Just got back to the hotel after a two-hour rehearsal on the great Carnegie stage. There’s a lot to talk about, lots of impressions, but first, I’ll share with you my experience of being reunited with my viola for the first time since last Sunday afternoon, as it was on the giant semi-truck wending its way across the country until just after midnight last night.
As the song goes: “Re-united, and it feels so goood!”
Anyway, on to the Carnegie rehearsal experience. To say, that from my vantage point, that it was anything less than a total revelation would be an out-and-out lie. It was an earth-shaking experience, literally, for me. I wasn’t really even expecting it to be like that, but it exceeded my expectations nonetheless. Why is this?
Well, first of all, the hall that we make our home in shouldn’t really even be described as anything more than adequate. You can pretty much hear the orchestra in the Schnitz, but that’s about it. On stage, it’s much the same. You get a vague idea of what your neighbors, near and far, are doing, but often there are many blanks to be filled in.
At Carnegie, it is like having an oppressive veil lifted – not a light, gossamer veil, but a heavy, canvas version of a veil. Suddenly, what you thought was a pianissimo is revealed to actually be a mezzo-piano. There is a warm, open, vibrant bass sound from the bass section – who must have been just beside themselves with joy! As one of my colleagues put it during the rehearsal break “I’m so excited, it sounds so freaking good! It’s like everything has a golden glow around it.” Where before you knew that you had made an entrance together with your colleagues, now you realize that you were together, but used a different kind of attack than they did. I now understand why great orchestras with great halls can play so spellbindingly quietly – their halls demand it. Carnegie demands a flexible and graduated sound from all the instrumental groups, but especially the strings. And rising to that challenge (and meeting it, as we did this afternoon) means that we have learned some very valuable lessons already in this journey.
In just about all of the pieces that we played today, I heard instrumental combinations that I’d never even been aware of before, or maybe had just been aware of in a theoretical way from having studied a recording. People in our business take Carnegie Hall for granted, I think. It’s like the King James version of the Bible – it’s been around for so long, but its language still has an ineffable beauty and grace that rewards those who return to it after a long absence. So it is with Carnegie. Youth orchestras play there on their own dime every year, and so do many orchestras. Some of the lucky major orchestras are booked by Carnegie itself for their orchestral series, and they return year after year. I remember that the Philadelphia Orchestra, when they still played at the old Academy of Music, used to love playing in Carnegie, because, they said, it was the only place within driving distance of Philly where you could hear what the orchestra really sounded like. But for us, the Oregon Symphony, it’s such an honor to play here. It’s our first time (and not our last – 2013!), and we were invited by a new festival on the basis of our unique programming.
I’m still all aglow about the rehearsal. There are so many of my colleagues that are just playing at a world-class level, and to hear them in this acoustical splendor is such a treat and a revelation at the same time. We’re the “little orchestra that could” and we have come to one of the musical capitals of the world to show our stuff, and look out Big Apple, we’ve got a monster bite all picked out!