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Phillip Kolker began his professional playing career at the age of 14 as second bassoon in the Albany Symphony, a job he held until he graduated from high school. In the fall of 2010, he retired as principal bassoon of the Baltimore Symphony after 38 years. In between those first and last jobs, he served as principal in the Milwaukee Symphony, associate principal in the Minnesota Orchestra, and principal in both the Sante Fe (NM) and St. Paul Opera orchestras.

Kolker has appeared as soloist with the Baltimore Symphony, as well as with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and, internationally, with orchestras in Spain and Taiwan. Conductors he has worked with include Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Sergiu Commissiona, David Zinman, Yuri Temirkanov, Marin Alsop, Leon Fleisher, Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokowski, Pierre Monteux, Erich Leinsdorf, Antal Dorati, Howard Hansen, Frederick Fennell, Alexander Schneider, and Jean Martinon. He has performed chamber music throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, appearing with such artists as flutists Robert Willoughby and Marina Piccinini, violinist Hilary Hahn, cellist Anner Bylsma, oboist John Mack, English horn player Thomas Stacy, pianist Malcolm Frager, and clarinetists Anthony Gigliotti, Franklin Cohen, and Larry Coombs.

Kolker is a member of the artist faculty of the Peabody Conservatory, where he also served as chair of the Department of Orchestral Instruments for over 30 years. Summer 2017 marks the seventh year when he hosts the Peabody Bassoon Week (July 22 – July 29, 2018) an intense camp for college and high school-aged bassoon players, as well as for gifted amateurs. Kolker has been a visiting professor at the Eastman School of Music, and has presented master classes at the Curtis Institute, Eastman, the National Orchestral Institute, the Glickman-Popkin Bassoon Camp, where he has also been guest faculty, the Interlochen National Music Camp, and in both Korea and Taiwan. He has been a featured recitalist at several International Double Reed Society (IDRS) conventions and has served on the Executive Committee of the IDRS. For many years Kolker was a fixture at Music from Gretna, where he still appears periodically. He also continues to freelance regularly throughout the mid-Atlantic region with such groups as the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and the Baltimore Concert Artists. Orchestral recordings with the Baltimore Symphony include the Vanguard, Telarc, London, Sony, Argo, and Naxos labels.