With pizza consumed and concerts viewed the night before, the day arrived where the orchestra ventured into territory not occupied in over five decades, namely Orchestra Hall, Chicago. To me, it is beyond strange that a fine orchestra so close in proximity to another has not been a guest after many decades of visiting regularly. Well, no matter. We came, we ate, we slept, we awoke hungry to play.
And play, we did.
The plan of having two concerts in preparation in university towns was a fine one. Not to diminish those venues, mind you. They were good places to play and the audiences and critical reception marvelous. However, it was a crescendo that had to start somewhere and peak in and at the right time.
And peak we did.
We stayed at a beautiful old place that had been renovated sometime ago called the Silversmith Hotel. Everything about it was just right. That nice combination of modern convenience without frilly nonsense like microwaves and refrigerators. Hey, you want to eat good food? Eat it fresh at a nearby restaurant or downstairs. Don’t even think about nuking a perfectly good piece of Pizano’s pizza.
The night before, people had the choice of going to hear Mahler’s 5th performed by the CSO or Turandot at the Lyric Opera or maybe even one of a dozen great shows or hanging out at a blues club. I opted to spend a quiet evening at the hotel swapping stories and ideas about the music business with colleagues. I had had a full day, anyway.
Orchestra Hall is a labyrinth of the musical maze variety. There are myriad places to get lost in that venue. The locker rooms are vast with a tremendous amount of space allotted each musician. It seems everyone who works there has their own space. It’s sobering to see the many photos of historical musical figures in that lower level that is the heartbeat of Orchestra Hall.
When you go up to the stage level, the changes that were part of the 1997 renovation are apparent, from the mothership that is now suspended above the stage to the hydraulic system of lifts that give the stage crew the ability to change the configuration of risers as they receive requests. The house itself reminds this New Yorker of Carnegie Hall, with its classic combination of burgundy seats and gold-trimmed egg-shell plaster. It is a beautiful sight from the seats of the musicians.
From a purely personal perspective, I sat there in a sort of reverence, thinking about the legendary principal trumpeter of the Orchestra’s past, Adolph “Bud” Herseth. He was an idol of mine from my college days and then way into my adulthood. He was everyone’s idol, let’s face it. A Minnesota boy, too. He hailed from Bertha, MN. Anyway, it’s natural to be a little starstruck when you get the chance to sit on that stage even years after Bud’s death. We all do a quiet prayer for his help if his spirit happens to be visiting that day. I’m just being truthful.
One soundcheck later the lights dim as they have for a million concerts before and the concertmaster walks out. Jimmy Stewart once said in one of his movies that the three greatest sounds in the world were anchor chains, boat whistles, and plane motors. Fine, I get it and actually agree but you can’t have that list without also including the sound of an orchestra tuning. The anticipation is one that is shared by audience and musicians alike. The audience doesn’t know what to expect.
We expect energy. Let me explain the energy that drives a great performance. It’s a flow that goes from section to section. Sometimes it flows gently, and sometimes it’s white hot. Energy ran a gamut at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall when a bunch of Frozen Northeners showed up an brought some game with them. It was more than a good show on tour. It was damned fun.
I don’t know if I’ll ever play Orchestra Hall again… but that’s one afternoon I’m going to carry with me for a good long time.