Get to know ASO Principal Trumpet David Khafagi

25 Jul 2023
  • Musician Spotlight
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Get to know ASO Principal Trumpet David Khafagi

I knew I’d make a career in music when: I wanted to pursue a career in music from a young age. I was always surrounded by classical music as a child, and participated in ensembles from the age of about seven. I’ve always loved performing music, and who wouldn’t want the privilege of doing what they love for a career?

Did you grow up in a musical household? What music did you listen to growing up? I grew up in a very musical household. I have three sisters who are all string players, and as kids we also all had piano lessons. Mum and Dad don’t play music, but mum was heavily involved in administering the Queensland Youth Orchestra for almost 20 years, and Dad has an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music. There was always classical music playing in the house growing up. I was one of the kids at school who never knew the words to the pop songs that everyone was into at the time.

How did you feel when you knew you had a principal position with the ASO? It was a dream come true – I had worked towards this for so long. I still catch myself not quite believing that I have realised my lifelong dream.

Tell us about your musical journey and how you came to win the Principal position with the orchestra? I didn’t follow a very orthodox path to my job. In 2004, while I was in Tasmania studying with Yoram Levy (Principal Trumpet of TSO), I started doing a bit of casual Operations work at the TSO (moving gear, setting up the orchestra, maintenance, etc) which I really enjoyed. Upon returning to Brisbane after my year in Tassie, I worked as casual Orchestra Assistant with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra doing much the same thing. These positions, while not playing, allowed me to be in the orchestral environment, and had the added benefit of having 24hr access to the orchestral studios for late-night practice sessions. In 2007 my wife, Janet, won a Tutti Violin position with the ASO and we moved to Adelaide, where I became ASO Operations Assistant, again looking after setting up and moving the orchestra and looking after the venue and equipment. I was also fortunate to be asked to play in the orchestra as a casual trumpet player. I worked in various positions in ASO Operations for twelve years, during which time I was regularly called upon to play in the orchestra. I also worked extremely hard over this time to grow as a player and I took part in many auditions all over the country and also in New Zealand, with mixed success. For the first half of 2019 I was offered a contract to play second trumpet with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, which was the catalyst for me leaving the ASO Operations Team to focus fully on performing. For the second half of 2019 I was very fortunate to be offered a contract position back at the ASO as Associate Principal Trumpet, and for 2020 and 2021 I played consistently with the ASO on contract and casual capacities. The audition that I won in 2022 was the most important to me that I had ever done. It was a bit of a defining moment in my career in that if I won the audition I would have achieved my dream, but if I didn’t, I would need to think carefully about what my future career looked like. To win any audition for any orchestra would have been great, but to have a principal position in the ASO – the same orchestra as my wife, and an orchestra that I love – in our home town, where we are established and where our kids are growing up, is just an absolute dream come true.

What or who is your biggest inspiration? There are many people who have inspired me in different ways. I’m inspired every day by my colleagues in the orchestra, particularly my trumpet colleagues Martin and Greg, who have offered me guidance and encouragement over the years. I am definitely inspired by Yoram Levy, who taught me for years and helped establish the fundamentals of my playing. I’m inspired by my wife, Janet, who has been on the whole roller-coaster-ride with me, and always believed that I would one day win a position. I’m also inspired by all the staff at the ASO who work very hard for the success of the orchestra, but most often don’t receive the public acknowledgement that comes with being onstage in the public view.

What do you love about playing with the orchestra? Everything. I love the music, I love playing trumpet, I love witnessing the power that music can have over the audience, I love being part of the bigger picture, I love the applause, I love the post-concert socialising, I love my colleagues and the soloists and conductors, I love everything about it.

Your wife Janet is a violinist with the orchestra, how did the two of you come to meet and fall in love? What do you love or hate about working with one another? Janet and I met in school choir, but didn’t become close friends until university. We did pretty much everything together during Uni years, and eventually became a couple sometime in 2nd year (I think). We got engaged during 2004 when I was living for a year in Tasmania, and married in 2005 before moving to Munich for a year of further studies. Soon upon returning to Australia, Janet won her position with the ASO and we moved to Adelaide in January 2007. We love working together – it’s a real privilege to be able to make music together and a lot of our friends are also in the orchestra and administration, so we’re constantly surrounded by people we are close to.

You are raising a young daughter and son – are they musically inclined? Both our kids, Ella and Billy, receive violin and piano lessons. At this early age it’s more about fostering a love of music and creativity, rather than pushing them to be brilliant. They also love to sing, and we would like to get them involved in a choir at some point soon.

If you weren’t a professional musician what would you be: My feelings about this have changed over time. At school I toyed with the idea of being an architect, and now if I wasn’t a musician (or working in orchestra management) I think I would like to be a vet or an ambulance officer – some job that contributes to public good.

Is there anything special about your actual instrument/does it have a name/any quirks? I have lots of trumpets (12 or so) but there’s nothing particularly special about any of them – certainly no names or anything. Brass instruments, unlike string instruments, deteriorate over time, so they don’t tend to have the same history and emotion attached to them. They’re more a tool of the trade. My B-flat trumpet (which is the standard trumpet that anyone in the community would play) is the same one that my parents bought for me when I was in year eight at school.

What piece of music are you most looking forward to playing in Season 2023 and why? What makes the piece of music so special? I had the huge honour earlier this year of performing Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto with the ASO in Mt Gambier. It was the first time I have performed as a soloist with a professional orchestra, and a highlight of my career so far. I will be performing the same concerto with the ASO in Tanunda in August, and am really looking forward to that.

If you could play a different instrument, which would you choose and why? I would love to be able to play piano. I played as a kid, but didn’t enjoy it at the time, and gave it away as soon as my parents would let me. I regret that decision today, not just because it would be fun to play, but because piano provides an amazing understanding of harmony, voicing and many other aspects of music that don’t come as easily to players of single-line instruments. For emotion, I would choose the cello. I think it’s such a beautiful instrument, and capable of producing so many different colours and emotions.

Which solo or moment in the brass orchestral repertoire is your favourite? I was very fortunate to play two of the biggest and best trumpet moments while I was on trial for my position – Mahler Symphony No.5 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Both of these pieces open with solo trumpet setting the scene, but with very different feelings. Mahler 5 evokes a sense of sadness and foreboding, whilst Pictures is very upright and almost ceremonial in its formality.

Your first orchestral concert memory and what made it memorable? (either as an audience member or on stage performing) I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw an orchestra, but a significant memory is when my dad took me to Sydney as a young boy to see Håkan Hardenberger perform Haydn Trumpet Concerto at the Sydney Opera House. It was the first time I had been to the Opera House, and it was an incredible experience.

What piece of music never fails to move you? Why? I went to see the London Symphony Orchestra perform Elgar’s Enigma Variations in Brisbane on the day that I heard someone very close to me had passed away. When the orchestra played the variation, Nimrod, which is famously emotional music anyway, I fell to bits. Every time I hear Nimrod now, I’m taken back to that moment and feel incredibly moved.

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