Photo of Tanner West '18 BM Horn Performance

“It all started here. It all started at Summer Music Camp.”

Tanner West is talking about his career as a professional musician—a career that has just hit a new high note with his winning an international audition for Fourth Horn with the New York Philharmonic.

West, who is from Charlotte, attended the School of Music’s Summer Music Camp in 2012 and took a lesson with Professor of Horn Dr. Abigail Pack:

Tanner West '18 BM with Dr. Abigail Pack and Dean bruce mcclung
Tanner West ’18 BM with Dr. Abigail Pack and Dean bruce mcclung during a recent visit to campus

“I remember that lesson so well,” says West. “I did a lot of transposition on pieces I’d never had to play before. Dr. Pack was very welcoming and friendly. And I decided then I wanted to go to UNCG and study with her. UNCG was the only school to which I applied.” 

West continued to take lessons with Pack while he was in high school. 

Because he was a member of several ensembles and was required to play a different instrument in each one, West had been playing trumpet and trombone in addition to the French horn.

Pack says she knew immediately that West had a gift, and so she wrote a letter to West’s band director telling him to take him off the trombone and put him on the horn only:

“I just knew right away that he had something, that he stuck out from all the others,” says Pack. “There was this raw, fundamental talent. I could just tell.” 

By the time West got to UNCG, others were beginning to see it, too. One day, Pack’s horn studio was attending a masterclass with Kimberly Van Pelt from the North Carolina Symphony.

Pack remembers West played an excerpt from Mozart’s Second Symphony. 

“After that class, Kim asked me about Tanner. She said give him my name and number, I’d like to have him come to Raleigh and play with us sometime.”

And so he did—subbing with the North Carolina Symphony while still pursuing his undergraduate degree at UNCG. He was offered an acting horn position in the fall of 2021 while pursuing his Performance Studies Certificate at the Colburn School.

West has performed with a number of orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, and Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. And now, after a months-long audition process, he has a chair in one of the most prestigious and oldest American orchestras:

“The New York Philharmonic gives you this giant list of music to prepare. There was an option to send in a tape or do the audition in person. I went to New York in October and played the audition live.  Honestly, I didn’t think it went very well. But I advanced and I felt better about the semi-finals. By the time I got to the finals, I felt pretty confident.”

The field had narrowed to four people for the finals. West says after he played, he was sequestered until decision time:

“I had to stay in a room for about two hours, waiting. They had taken everyone’s phones so I was just sitting there staring out the window until there was a knock on the door. They told me I was one of the two finalists who were invited to play trials with the Philharmonic.”

West says the trials went well:

“I got great feedback, and it felt like such a good fit. I just had this feeling that I belonged there.”

His feeling proved right. About a month later, West got the call that had been selected, and his former UNCG professor had a chance to say “I told you, so.”

Pack recalls: “I used to tell him all the time you’re going to get that big job one day. I also made him promise that when he did, he was going to have to come back and give a masterclass.”

West made good on that promise recently. He sat in on a Horn Choir rehearsal and talked with students about his experience. His advice to current and future Spartans?

“The School of Music is such a great place to be. There are so many opportunities with masterclasses and visiting artists. Be open minded. Listen as much as you can. Play all the time, and collaborate with your friends who are musicians.”

Tanner West will be touring with the Philharmonic this summer with concerts in North America and Asia before moving to New York in August.

Story by Terri W. Relos