For a principal trumpet player in a prominent regional orchestra, Stephen Campbell has a self-effacing reason why he is a professional musician.
"I have no other marketable skills," he says in the lobby of the Singletary Center of the Arts before a rehearsal Monday with the Lexington Philharmonic.
No matter whether that's true, Campbell has excelled at trumpet, as the audience will hear when he is a featured soloist in a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 with guest soloist Fei-Fei Dong.
"In the end, it's not quite a competition between the piano and the trumpet, but there's a lot of interplay," Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell says. "It's the sort of piece you don't program unless you know you have a really good principal trumpet in the orchestra."
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And you have to be really good to get through the Philharmonic audition process.
Campbell grew up in Garland, Texas, and found his way to the trumpet in elementary school when he — like many other students — was told to choose among band, chorus or theater.
He hadn't had any experience playing an instrument, but he gravitated toward band, as long as he didn't have to play the saxophone.
"They told me to go meet the band director, and he said, 'We need trumpet players. You're playing trumpet,'" Campbell says. "If he had said saxophone, I would have been in the choir."
But like his Philharmonic colleague Pei-San Chiu, the principal flutist who also will be featured in Friday's concert (see story, this page), the somewhat random instrument assignment became a consuming passion. Campbell says the need to keep his grades up so he could continue to play in the band got him through school. He was inspired by music teachers who, he says, "were superior musicians. They would perform for us. Anytime we had a problem, they would just grab their trumpet and play it for us, at an expert level.
"I was surrounded by good people, and that makes a lot of difference."
He earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.
By then, Campbell says, he "needed something that was not in Texas. I needed a change of pace."
So he came up to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music to earn a doctorate and got involved in orchestra in the region, playing in Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky. That's where he was tipped to the principal trumpet opening at the Philharmonic.
"There were three separate auditions," says Campbell, who won out of more than 30 hopefuls.
"I play with a lot of orchestras," Campbell says. "It's easy for me to say this is in some ways by far one of the better regional ensembles in the area; there are just so many fine musicians in the orchestra.
"When you look at the season, every piece is high-quality literature. There's no fluff pieces, no fillers or anything like that. It's all quality repertory, and Scott sets the example: He picks quality and demands quality from the rest of us.
"That's what makes this ensemble stand out."
And Terrell says that when he gets musicians like Campbell and Chiu in the orchestra, he looks for opportunities to feature them.
"They really are leaders in the orchestra," Terrell says, "and they are representative of the orchestra I envision."