This past Friday, the Oregon Symphony made its debut in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall (home of the Seattle Symphony, who presented the concert). As Carlos remarked from the podium, it only took us 117 years to get to Seattle. This is not such a stretch when you take the region’s lamentable traffic into consideration!
This trip was originally conceived as a warm up of sorts for our return to Carnegie Hall for the Spring for Music Festival. If the plans had gone off, we’d be in New York City right now, preparing for the concert. Sadly, a lack of funds and fortitude prevented our return. In addition, while hearing the orchestra in Carnegie Hall would have provided another opportunity to hear the home town band in one of the world’s great acoustical spaces, the concert in Benaroya offered something at least in the same universe. Benaroya Hall is very well regarded by visiting orchestra (in addition to its primary tenant, the Seattle Symphony) for its clarity, warmth of sound, and its stellar amenities. One might have wished that more of our core constituants might have made the three hour drive north to hear us in a vastly superior hall to our own (much as Philadelphia Orchestra patrons used to make the trip to hear their orchestra in Carnegie back in their Academy of Music days), though there were a number of donors and local critics who did make the drive (including Brian Horay, the Classical Beaver).
Due to time constraints, we did not have the luxury of a sound check in the hall before the performance, which made for a seat-of-the-pants experience of adjusting on the fly. Carlos was very involved in shading the dynamics of different sections to help the orchestra’s sound conform to how the hall responded. What was it like as a musician on stage? I can only speak for myself and a few colleagues that I’ve spoken to since the performance, but it was a very nice stage on which to play. I felt like part of a larger ensemble in a way that was similar to Carnegie, but seldom occurs at the Schnitz. At the far downstage edge, we in the violas often feel like we’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, without much support from the rest of the strings. It often feels very isolated. But in Benaroya, we felt like part of the string section, and also felt the presence of the winds very keenly, and very positively. The sound was warm and somewhat ‘wet’ (meaning there is a reverberation to the sound, instead of a harsh, dry sound), and the bass response was heightened, meaning that we finally felt the support of our hard working double bass brethren. The ability to play very softly, especially in the Schubert ‘Unfinished’ Symphony was also reminiscent of Carnegie, and was simply a joy to experience. The greatest orchestras have this magical ability to play very softly, yet with presence, and this is aided in large part by a hall that allows this sort of playing to bloom and carry. Definitely not a feature of the Schnitz.
If there was any hitch at all to the experience, it was that a new sound system had been installed in the hall prior to our concert, and the Weill Seven Deadly Sins, which made use of amplification for the vocalists, suffered somewhat due to low levels from time to time.
So, all in all, it was a great experience, if a bit of a whirlwind (most of the orchestra came up via chartered bus, arriving at the hall around 5:30 pm, then left shortly after the concert ended, arriving in Portland after 1:00 am). I must, also, express my heartfelt thanks on behalf of my colleagues for the unbelievably warm and gracious reception (both literally and figuratively) given us by our Seattle Symphony colleagues. They made us feel right at home in their home, and we aim to return the favor ten-fold when they visit our concert home next season! Thank you, so much!
If you’re interested, here is a review of the concert by Seattle critic Philippa Kiraly.