Spotlight on Philip Marten


by Kayla Moore

For Philip Marten, a visit to the OK Mozart Festival when he was four was all it took for him to know he wanted to become a musician. Growing up in small-town Kansas, he listened to classical music with his parents, but when he went to the OK Mozart Festival, he saw violist Paul Neubauer performing, turned to his mother and said, “I want to do that!” His mother brushed it off, thinking nothing of it, but young Philip pressed on, asking her for music lessons.

Soon after, he began piano lessons and, at the age of eight, he began playing the violin—the instrument with which he quickly fell in love and to which he dedicated himself (although, he does have a viola and occasionally plays it for fun). While studying privately, he also performed chamber music, participating in a string trio until he was 14. He next continued his violin studies with the former concertmaster of the Kansas City Symphony, which required his mother to drive him two-and-a-half hours from their home in Independence, Kansas for lessons—ultimately prompting a family move to Kansas City. Alongside his private lessons, he also continued to perform a good deal of chamber music.

Following high school, Marten went on to study at Rice University under the tutelage of Cho-Liang Lin, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Music with a minor in Sociology. He went on to study at the University of Southern California under Glenn Dicterow, former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. After two months of studying with Dicterow, Marten decided to begin taking auditions. He won his third audition, with the Kansas City Symphony, where he was Section First Violin from 2016 to 2018.

After his time with the Kansas City Symphony, he moved to Cincinnati, where he now serves as the Assistant Concertmaster with the CSO. When asked about his journey to the CSO and who inspired him, Marten says, “The easy answer is my teachers—nobody has had more of an influence on my life and career than they have. However, from every person I meet, there’s something to be learned. Everyone I work with provides me with inspiration.”

In the vein of inspiration, Marten expressed his excitement in working with the CSO at this time of incredible change and innovation: “I’m really excited to see how music changes over the next decade or so. Because I’m fairly new to this, it’s so interesting to me to see how orchestras have changed over the past decade, and moving into the next. I’m looking for opportunities for how I can contribute to that with creative programming, community outreach, and any other effective ways of fostering the strength of the American orchestra.”

As orchestras across the world are looking to change their programming to a curated mixture of “tried and true” classical compositions and creative modern pieces, Marten is particularly excited because this is right in his wheelhouse: “I love playing both really old and really new music. I love exploring Baroque music because it reminds me so much of jazz today—there’s a very improvisatory element to it. Imagine Bach going into the court and just making up fugues. What’s closer to jazz than that? You take a subject and play around with it. The fact that they knew how to notate that and play with the music is incredible, and now we have to learn how to make it sound improvised and spontaneous.”

“I also love new music, something I haven’t heard before. I love Mahler symphonies, I’ll always enjoy them, but when I hear something totally new with purpose, intention and structure, I’m fascinated. Some modern music isn’t the best, but it’s our job as musicians to find the gems of modern composition like Mason Bates, John Luther Adams, John Adams and Andrew Norman—artists who are playing with the conventions of classical music.”

Fun facts about Philip Marten:

  • He has a golden doodle named Chloe and a cat named Izzy.
  • He likes trying new beer—his current Cincinnati favorites are from Brink Brewing.
  • He enjoys the craft coffee scene—he especially enjoys Deeper Roots Coffee.
  • He composes music in his spare time.
  • He loves spending time with his wife and his dog and cat, and he loves watching The Office.

Listen to an interview with Philip Marten on the Fanfare Cincinnati Podcast

Episode 14: Musical Chairs

Released: January 22, 2019

The CSO attracts talented musicians from around the world to become part of the community in Cincinnati. A major reason we launched this podcast was for listeners to get to know these musicians and on this episode, we talk with Associate Concertmaster Stefani Matsuo and Assistant Concertmaster Philip Marten. We’ll learn how they came to be musicians and find out about their respective roles in the Orchestra, particularly important in a season where the CSO is searching for a new concertmaster.

Guests: Stefani Matsuo, Associate Concertmaster Tom & Dee Stegman Chair | Philip Marten, First Assistant Concertmaster James M. Ewell Chair