English horn soloist deLuna leads 'wizardly' journey in new concerto

  Russ deLuna, soloist

Russ deLuna, soloist

Russ deLuna, who performs the English horn solo in composer Stefan Cwik’s “The Sword in the Stone,” has been playing music since childhood, but his appearance with Symphony Parnassus marks several “firsts”: It is his first time working directly with a composer; his first time premiering a brand new work as soloist; and it is his first time as a soloist with conductor Stephen Paulson, his friend and fellow double-reed colleague at the San Francisco Symphony. 

“It’s fun to see (Steve) use his talents in a different way other than the bassoon,” Russ says. “It’s kind of a blast to watch him conduct. He’s a great musician.”

Russ calls Steve, principal bassoon with the Symphony, one of his “favorite players” in the orchestra, with whom he chats a lot about, well, music, but what else? Making reeds, a time-intensive side job and hobby for the double-reed players. The English horn, which is “not English, and not a horn,” Russ jokes, is the alto instrument of the oboe family.

 English horn soloist Russ deLuna during rehearsal

English horn soloist Russ deLuna during rehearsal

He says he is excited to work with Cwik—also a colleague at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music—and is enjoying the process of being the first soloist to interpret the adventurous new piece in which, according to the composer, the English horn takes on the voice of Merlyn, the famed wizard of Arthurian legend.

“It’s so fun to know that I am the first to ever play it,” Russ said.      

Russ, a member of the San Francisco Symphony since 2007, occupies the Joseph and Pauline Scafidi Chair. He has appeared as soloist in such pieces as “Quiet City,” by Aaron Copland, and “The Swan of Tuonela” by Jean Sibelius. He played recently with the New York Philharmonic, and this summer, performs as a member of the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Matsumoto, Japan.