Chris Kantner and Rick Britsch
It is safe to say that GRSMA musicians Chris Kantner and Rick Britsch have performed thousands of concerts as Principal Flute and Principal Horn of the Grand Rapids Symphony! Chris joined the GRS in 1976 as part of the first wave of full- time players hired by conductor Theo Alcántara, and Rick was hired by music director Catherine Comet in 1990. This season, Chris and Rick will once again take center stage as the featured soloist, having made many concerto appearances during their career with the GRS. Learn a bit of the inside story about these star players, and be sure to come to their upcoming concerto performances.
GRSMA: Where did you grow up, and were you part of a musical family?
Rick Britsch: I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida, but lived all over the Florida peninsula. Since my dad was with the Florida Highway Patrol, we moved a lot. My mother was a terrific pianist, always able to play-by-ear. Both my sisters had piano lessons growing up, so I got to hear many versions of "Winter Wonderland" around our house in Florida! My cousin played horn through high school and was enormously talented, and she was my inspiration to start the horn.
Chris Kantner: Like Rick's family, we also moved around a lot. My dad was an amateur musician who played in swing bands all through college. There was always music in the house, and both of my parents were very supportive of my early attempts at playing.
GRSMA: Do you recall when you decided to make music your profession?
RB: I went to the University of South Florida in Tampa to major in music education and had heard very few professional orchestra concerts prior to starting college. A friend asked if I would go with her to sneak into a rehearsal of the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony (which is now The Florida Orchestra), which serves the Tampa Bay region. The sound of professionals playing together at that rehearsal set my mind into motion about the possibility of playing professionally. Three years later, I auditioned and was appointed Second Horn in that orchestra, combining that job with my senior year of college.
CK: You know, there really was no specific moment. It was more like one thing leading to another as I became more immersed in playing. At some point music becomes something you simply have to do.
GRSMA: Who are among your musical mentors and heroes?
CK: For me, I would have to say the renowned flute virtuoso Jean Pierre Rampal (for his sound and joie de vivre), the German lyric baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (for his rendering of Mahler songs), and pianist Glen Gould (for his interpretations of the music of J.S. Bach). Also, I incessantly study the playing of the great Dutch flute virtuoso Jacques Zoon.
RB: In high school, I loved listening to the great British horn player Dennis Brain, Gerd Seifert of the Berlin Philharmonic, and Charles Kavalovski of the Boston Symphony. In college, I'd have to say that my horn teacher at University of South Florida, Ralph Froelich, was my chief mentor and hero. I went on to be a colleague of Ralph's in the Florida West Coast Symphony (which is now the Sarasota Orchestra) for ten years. Ralph's work in the New York Woodwind Quintet was legendary, and the University of South Florida's faculty wind quintet sounded brilliant with him.
GRSMA: Do you have favorite composers or orchestral pieces?
RB: I enjoy the music of composers that choose a wide range of orchestral colors, such as Ravel, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Richard Strauss, and Respighi. Oh, and I can't forget JOHN WILLIAMS!
CK: For compositions, it would have to be a toss up between two of Gustav Mahler’s songs for voice and orchestra, "Rückert Lieder" and "Das Lied von der Erde," and the Sixth Symphony by Jean Sibelius (or wait, maybe his Symphony No 7, or No 3). As you can see, I am keeping my options open!
GRSMA: If you weren't an orchestral musician, what career path would you have taken?
CK: Well, I have no idea. What can one be without music? Actually, all the performing arts (dance, theater, music) are equally compelling. It is really wonderful how the small competencies we accumulate as we blend mind and body in these disciplines can sometimes bloom into those “aha” moments of comprehension. I am always learning new things in the practice of music.
RB: This is a difficult question, as I was originally heading to be a band or orchestra teacher in a public or private school. I had started doing a lot of car mechanic work, out of necessity, and sometimes think I should have followed a path similar to my son's, who is an aircraft mechanic.
GRSMA: What are your hobbies or interests?
RB: While I used to enjoy doing light car mechanic work, things have become too complex for this backyard mechanic. I like the challenge of riding my bike on the White Pine Trail, having gotten up to a 42-mile round trip in 2020.
CK: In my spare time, I enjoy gardening and reading.
GRSMA: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the Grand Rapids Symphony?
CK: It’s a great privilege to be a solo voice in a fine orchestra like ours, and sometimes it's even a lot of fun. But the best part of being an orchestral player is lending your voice to the greater sound of the ensemble.
RB: For me, it's performing world-class renditions of the great orchestral repertoire and working with my great GRSMA colleagues, as well as our incredible conductor Marcelo Lehninger. However, I think the best reward is performing for our audiences who love coming to hear us.
GRSMA: You have been a GRS principal player for many decades. Is there a GRS concert that you will always remember fondly?
RB: Performing at Carnegie Hall in New York is most-definitely something for that memory, but I'd also have to say performing Mahler's Fifth Symphony for our home audience in 2017 was something that I will always remember.
CK: Right now we are doing some of our best playing ever with our current music director, Marcelo Lehninger. So, as this will be my last season with the Grand Rapids Symphony, I am relishing every concert this year. Villa-Lobos Choros No 6 last season with Marcelo was a real kick! Going back over a long career, there are many concerts that shaped me as a musician: Bruckner's Seventh Symphony with Semyon Bychkov, Symphony No 4 by Sibelius with Hannu Lintu, and of course Mahler's Third Symphony with Theo Alcántara (on the incredibly sad occasion of his losing a child at that time).
GRSMA: Other than your concerto performance, is there another upcoming GRS performance that you would recommend as a “must see” concert this season?
RB: We have a lot of "must see" concerts coming up, so a recommendation might be another difficult challenge! However, this season's finale concert includes "Der Rosenkavalier" by Richard Strauss, which is a majorly exciting piece! https://www.grsymphony.org/mendelssohn
I will also say that it was a pleasure to perform a first-time concert on our Masterworks series with the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony. We've done concerts like this in the past, but never on the Friday/Saturday evening concert series, and I believe that the GRYS students enjoyed this opportunity to rehearse and perform Liszt "Les Preludes" side-by-side with professional musicians.
CK: Actually, I am looking forward to my colleague Rick Britsch playing the Gliere Horn Concerto in March 2024, as well as Prokofiev's Symphony No 7 on the second half of the concert!
GRSMA: For your concerto performance, is there a favorite moment that you would like for listeners to notice?
CK: For the Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp, there are just too many favorite moments to mention. Mozart pours on one great tune after another. It’s entirely possible that one might float off the stage in sheer joy when performing his Flute and Harp Concerto. https://www.grsymphony.org/mozart-grieg
RB: Since the Horn Concerto by Ukrainian composer Reinhold Moritzevich Gliere contains so many beautiful moments, it's difficult to narrow down to one or two things a listener would want to pick out. I hope the audience will enjoy the horn concerto as much as I've enjoyed preparing and reviewing it for the last several months. By the way, one of Gliere's star composition students was Sergei Prokofiev, whose Seventh Symphony will also be featured in that concert. Listeners might be intrigued to hear the differences in style and orchestration between teacher and student! https://www.grsymphony.org/prokofiev
Note from GRSMA: Joining Chris Kantner for the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto will be GRSMA harpist Beth Colpean. Learn a bit more about Beth too, who has been GRS Principal Harpist since 2000, by checking out our feature with her that appeared in the winter 2017 issue of our newsletter! https://www.grsmusiciansassociation.com/colpean-profile