Finding his Beat

Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón
Ed Stephan
Ed Stephan (ʼ99) (Courtesy of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Ed Stephan (ʼ99) listened obsessively to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Stephan eventually not only got to play timpani for the orchestra, but he played on the recording (Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio) that won two Grammys this year -- Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Album (Classical). Another College of Music alumnus, Frank David Greene, who attended from 1984 to 1987, played lead trumpet for the Christian McBride Big Band on the Grammy-winning recording Bringin' It for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

Stephan says being part of Pittsburgh conductor Manfred Honeck's Reference Records series has been one of the great honors of his life.

"That orchestra has one of the few remaining truly identifiable sounds and attitudes in music making among American orchestras," he says.

Stephan is now principal timpanist for the San Francisco Symphony, after spending five years in Pittsburgh. He played for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from 2009 to 2011 and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra from 2001 to 2009.

Stephan has played the timpani since childhood, after others recognized his talent for it -- perhaps for his good ear for pitch and intonation. At UNT, he spent 10 hours a day practicing that and other percussion instruments.

He says the most valuable part of his training at UNT was playing timpani in Eugene Corporon's Wind Symphony and the late Anshel Brusilow's Symphony Orchestra.

"I was basically playing timpani full time, for very demanding conductors, and on challenging repertoire," he says. "I have no doubt that without those experiences I would not have had the career I've had."

While at graduate school at the New England Conservatory, he also focused on the timpani.

"From then on my career path seemed to be set," he says. "I have a love/hate relationship with the instrument. Professional musicians all kind of feel that way. We work hard and always have to confront our weaknesses. We are forever overwhelmed by the feeling that we have so much to learn and to maintain. But it has taken me some amazing places."

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