Careers - David Bremner NZSO Principal Trombone

Happy New Year - hope you had a fantastic festive season, and are ready for a great 2018. 

Throughout the year, we are going to be bringing you lots of different blogs, covering various topics. But I thought a thread that we might keep going throughout the year is about careers in music. Many of us are incredibly lucky to be able to make music for a living, and I have asked a bunch of musicians around the country to write about their experiences in their chosen music profession. 

I thought I would kick start this thread, with my own personal experience being a member of the NZ Symphony Orchestra. Throughout this series we are going to hear about careers in Orchestras, Forces Bands, Brass Bands, Jazz Bands and many more. 

I joined the NZSO in 2002, as a pretty green 26 year old.  I had been Principal Trombone of the Auckland Philharmonia for around 12 months, and loved playing with such great people and musicians there. The APO is such a friendly and welcoming place to make music, I couldn’t have been in a better orchestra for my first job. 

The Principal chair in the NZSO came up in 2001, and I was very excited to be able to audition for the position. 

Many of you may not know the process that takes place to gain a position in an orchestra, but I can assure you it’s a pretty rigorous one, and not particularly enjoyable! 

It starts on audition day.  All the candidates are backstage warming up, and getting ready for their audition. The management of the orchestra will tell you your time to turn up, and then you need to be ready and warmed up for when your time comes. 

My audition for the NZSO was in a small concert chamber in the Wellington Town Hall, and I was backstage ready to go.  I went in, and there is just silence in the room, even though you know there are 20 odd musicians sitting behind this massive screen separating those in the orchestra from those wanting to be. It’s normal to play a solo work, usually the first page of a standard concerto, and then around five excerpts. 

It’s impossible to know what they are thinking or looking for, so I just focused on what I was trying to do, and then when you walk off the wait begins!  Waiting to find out if you have advanced to the next round is horrible, second guessing yourself on how you played, and finally convincing yourself that you have stuffed this up, and wasted an opportunity.  Finally someone comes around and lets everyone know those players who are advancing to the next round - and we do it all again!

At the end of the NZSO audition, two candidates were offered trials with the orchestra. A trial is a chance to do the job for a month or so, so they can see how you go within the orchestra.  A month is a long time not to stuff up! The other trialist was one of my best friends, so to say the process was stressful is an understatement. 

The whole process takes around a year to complete, and then you get the good or bad news. 

I started my time with the NZSO in July 2002, and my first concert was in the Michael Fowler Centre with a performance of Mahler's 3rd Symphony.  Talk about a baptism of fire!  This is the biggest trombone solo in the repertoire, so they definitely knew after the first day whether they had made the right decision (still not sure).



The following 15 years have been amazing, life is never dull in the NZSO.  We are a touring orchestra, so we are on the road a lot.  Travelling is pretty gruelling, especially with more than 100 people in your tour party. Queuing up for flights, hotels, buses, backstage at the hall, you name it we have waited for it.  It’s not always glamorous, but it is a privilege and one I never ever take for granted.

What is a normal day in the NZSO? No day in the NZSO is normal, but if we are at home we are either rehearsing or performing at the Michael Fowler Centre. 

If we are travelling, it requires being up, packed and off to the airport by mid-morning.  I usually grab a coffee at the airport (the first of many coffees in the day…) and then off to wherever we are performing that night.  The bus picks us up from the airport and takes us to the hotel, where we usually have a few hours before needing to be at the hall for rehearsal.  I have two things that I like to do on tour, running and practice. So as long as I get those things done, I feel good.  If the weather is good, I head off for a run, sometimes with colleagues in the orchestra, and sometimes by myself. Matt Allison is a good running buddy on tour, as is Bridget Douglas, but Bridget runs a bit fast for me, so I prefer Matt. I have running routes for all the cities we travel to, and love getting out and about in this amazing country we live in.

Then it’s practice time - never a huge session with a concert in the evening, but maybe just an hour and a half of studies and warm ups.  The orchestra usually has a 30 minute rehearsal in the hall before the concert and then we are off. 

After the concert, we usually have a debrief at a local establishment, and then off to bed to do it all again tomorrow.

We also make the odd appearance overseas. Since I joined the NZSO, we have toured the UK, Europe, Japan and China. I can tell you that touring with the NZSO is a lot of fun, I would say 'what goes on tour stays on tour', but you can go and see Jeremy Wells Documentary of our European tour to see what happens when we are away for a month in Europe. Head over to - - for a very funny doco on our tour a few years ago. I make a few (embarrassing) cameos. 

Very excited to be on stage in Vienna's Musikverein

Very excited to be on stage in Vienna's Musikverein

There are so many great halls in NZ that we are so lucky to be able to perform in throughout the year.  The NZSO also does the odd ballet and opera, as well as film soundtracks, CDs, education concerts at schools, and some pretty cool crossover concerts.  We have been lucky to perform with artists like Sting and Wynton Marsalis, as well as incredible classical artists like Lang Lang, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Pinchas Zukerman, and Janine Jansen. 

Me and Sting - I think I told him a joke...

Me and Sting - I think I told him a joke...

Chilling with Wynton - the most incredible brass player I have ever heard

Chilling with Wynton - the most incredible brass player I have ever heard


No two days are the same in the NZSO, whether it’s changing repertoire, or a different city to perform in, there is always something to keep us on our toes.  I know a lot of people say this, but I am convinced I have the best job in the world, and wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world, except maybe the Fiji Philharmonic….

You can go to the NZSO’s website at and see when we are coming to your town. There are lots of great concerts throughout the year, and there is definitely something for everyone. 

Might see you out on the running path in your town soon!