I was lucky enough today to attend an open rehearsal with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. A friend had somehow obtained tickets; he rang the other night and it's rarely when you get a phone call which you know is going to mess up completely your weekend plans that you immediately say "yes, yes, where, when, can I have 10 tickets?!?!?".
I arrived in plenty of time (strange for a Sunday morning) pepped up on espresso and just in time to accompany some of the musicians themselves into the hall for the morning rehearsal.
First on the programme was Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" which has been one of my favourite pieces since forever. Wayne Marshall played it with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra earlier in the year and, while very impressive, it hadn't made any lasting impression. Overall, that concert had been a disappointment - but that's a story for another blog entry.
Today, Barry Douglas was at the piano. And Pittsburgh Symphony were accompanying him. Needless to say, this performance (although just a rehearsal!) was in a totally different class - a much more measured reading by the soloist; Marshall had rushed everything, Douglas took the slow parts slowly and the fast quickly. To me, this evokes more effectively the images of New York that I think Gershwin had in mind...both the giddy excitment and naked ambition alongside the great public spaces and abundance of culture. A city that has everything, reflected in the music.
The rehearsal process itself is different in some ways from what I'm used to and yet precisely the same. A run-through of each piece is followed by closer examination of some key points; not so different from us, but when the conductor states his requirements the players actually absorb what he says and give it to him immediately! They play that part again - once, and it always sounded better, somehow - and the piece is rehearsed. So similar and yet so different.
Following the Gershwin we had Ives' Second Concerto. I was unfamiliar with this piece but thoroughly enjoyed every moment. The playing (at least compared with what I'm used to, we don't get Pittsburgh very often in Dublin) was subtle and perfectly balanced - for example, when the woodwind needs to peak through everybody else backs off. Again, so obvious, but so hard to get right.
In this piece the brass began to shine - I thought this ranked along with the Boston Symphony's brass section, which made a huge impression on me last year. Last on the programme was a mixture of Shostakovich and Strauss. Very entertaining and what sticks in my mind was a wonderful trombone solo. Like in one of our concerts, the principal trombone stands up, points out the bell and starts blasting away. However, as if to confirm my suspicions of the brass section (being world-class) the sound was warm, the music wonderfully played and seemingly effortlessly towered above the entire orchestra. Just like a trombone should.
What a great morning!