Born amidst the Shenandoah Mountains and growing up in rural Virginia, becoming a professional classical musician was an unlikely probability for Suzette Moriarty. But the French horn player for the California Philharmonic was very determined and driven, adhering to the old adage, “you are not a musician because you want to be, you are a musician because you have to be.” Her father was an engineer and her mother a teacher. Suzette was in 6th grade when she started the French horn, the instrument being so large for her to carry, she had to bend her arm so it would not drag on the ground as she lugged it home. Her parents said, “We will give you two weeks on that thing.” Obviously, Suzette exceeded far beyond the two weeks and “that thing” is what carried her forth in her life and career.
Already in high school she started to play a few jobs and felt fortunate to have the opportunity to take lessons from professional musicians in the military bands stationed in Washington D.C. She discovered she loved the diversity of people she interacted with as much as the music itself.
Ms. Moriarty attended West Virginia University and after graduating was offered work in Miami, Florida. She played for Broadway shows, in chamber ensembles, and with big bands at the major hotels backing up name acts such as Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra. While she was working with the Greater Miami Opera Guild, Suzette became part of musical history when Luciano Pavarotti made his debut in the Unites States under the baton of Emerson Buckley.
As the music world is ever changing, Miami’s live scene shifted, and Ms. Moriarty heeded the call of the horn from Hollywood. “I heard a beautiful school of horn playing on recordings and I wanted to be where new music was being created.”
After studying with legendary studio French horn player Vince DeRosa, Suzette found herself playing on film and television scores, recording over 300 Star Trek episodes. Two years after she played on Hans Zimmer’s Dark Rain score, conducted by Shirley Walker, Suzette’s partner, Bruce Fowler, became Mr. Zimmer’s supervising orchestrator. Together Bruce and Suzette have worked as orchestrators on The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean series, Interstellar, Gladiator, Inception, Dunkirk, and the Dark Knight Trilogy, to name a few. Orchestrators can be considered “the bridge” between the synthesizer score and the parts played by the orchestral musicians.
Ms. Moriarty came to the Cal Phil over a decade and a half ago, having been recommended by her colleagues in the horn section. She has played for the Hollywood Bowl orchestra, as well as the Pasadena and Pacific Symphonies, but while raising her daughter, Rhea (who is now a grown woman and a violinist) chose to forego some concert work so she could be at home in the evenings. Yet she continued with the California Philharmonic due to the fulfilling performance experience and Victor Vener’s diverse programming. “He has brought a musical balance to my life’s work,” she says of the Maestro. “Not only is it a privilege to work with the musical talent in this group, it is fun!” She recalls a specific concert when the orchestra was playing Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony. The Maestro had told the audience beforehand to listen for the flute in the 2nd movement imitating the sound of the bird. When the moment occurred she heard a collective soft, sweet, sigh. “It was a magical.”
Currently Suzette lives in the Hollywood Knolls, enjoying her regular work out of walking to the reservoir. She finds that staying in physical shape is essential for her horn playing. “My first French horn lesson was to practice making sounds on the mouthpiece, which I thought would take no effort. At lesson #2, I realized the challenge. It would take focus and following directions to be able to progress. I still work on those skills today.”
Playing with the California Philharmonic has touched Suzette Moriarty’s musical soul. In the music world and especially in the Cal Phil, people of all ages, all races, and all walks of life are brought together by the common bond of being a musician and the love of music.