I can feel the grip all around me on stage at Symphony Hall of intense focus. Everyone around me is engaged with all their talent and it is at least inspiring if not at times intimidating. With the arrival of a new music director, this week the Boston Symphony Orchestra Inc. finally is a newly woken giant - fierce and powerful. Indeed as an orchestra member close to the pulse of the organization, I am amazed to see the full force of all the resources we have to do the things we have done in the last week.
As you may know, I do most of my practicing at Symphony Hall so I get to see all the people skipping sleep to get everything done. After we finished the Beethoven 5 concert last week, the crew quickly went to work and removed all of the main level audience seating through a tiny hole in the floor to replace with Boston Pops style seating appropriate for the Gala concert on Tuesday, September 23. The Gala concert needed several rehearsals and a lot of music prepared and performed. We needed rehearsal time, and the crew needed to do their setup so there were several nights that I left my practice session at Symphony Hall around midnight with the crew still moving tables and chairs when I left, and then still working when I arrived the next morning. People were definitely short on time and sleep.
The highlight of the Gala concert for me was the new John Williams composition written for the event, "A Toast!" which used the full BSO brass section plus a few extras. The trombone voicing called for an extra bass trombone which allowed us to utilize a former Tanglewood Fellow, David Hagee, who just one week prior, won a permanent local job as Bass Trombone of the Boston Ballet. Per usual John Williams, the piece was rhythmically and harmonically exciting and stylistically perfect to kick off the Gala event that functioned as a welcome celebration to our new music director.
By the time we arrived to begin the rehearsal for the heavy Saturday concert of the week on Wednesday morning, the job of moving patron seating was mostly finished. The orchestra that was the Boston Pops with Keith Lockhart the night before was in a matter of 12 hours, the Boston Symphony with their new music director, Andris Nelsons.
Introductions were made by the Executive Director, President of the Board, and the Board Chair, and then finally the new Maestro addressed all those in attendance with his thick low Latvian voice and a big smile. He said, "My friends, I am so happy to be here, it is truly a dream. There is more, but as they say, talking is silver, but NOT talking is gold." We all had a good chortle and then began our a.m. rehearsal with the Pines of Rome.
Maestro Nelsons never stops with a sort of boyish glee on the podium. As a member of the orchestra it is at least infectious and exciting to look up and see such a smile that never quits. His big low voice is booming during rehearsals as he sings melodies back to us as he would like the phrases to be shaped, resonant and low but sometimes ascending well into the upper tessitura.
For the trombone chorales in both Tannhäuser and Pines, he requested style for every note, a weighty attack and a sustained body of sound to achieve a nobly beautiful "maestoso cantabile" throughout. We were able to use Nathan Zgonc from the currently and quite sadly locked out Atlanta Symphony as an additional trombone for Tannhäuser and for the off stage euphonium in Pines.
The noble choral tone quality of all 4 trombones in the Wagner is something I've dreamed of my whole life and it was a true honor to have Nathan in our section this week as an addition to Jim Markey, Steve Lange, and myself. The character of phrase color was truly electric to feel such body of sound and attention to color that can only happen with everyone united toward the same goals of color, pitch, rhythm, and style.