NOI Alumni Spotlight: Nick Platoff, San Francisco Symphony

Alumni Spotlight 

For over 30 years, NOI has been a training ground for orchestral musicians on the precipice of their professional careers. NOI alumni occupy positions in nearly every major American orchestra as well as numerous positions in premier service bands. Many others are teachers, college professors and arts administrators.

In this series, we connect with alumni about how their NOI experience helped shape their careers. Nick Platoff, a 2013 alumnus, is the associate principal trombone player with the San Francisco Symphony, and we are excited to welcome him back to NOI this year as a teacher.

How did your experiences at NOI help prepare you for your professional career?

Summer festivals like NOI can serve as a very accurate barometer of the skill level of other musicians from around the country. It’s too easy to get caught up in the bubble of your own school and forget all the other incredible players at other places. These people will be your friends, colleagues and competitors at auditions for the rest of your career, so it’s great to have an opportunity to get to know them both on and off the stage. 

Plain and simple: my trombone playing improved just from hanging and playing with the other trombonists that summer. I also had phenomenal coaches and guest conductors, but the biggest takeaway from that summer was becoming friends with some of the country’s most talented young musicians, many of whom I’m still in touch with on a regular basis. 

What is one thing you know now being in a symphony that you wish you knew as a student?

One of the biggest differences between professional and student orchestras is the level of listening across the ensemble. With so many people trying to create one collective sound, listening is truly the most important activity we do onstage. I wish I had understood the importance of listening as a skill to be developed in the same way we practice our instruments. My former teacher, Michael Mulcahy [at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music], likes to say “Trombonists blow; musicians listen."

NOI is committed to building the "orchestra of the future." How is the San Francisco Symphony engaging new and future audiences, and/or reaching out to the community?

We present a regular series for elementary school students and young families, as well as a film series which is very popular with our 20 to 40-year-old audience members. I’ve been especially proud to work for this organization when we put on concerts of special relevance to our unique San Francisco community. We just played a very successful concert celebrating Dia de los Muertos and have a benefit concert coming up that will raise money for the victims of the fires in the North Bay Area. Last season, in protest of the bathroom laws, we canceled our tour to North Carolina and replaced it with a massive Pride concert here. I think it's important that we as musicians understand that our role is beyond performing great music at the highest level. Artists have a duty to understand their communities and lead accordingly.