The Classical Station’s interview with Paul Merkelo for Preview!

Interview with Paul Merkelo
by Bethany Tillerson (photo credits: © Paul Merkelo)

Paul Merkelo, this week’s guest on Preview!, has performed as the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal’s Principal Trumpet since 1995, and recently released his debut solo album, a collection of trumpet concertos written by Arutiunian, Weiberg, and Shostakovich. For years, he has earned acclaim for his lyrical playing, as well as his talent for phrasing. This week, he speaks with Rob Kennedy about the concertos he chose to include on the album.

ROB: I did not know about Alexander Arutiunian until I heard your recording of his Trumpet Concerto. Can you tell our listeners about him?

MERKELO: He’s originally Armenian, and his Trumpet Concerto is one of his most famous compositions. I would call it a virtuoso showpiece. I have been practicing it since I was about 13 years old. The concerto was composed in 1950, and it has a lot of lyrical, Eastern European, Khachaturian-like textures. Arutiunian’s writing is very Armenian and while it has that Eastern European flavor, it’s also steeped in a very traditional compositional style. However, the really unique thing about this concerto is that it’s all one movement.

ROB: How would you describe this album’s Weinberg Trumpet Concerto in B-flat Major? I found his many moods and deft use of the trumpet rather compelling.

MERKELO: Weinberg himself is a composer I think is getting more and more recognition now. When I recorded this, I actually met Mrs. Weinberg. She came to the recording sessions, and we had a chance to sit down and talk with her quite a bit.

The first movement of this concerto is very angular, energetic, and virtuosic. It almost sounds angry, but it’s got tongue-in cheek-moments, a few jazz elements. The second movement is heartbreakingly beautiful. For me, it’s one of the most touching, beautiful movements in all the trumpet solo repertoire. The third movement is a parody: the opening few lines are quoting Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mahler’s Fifth, Petrushka, and Bizet’s Carmen. It whips up into a frenzy, into a wild cadenza that’s very, very difficult to play, but it ends mysteriously and fades away into nothing in a beautiful Bulgarian waltz.

ROB: Paul, your phrasing is so musical in all these works. Who taught you how to phrase so naturally and so effortlessly?

MERKELO: When I was growing up, I listened to Adolph Herseth, who was the Principal Trumpet at the Chicago Symphony. I found the way he phrased very compelling because he was always driving towards a climactic point. When he tapered out, he would breathe quickly and get back in without interrupting any of the phrasing, very much like a singer. I had the great fortune to study with him in my teen years, and whenever we would work on any solo, whether it was an orchestral passage or an etude or a solo work, he would always tell me that I have to think like a singer, that I have to tell a story with the way I play, and I had to believe in my own story.

Join us for Paul Merkelo’s full interview at 7 PM on Sunday, April 9th! Download our app, stream online on, or turn your radio to 89.7 FM.