What Fresh Hell Is This?

October 24, 2016

A Room Full Of Brass (A Concert And A Strike)

Sunday night, the lovely wife and I were lucky enough to attend a brass concert at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

As a result of their ongoing strike, the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony have instituted an ongoing series of concerts as part of a plan to reach out to a number of communities in the city.  Sunday night, the PSO's brass section was joined by friends from the Boston, National and Philadelphia orchestras.

BIG.  LOUD.  BRASS.

Here's the view from the band:


Not the world's biggest selfie (that would be found here) but the church was absolutely filled.  There were people watching from the choir loft.

The lovely wife and I are in that picture, by the way.  We're on the left about a quarter of the way up.  Can you see us?  No?  It's probably because there were so many people there.

That last sentence was a not-so-subtle message to the PSO management, by the way.  In case they didn't catch it, here's more of it for them: The yuge audience gave the brass players a standing ovation before the music even started.  That's how much support the musicians have. Thinking about the pre-performance standing O, I have to ask the symphony management  a question: has any music-loving community given you a standing ovation for your decisions to cut the musicians' pay and pensions and so on?  No?  Well, maybe that's something for you to think about.

Back to the concert.  It was amazing.  In the second half (just before the three serious kick-ass Gabrielli two-choir pieces) I realized just how rare it is for anyone on the planet to be in the same room with so many first-rate brass players.

And I say that because usually at a symphony concert there might be, depending on the piece, about a dozen or so brass players (3-4 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, and one tuba) on stage.  The number depends, of course, on the piece.  Mozart will have less, Mahler will have more.  And so on.

Last night, however, on the big pieces there was easily twice that number.  With or without a strike, how often does that happen?

After each piece, from the Copland fanfare (you know the one) that opened it to the Strauss fanfare that closed it, I found myself saying, "Holy crap, that was good."  Imagine this for a second: two dozen brass players, sitting at the narrow end of a 200 foot long long, 70 foot high, rock hard room.  Then they each take a deep brass-player breath begin to play, sometimes very very loudly.  The miracle of the evening is that none of the details of any of the pieces were lost to the room.  None of it sounded blatty or out of tune.  The soft parts were completely audible and the loud parts (and there were many) blended beautifully.  Amazing thing to hear.

These men and women knew what they were doing.  They knew how to play (and play well) in that room.  As I said, all issues of the strike aside, it was an amazing musical event on its own.

But there is a strike going on.  For their part the musicians are looking to protect the reputation of the orchestra as a world-class ensemble as opposed to what they fear it would end up being were they to accept management's hiring freeze and pay cut offer - a good regional orchestra.

From a great world-class orchestra to a good regional orchestra.  That's what's at stake.  And if management succeeds in modulating the PSO down surely other managements of other orchestras will try the same.

The classical musical world is watching.

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