In the context of orchestral trumpet playing, "rotary" refers to a specific style and design of trumpet. Rotary trumpets (named for a particular type of valve construction) are typically used in German and Austrian orchestras rather than the piston trumpets we use in the U.S. They look and are played a little differently than "normal" piston trumpets. In fact, audience members often ask us why we're holding our instruments sideways.
The instrument produces a more tapered or rounded sound, with a vocal quality that lends itself perfectly to Classical and 19th century Romantic music. Over the past few decades, it has become increasingly common for major orchestras in the U.S. to use rotary trumpets in appropriate repertoire. Most professionals had to teach themselves how to play these trumpets after leaving school, but those who make this effort are rewarded by the lush tone.
If you look closely at us during an LA Phil concert, you can easily tell when we're playing the oddly shaped "side-winders." And then you'll understand why I say that they're quite difficult to hold.
Hand cramps aside, we are using rotaries on this tour for more than sound quality or historical accuracy. It could be taken by the local musicians as downright disrespectful to show up in Cologne and play Beethoven 7 on the "wrong" instrument. Also, there are rumors that our host may provide a traditional Kölsch beer reception after the concert, so we wanted to put our best foot forward.
If you have tickets to Bruckner 7 later this season, you'll get a chance to hear what a section of rotary trumpets sounds like in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Who knows? If we play well enough, maybe there will even be some cold beer waiting for us backstage...