As the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's principal trumpet player -- and the leader of the entire brass section -- Chris Martin (a Spirit of Atlanta alumn) is the most consistently audible player in the orchestra. "There's really nowhere to hide," he says. "You're just out there. It's like walking the high wire all the time." Martin, 28, starts his third season in the ASO hot seat this month, but he's only now making his official solo debut with the orchestra, playing Haydn's Trumpet Concerto at Emory's Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts on Friday. The concert also marks the orchestra's first appearance on the Emory campus in 17 years. Widely recognized as one of the hottest talents in the business, Martin came to the ASO with impressive credentials, including three years as associate principal trumpet of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Born and raised in Marietta, Ga., Martin played in the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (as did his younger brother, Michael, also a trumpet player) and attended Sprayberry High School, where his uncle, Dan Martin, was the band director for 28 years. He started piano lessons at age 6 and took up the trumpet at 10. His first teacher was his dad, Freddy, current band director and brass specialist for the Westminster Schools and founder of the Spirit of Atlanta, the drum corps Martin heard from infancy and toured with in the summers. He always thought he would be a musician, Martin says, "but what really clenched it for me was hearing Robert Shaw conduct the ASO in Mahler's Eighth Symphony in 1991." Those performances, which honored Shaw's 75th birthday, featured six choruses, eight major soloists and a huge orchestra, whose vast brass forces include antiphonal choirs in the work's finale. "That concert really knocked me over the head," remembers Martin. "It was awesome -- especially for a 15-year-old." In the orchestra at the time was Larry Black, Martin's longtime teacher and mentor. Black has retired but was still playing trumpet with the ASO when Martin came in as principal, making the student, in essence, the teacher's boss. Martin has come very far, very fast. How much longer can Atlanta keep him, especially with principal trumpet positions in Chicago and, eventually, Boston, opening up? "We'll see," he says thoughtfully. "Atlanta's a great place to live; this is a great orchestra, and it's getting better every year. To me, as long as it continues in that direction, there's not much more I could ask for."