Remembering ICO's Kent Leslie 

click to enlarge Kent Leslie
  • Kent Leslie
Kent Leslie passed away on Friday, September 25, leaving a hole in the Indianapolis music community. Leslie was a freelance hornist in town and around the state, working in recording studios, and playing with several orchestras including the Anderson and Lafayette Symphony Orchestras, sitting principal horn. He was a charter member of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, and often performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Leslie was certainly known for his playing, but also equally known for his passion for new music for the horn. He commissioned several works, including James Beckel’s horn concerto The Glass Bead Game, based on the book by Hermann Hesse. Since it’s premiere in 1997, it has become one of the most popular horn concertos written in the last 40 years. The horn community at large can thank Leslie for helping grow the repertoire for their instrument.

Last summer Leslie presented a recital of contemporary works for the horn, including a piece he commissioned, entitled Honk! by Butler University composition professor Frank Felice. Felice fondly recalled of Leslie, stating “He was a true friend of composers, and a stalwart Indy musician. I was very fortunate to compose some works for him. I remember hearing him quote Jethro Tull’s Aqualung during an improv section of one of my pieces. He played horn like a monster!”


Jethro Tull? On the horn? For Leslie, that was another passion of his — rock-n-roll. Like any self respecting horn player, Leslie could talk about Mahler and Wagner all day long, but he was just as comfortable talking about Jethro Tull, and particularly Alice Cooper, of whom he was a huge fan. (One of the works Felice composed for Leslie was based on Cooper’s You Drive Me Nervous). I myself recall chatting with him about Alice Cooper during a break at orchestra rehearsal. I remarked that he influenced one of my favorite rockers, Marilyn Manson, and a whole delightful can of worms opened up about lyrics and messages in music, among other things. Leslie’s open mindedness and thirst for music knew few bounds; after our chat, he asked me to make a CD of my favorite Manson songs, so he could listen and check him out. I responded with something like “I always knew you were awesome!”

There are many other people who say the same thing. Leslie was very much loved in the musical community in Indianapolis, and not just because of his chops. Pamela French, oboist in the Indianapolis Chamber orchestra, friend and colleague of Leslie said “It won't be the same the next time around without Kent there to say a kind word and share lots of laughs. Musicians - we are so lucky to be a family. It is so painful to lose one of our own.” Felice describes his friend as “genuine, loving, fun, and funny.”

He leaves behind his wife Mary (also a hornist), five children, and four grandchildren.

Peggy Moran, assistant professor of Horn and Theory at the University of Central Oklahoma, stated something that many others who cared for Leslie can relate to, and hopefully take some comfort in. “Rest in peace, Kent Leslie, consummate musician, colleague, and friend. I will miss playing horn next to you, talking politics, and laughing. Your legacy lives on through your family, friends, colleagues, and students, and through the pieces you brought into being.”

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