The Philadelphia Orchestra
The highlight of the trip (so far…) has been the Philadelphia Orchestra, which plays in Kimmel Hall, a new and gorgeous gathering space with several theaters, the largest of which is Verizon Hall, shaped like the inside of a violin, and made all of wood as a violin is.
We got two hits of fabulous music today, because the smart folks at the orchestra have opened the final rehearsal to the public at noon. So we arrived at noon along with all the musicians in their jeans and T-shirts, and heard a precise and detailed rehearsal of the Shastakovich Symphony #5. The orchestra is recording it, so the conductor, Christoph Eschenbach, was paying minute attention to each measure (“no crescendo, no crescendo!” or “I want these notes on the violas to be longer”).
We also got to see, up close and personal, the dancing style of the violin soloist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, my new crush. I’m not that big a fan of the violin, but watching (and hearing) her play the Bach violin concerto #2 was sheer joy, especially as she was wearing corduroy jeans and a floppy green sweater, and her hair was still wet from the shower.
Tonight it was a different story. At the noon rehearsal we sat as close as possible to the front, so that we could see facial expressions and hear every word of the conductor. For the “real” concert, we were sitting in the second balcony, with a fine view of the whole stage—the big picture as compared to up close and personal earlier in the day.
Nadja (I love her so much, surely I can call her by her first name?) was wearing black pants (I knew she would wear pants) and a raspberry-colored cardigan sweater over her black top, and the hair was somehow under control. But she still danced. Man, did she dance! I will never hear the Bach violin concerto the same way again, now that I’ve heard it with her embellishments and her full-body style.
The Shostakovich blew my socks off! It was the biggest orchestra I’ve ever seen: 15 violins, 20 violas, 10 cellos, 8 basses, five percussionists (timpani, cymbals, all sorts of drums, triangles, etc.), four trombones, four trumpets, two flutes, an array of reeds and woodwinds I couldn’t see very well, two harps (yes, TWO!), a piano, a carillon—probably about a hundred musicians. And you know you’re listening to a top symphony orchestra when the conductor can get them to play so softly that you could hear a pin drop, an intake of breath, a sigh at the end of a passage. Getting 100 musicians to play loud is a snap; getting them to play pianissimo is an art.
When Eschenbach came out and mounted the podium, I realized that he was conducting without a score! During the performance, when I wasn’t distracted by the person crinkling paper, whom I wished to garrote, I was thinking about what a piece of teamwork I was watching. Without a score, the conductor had to rely on the musicians to do what they were supposed to do—come in on time and play the right notes. No way could he give everyone their entrances. He was paying attention to the nuances – the dynamics, the drama (of which there was plenty!), the feeling tone. From the rehearsal, watching the interplay between musicians and conductor, I sensed that they love working with him and they would do anything he wished. He seemed to be a gentleman and a gentle man, not the prima dona that one expects in a major symphony orchestra conductor.
When it was over, the audience was on their feet in an instant. I’ve never heard so many calls of “Bravo! Bravo, Maestro!” as I heard tonight, my voice among them. This concert hall has seating above and behind the orchestra, so that they see the musicians and the conductor face to face. One of the ushers this morning told us that those seats are reserved for “friends of the maestro” (translation: really big donors). It would have been even more of a thrill to sit in those seats and see his face, but watching the body language of all the musicians was thrill enough for me.
I must remember how important it is to feed my soul with experiences like this: live music, art, beauty in all her seductive ways. There is so much slogging in front of the computer screen; I have to remember to get up and get out now and then, to keep the joy in my heart.