A Conversation with Paul Straka
I was born in Minnesota, where my father was a violinist in the Minnesota Orchestra. He had also played in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland Orchestras, but those were such dingy cities back in those days that my folks decided that Minnesota would be a better place to raise a family.
I attended Indiana University where I studied with Phillip Farkas and Frank Brouk, both renowned former members of the Chicago Symphony. I left in my 4th year to take a job playing in the Radio Symphony of Turin Italy, but found Turin to be a very dirty place, so I moved to New York (slightly cleaner!) where I did some freelancing and additional study. While I was there, I won a position with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, where I was a member for 31 years.
There was a musician lockout in 2013 in St. Paul, which allowed me to be a guest with many orchestras. I had so much fun playing full orchestra repertoire that when a retirement buyout was offered, I jumped at the opportunity to make myself available to continue my freelancing across the country.
At that same time, I was contacted by Lyric and offered a one year position on 4th horn, which I also accepted without hesitation, since I had always wanted to play the opera repertoire. It was a dream come true, as I had no interest in returning to St. Paul under the new management model, and to play in Chicago is a horn player’s dream. I never imagined a better silver lining to the events at that time!
One year has now turned into three, and I can say that I have looked forward to each season at Lyric more than the previous one. It’s a great job, with great colleagues in one of the great cities of the country. Chicago is also one of the best cities in the world for restaurants and craft brewing, which I have taken full advantage of.
When I’m not in Chicago, I am at my home in the north woods near Ely, Minnesota not far from the Canadian border, an area that I fell in love with as a child. Here I can go fishing, hiking, biking and snow shoeing, as well as gardening and brewing beer and mead, two of my favorite hobbies. This summer I’m building a new garage/shop, where I’ll be able to pursue my interest in woodworking and other pastimes as I view incredible wildlife out the back window, including wolves and bears, which are plentiful in the area.