Well, it was quite a thing, it really was. Rarely has a perilously positioned brass neck’s pay-off been so great. I could have played tourist for the morning; I very nearly did. I had tickets bought and audio player rented for the Chicago Architectural Walking Tour. It meant an early morning but somehow I’d gotten my accoutrements together and carcass down to the ticket office and left time for breakfast.
To celebrate, I’d rewarded myself with breakfast (muffin tops, alá Seinfeld, from a local coffee chain). En route, I’d seen bodies entering and exiting Symphony Hall. It was early morning; my subconsciousness pondered the meaning of this whilst I feeded upon muffin tops.
Some context is required: although we had played in Chicago Symphony Hall and had several days to spend in the city, we had ourselves taken in no shows. Between arrival, concert, jetlag and general “getting our bearings”, we’d made no provision for entertainment as such except for noticing Chicago Symphony were playing Thursday, i.e. tonight. We, unfortunately, had another gig that clashed heart-breakingly with that of the CSO’s. This unfortunate fact had placed something of a damper upon the trip, to say the least. We were sojourned just five minutes down the road in the Hilton Hotel; it may as well have been a light year away.
Back to the moment: 10am, bodies entering the hall…no show scheduled…rehearsal? Could I be so lucky? Well, I declared in the safety of my own mind, it’s worth a try. Emboldened by the Pittsburgh Symphony’s “open rehearsal” in the NCH last year, I decided it was worth ago…
It was closed. Family and special guests of the orchestra only. Sorry son, not a hope. Come back November 9th. Well, with any luck I’d be back home by then. But, wait! I played here the other night! I’m one of you guys! Kiss me, I’m Irish! Well now, that’s a different story…I entered bearing proudly the moniker of “travelling musician”. Half right, at least.
One very quick text later to my brass buddies ("omg, come down to the hall right now and listen to THIS") and I’m seated just in time for Sibelius’ violin concerto. Christoph von Dohnány is conducting, one Arabella Steinbacher performing the solo. Just like Pittsburgh’s, their rehearsal is essentially the concert: play the piece, play back a few random bars. A bit like Gordon Ramsey’s F Word – “bar 80, violins. bar 114, horns. Sibelius violin concerto…done.”
Following this, my trombone colleague arrives with supernaturally good timing for the highlight of the evening, (morning in our case) Bruckner’s 4 symphony. This is a treat from start to end. A delightful horn solo is rewarded with the orchestra’s foot stomping (tonight’s audience won’t get that!), the most perfect string section imaginable is counterbalanced with a most bombastic brass section putting in their oar for some demanding ff passages. Then, at the end, we got to hear the horn solo again! Magic.
Not much more to say. It was simply surreal: sitting down, savouring what is quite possibly the best orchestra on planet earth perform for me, my friend and just one other person. Now, if I never do anything else again, you can put that on my tombstone!