International Baroque Trumpet Soloist
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A chorus of boos for the burglar
Messiah trumpeter’s special horn is stolen during his visit to Houston
By ALLAN TURNER
HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Dec. 28, 2010, 5:50AM

Nathaniel Mayfield

Baroque trumpeter Nathaniel Mayfield performs at a Dec. 11 children’s concert of Handel’s Messiah. A short time later the horn was stolen from his car at a Houston hotel.

The elongated case on the back seat of Nathaniel Mayfield’s car might have contained a rifle. That’s probably what the thief thought when he kicked in a car window to make his grab. If so, the burglar was in for an unpleasant surprise.

The case contained a baroque trumpet, a rare instrument the Austin musician had brought to Houston for a series of Mercury Baroque Ensemble performances of Handel’s Messiah.

With its odd appearance — it’s twice as long as a modern trumpet and has no valves — the horn might be difficult to pawn. It would be virtually impossible, Mayfield noted, for an untrained person to play.

Mayfield, 34, said the horn, a Swiss replica of a 1746 instrument in a German museum, was stolen from his car at a Greenway Plaza-area hotel shortly after noon on Dec. 11. Mayfield, a Juilliard-trained musician whose skill on the difficult instrument has taken him around the world, earlier had performed at a children’s concert at downtown’s Wortham Center.

Police obtained a hotel security video of the thief, who arrived at the hotel in a white car minutes after Mayfield and a companion left to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant. The tape shows the burglar smashing into Mayfield’s car.

The thief bypassed a smaller horn also left in the vehicle.

No arrests have been made.

“We were joking just the day before when we were taking our instruments into a bar. Who would want them? There are no jobs and they’re really hard to play,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield valued the uninsured instrument at about $6,000.

“After the theft I was in shock,” he said. “Since then, it’s gotten worse. The trumpet was an extension of my soul.”

Honored as a Fulbright Scholar and a Presidential Scholar in the Arts, Mayfield has played the baroque trumpet about six years. The instrument, also known as a natural trumpet or clarino trumpet for its speciality of playing notes in the fourth octave, was commonly featured in baroque compositions from 1650 to 1750, a period Mayfield called “the true golden age of trumpets.”

The instrument’s tone, Mayfield said, is “rich with beautiful dark overtones. It’s ethereal.”

In hindsight, Mayfield sees the folly of leaving the trumpet in his car. But he felt secure, he said, because the car, parked in a busy hotel lot in broad daylight, had been locked.

Mayfield said a friend lent him a baroque trumpet until his horn is found or replaced.

allan.turner@chron.com