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Isaac Trapkus

Bass

Biography

Bassist Isaac Trapkus joined the New York Philharmonic in November 2016. Before joining the Philharmonic he was a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and, before that, principal double bass of the New Haven Symphony while he was studying with Leigh Mesh, associate principal bass of The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Trapkus is a product of Iowa’s public school music program and began his bass studies with Linda Gannett of Davenport, Iowa. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, where he studied with Diana Gannett, and a master’s degree from The Juilliard School, where he studied with former New York Philharmonic Principal Bass Eugene Levinson. At Michigan, Isaac Trapkus became the first bassist in 30 years to win the school’s concerto competition, for which he performed Tubin’s Bass Concerto. He also won Juilliard’s bass concerto competition, performing Vanhal’s Bass Concerto. During his study he performed with the New York String Orchestra Seminar and the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in Germany. Trapkus volunteers as a designer and administrator with IMSLP, the online sheet music library.

“Eventually I realized I was okay being an amateur painter, but I wasn’t okay with being an amateur musician. Something about the intangibility of music made it seem like a secret world with mysteries I wanted to explore.”

Interview with Isaac Trapkus

THE FACTS: Born in Moline, Illinois. Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan; master’s degree from The Juilliard School. Prior to the Philharmonic: member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and principal double bass of the New Haven Symphony. At the Philharmonic: Joined November 2016.

EARLIEST MUSICAL MEMORY: When I was four or five my mom took me to see a local production of Bizet’s Carmen, which I loved listening to at home. The part I remember best was when they brought live horses onto the stage — it was quite a spectacle! Experiencing it in person made a strong impression on me. I wanted to be a part of that world.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE BASS? I started out playing cello in fourth grade as part of our public school music program, and at the end of fifth grade my orchestra instructor said she needed someone to play bass the next year and I’d be good at it. That was it — I was a pretty easy sell.

OTHER THAN PRACTICING, WHAT ACTIVITIES DID YOU DO IN HIGH SCHOOL? I really enjoyed oil painting and ceramics and was torn whether to pursue visual art or music in college. Eventually I realized I was okay being an amateur painter, but I wasn’t okay with being an amateur musician. Something about the intangibility of music made it seem like a secret world with mysteries I wanted to explore.

MOST IMPORTANT MUSICAL INFULENCE: In 2012 I took the Philharmonic bass audition and didn’t advance at all. A friend told me I should play for Leigh Mesh over at The Metropolitan Opera. He took me under his wing in a Karate Kid sort of way — bass lessons in exchange for house projects, sanding, and wood splitting. He had the right approach at the right time for what I needed and things started clicking. I wouldn’t be playing today if it weren’t for him.

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project, the popular resource for classical musicians) AS A DESIGNER AND ADMINISTRATOR? I discovered IMSLP in its early days and wanted to figure out a way to contribute to the cause of making out-of-copyright music freely available to people all over the world. It’s only a handful of people maintaining the site; I shared some ideas on the message board that were well received and just kept doing more. It’s amazing how easy it can be to make a small difference in the world once you decide to try.

WHAT;S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU'VE BEEN GIVEN? There’s a great lyric from folk singer Charlie King: “Our life is more than our work, and our work is more than our job.” It’s simple, but there are a lot of hard questions to unpack.

As of April 2018

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