Like many musicians in the LA Opera Orchestra, French horn player Daniel Kelley plays on the soundtracks for some of the world’s major films. He’s played in the orchestra for scores of blockbuster movies from Star Wars to Pirates of the Caribbean, and even worked with his hero, composer John Williams, on ten films including the Academy Award-winning JFK. Since the 1993, Kelley has worked at LA Opera first as a freelance French horn player and then as a full member of the LA Opera Orchestra.
“Out of all the jobs I do, opera has become my favorite,” says Kelley. “I just love being here and all the members of the horn section get along. It’s almost like going home to work with the other three players.”
When the LA Opera Orchestra became an official entity in 1993, Kelley was one of the players in the new orchestra’s first show, Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohn Schatten. Kelley loves playing the challenging Strauss scores because, he says, “it’s a difficulty that you’re rewarded for by the music.”
Kelley continues, “Strauss French horn parts are extraordinary, but they are written for very agile players. It’s an endurance issue. There are moments when you are playing for 30-60 bars in a row and then suddenly the hardest thing you have to play in the opera shows up.”
When Strauss operas are on the menu (as they are this season with Salome), Kelley cites his collaboration with the other members in his section for allowing them to tackle such challenging repertoire.
“We all share parts, or move things around, so everyone in the section can get their exposed parts right,” says Kelley. “We have such a good rapport that if something’s not right, we can work it out between us, and fix it before it becomes a problem that the conductor might notice.”
Being close with his fellow French horn players is just one of the reasons Kelley has loved his time at LA Opera. Throughout his tenure in the orchestra, he has worked with amazing conductors.
“James Conlon conducts with such authority. He doesn’t just know the general direction of where a part is being played; he knows what part it is and which player it was. He never has to ask. I’ve always been impressed with how he runs the orchestra.”
Kelley also appreciates what a welcoming leader Maestro Conlon is.
“James Conlon ran into my wife when we were doing Die Walkure. He asked her why she doesn’t come to the opera more often. She explained that it’s difficult to do so with small children. He invited them to a final dress rehearsal and really took care of them. They sat in the Founders Circle and got to watch the first act of Die Walkure. Then, he took pictures with my wife and kids,” recalls Kelley. “It’s hard not to love a conductor when they are both talented and nice.”
Working with Gustavo Dudamel this past spring was also another memorable moment for Kelley. “He says everything with his baton. He could probably do this interview with his baton instead of words and you would understand him.”
Currently, Kelley is playing in the orchestra for Verdi’s Macbeth, which runs through October 16. It’s a new opera for Kelley, who hadn’t ever heard the music or seen a production of Macbeth before he knew he would play it this fall. This season proves to be a season of firsts for Kelley, as Akhnaten and The Abduction from the Seraglio are also new operas for him to learn – something Kelley finds incredibly exciting and a challenge he looks forward to.
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