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field trip

Last Friday, a group of us from the OSO went up to Seattle to hear a matinee performance of the Seattle Symphony.  It was a group of management, staff, and musicians who made the trek.  It was quite the interesting experience.  Primarily, I’d like to provide my basic impressions of the experience as someone who’s only been to Benaroya Hall once before (to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra on tour last year).


I thought we’d be able to park under the hall, but it turned out that you had to have prepaid your parking through the ticket office in order to park there.  Not a huge problem since there were many other garages nearby.  We circled the block and parked across Union street from the hall.  For the time we were there it cost $23 – that was a bit of a problem (though we did stay for dinner afterward in order to wait out rush hour).

The Hall:

Benaroya Hall has one of the best lobbies of any hall in the country.  It offers a spectacular view from the balconies out to the downtown landscape, with glimpses of Puget Sound between the buildings.  Amazing!

View from inside | Originally uploaded by Elena777
click photo to enlarge

We were seated in the Third Tier, first row, in the back of the hall.  Fine seats, but the railing is such that it would be exceedingly easy to go over it and plummet the three or four story drop to the seats on the main floor.  I wish I’d taken a photo of the situation, but the aisle that leads to the front row basically runs right into the corner of the railing.  Many people had vertigo getting to their seats, and one couple had to find different seats due to the drop off.

The Concert:

The SSO was in fine form.  The viola section sounded great in their big solo in the Hindemith Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op. 50, and the brass were suitably heroic, though often extremely loud.  Balances were somewhat of a problem in that regard, though I did see Schwarz continue to give them “the hand” to keep it down through the course of the concert.

SSO Principal cellist Joshua Roman played Bloch’s Schelomo to close out the first half.  Roman has been an almost instant phenom in Seattle since his hiring two years ago, and I have to admit that it’s fact that I’ve thought about more than a little bit in the midst of the endless media fascination with him.  I think that when you’re very talented, young, a bit counter-culture, have a passing resemblance to Napoleon Dynamite, and are replacing a previous principal with a very long tenure, excitement is easier to create.  He tapped into the zeitgeist of what the hipper-than-thou crowd was interested in in the Seattle music scene, capitalized on it, and became a sensation.  I don’t mean for this to sound cynical – because I believe that he’s very sincere about his beliefs and aims to try to change the way classical artists do business – but, it’s easy to read situations like this cynically, because the classical music world is full of people who work the trends to become the ‘it’ musician of the moment with clever marketing and hype. Clearly, others have been assessing his legacy in Seattle – check out Zach Carstensen’s essay at The Gathering Note for more on Roman and the concert.

Roman’s a very good cellist, there’s no doubt about that, with an effortless manner and technical facility.  However, his sound just did not project when anything other than the strings were playing, and his treatment of this very dramatic, liturgically-inspired work left me cold.  Distance might have been a factor, but I found myself wanting more.

The concluding work was Franck’s D minor Symphony, which I must say I enjoyed much more as a listener than as a performer.  In particular, I liked that the 2nd movement was taken at a bit brisker pace than the plodding, glacial, pace at which one often hears it performed.  Overall, the performance was quite good, but I was again, as in the Hindmith, concerned that the whole did not quite equal the sum of the parts.  In particular, the brass section seemed to be content to blow the strings off the stage rather than blend in to the overall sound, and there were some ensemble issues as well.

Overall, it was quite a pleasant experience.  The orchestra sounded quite good, the hall is spectacular, and we got to see Joshua Roman make is SSO concerto debut.  Add in a lovely day of fine weather and some after-concert shopping, and it was an enjoyable trip to Seattle.

By Charles Noble

I'm the Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.

2 replies on “field trip”

You say that the trip included “a group of management, staff, and musicians who made the trek.” Was there a specific reason for making the trip/trek or was it merely a busman’s holiday?

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