaning that the musician is hidden from view by a screen. Members of the audition committee don’t know if an individual player is male or female. If you survive the early rounds and advance, the music gets more difficult.

“We did three final rounds,” he said. “For the second final round there were three of us left. That round was very, very long, so I was probably onstage for 35 or 40 minutes. After that there was another final round where I was the only candidate left. But they still wanted to hear me play some more.”

Other musicians talked of the pressure involved in auditioning. Not Kaplan.

“I think I’m rare in that sense,” he said. “I always think if I can play it at home, I can play it anywhere. So it doesn’t really matter if I’m playing for an audition or playing for church or playing in a recital. Playing is playing. If the committee doesn’t like you, that’s their opinion.”

His philosophy about auditions could be summed up this way: What will be will be.

“I don’t like every trumpet player. You don’t like every trumpet player. I don’t like every band. You don’t like every band,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that the band is any worse or that somebody else is gonna really like the band. So it’s all just opinion. There are no facts. … In an audition you just have to go in and show them what you’re about. If they like it, they do. If they don’t, they don’t.”