Almost Too Much of a Good Thing: My Mini Concert Tour of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio

Some days, you just get the burning desire to fly 2,700 miles across the country to hear a great orchestra. At least I do, being the unabashed nerd that I am. Last month, as I continued to adjust to life post-PhD and search for a full-time job, I decided to take a short trip to the Northeast/Midwest to visit some cities, see some friends, and, yes, hear some concerts. With an unusually generous helping of something called “free time” at my disposal—a concept still somewhat foreign to this recent graduate—why not?

I don’t normally take selfies, but when I do, it’s in front of buildings of historical significance.

My travels took me from New York City, down to Philadelphia, across to Pittsburgh, and then a bit further west to Ohio. Over the course of twelve days, I attended five orchestra concerts and an opera, each of which displayed some impressive repertoire and truly top-notch music-making. It was also my first time visiting this part of the country during the fall, and it was a bonus treat to experience the gorgeous weather and stunning colors along the way (because, let’s be honest, our excuse for “fall” in Southern California is more often than not a hot, dry, fire-ridden joke).

So, how was my experience? In a word: remarkable. It was an absolute joy to hear some of our nation’s top orchestras on their home turf, several of which I had never before heard live. The only downside? I attended so many excellent performances in such a short time that it became slightly tricky to distinguish them after a few days; they were all fantastic in their own way. But perhaps experiencing almost too much good music is the best kind of side effect of a trip like this (and of being currently unemployed). Overall, this mini “concert tour” was a total blast, and I’d love to do it again someday.

Below is a brief “review” of each concert I attended, along with some additional thoughts and observations. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right into it…

Metropolitan Opera

Program

• Dmitri Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District


• Keri Lynn-Wilson, conductor

• Svetlana Sozdateleva as Katerina Ismailova

• Brandon Jovanovich as Sergei

• John Relyea as Boris Ismailova

• Et al.

The Metropolitan Opera is a complicated institution. Though one can’t deny its rich history, recent years have seen the company dig itself out of several holes of its own making. From a horrendously belated response to accusations of sexual misconduct to its disappointing track record of presenting operas by women and composers of color—not to mention its failure to pay its musicians during the early months of the pandemic—the Met is struggling to stay in touch with the fast-changing society around it. (Not to mention that the aesthetic of the Opera House itself, while beautiful, is super 1960s and hasn’t aged super gracefully, IMO.)

The cast of Lady Macbeth during the curtain call.

All shade aside, it was quite an experience to hear an opera at this storied institution… and a Shostakovich opera at that! His tragedy-satire Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District is talked about more often than it’s programmed. (That infamous 1936 article in Pravda, which denounced the work as “muddle instead of music,” is still perhaps the most common place it comes up.) It’s a shame, too; this opera is ridiculously wacky. It’s got deceit, revelry, murder, sex, political satire… what more could one want?

The Met’s production amped the wackiness up to eleven (see the video below for a taste). Created by the late English director Graham Vick, this version transports the original story to the 1950s, in a sort of America-meets-Soviet Russia fever dream. Here, Katerina is a suburban housewife who shares a picture-perfect “white picket fence” lifestyle—complete with Sedan and working lawn sprinkler—with her dull husband, Zinovy, and slimy father-in-law, Boris. Slowly, though, these trappings of suburbia begin to crumble as Katerina falls in love with the toxic but alluring laborer Sergei, and is ultimately driven to commit heinous acts.

This delirious, fast-paced performance was a total delight from start to finish. Scenes of laugh-out-loud hilarity—the cavalcade of murderous brides in the second Act I interlude—were balanced neatly with moments of searing pathos—Katerina’s final aria in Act IV, for instance. The cast was phenomenal. Svetlana Sozdateleva, Brandon Jovanovich, John Relyea, and Rodell Rosel were particular standouts as Katerina, Sergei, Boris, and the hilariously-lewd peasant, respectively. The orchestra and chorus were also top-notch, and the whole ensemble was corralled marvelously by conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson. (I was also a big fan of the “Met Titles.” It was so much easier glancing down at translations right in front of you than looking above the stage and then back down to the action.)

All in all, it was a total blast to hear this striking opera, since it is unlikely to be performed around here anytime soon, but here’s hoping I’m proven wrong!

New York Philharmonic

Program

• Marcos Balter: Óya, for light, electronics, and orchestra (world premiere)

• John Adams: My Father Knew Charles Ives

• Tania León: Stride

• Ottorino Respighi: Pines of Rome


• Jaap van Zweden, conductor

• Levy Lorenzo, electronics soloist

• Nicholas Houfek, light soloist

New hall, who dis? In early October 2022, the New York Philharmonic unveiled a $550 million renovation to David Geffen Hall, a venue that had been acoustically cursed since opening with the original Lincoln Center in 1962. Various attempts were made over the years to fix its problems but to no avail. Now, with a total reconfiguration of its auditorium, the addition of a sidewalk-level performance studio, and enhanced lobby spaces (including a giant video screen that will live stream concerts for free), the hall is poised to become a game changer for one of the nation’s oldest professional ensembles… and my trip just so happened to coincide with one of the first concerts in the new space! (I say “happened to coincide” as if it were some happy accident, but you know I totally planned this.) Did their investment pay off? Let’s find out…

This large video screen in the new lobby will eventually live stream concerts for free (which is awesome).

Though I had never set foot in the old hall, the new one looks great. It’s open and inviting, and the lobby video screen creates an exciting opportunity for outreach. (Some of the signage outside the auditorium proper is a tad confusing, but they could easily tweak this.) The view from my seat on the side balcony of Tier 2 was excellent. During the renovation, about 600 seats were removed, and the stage was pushed 25 feet forward into the hall. This not only allowed for a small section of seats to be added behind the orchestra (à la Disney Hall) but created a greater feeling of intimacy with the performers onstage (again, like Disney Hall). The rose petal seat upholstery is arguably the only tacky part of the redesign. It’s difficult to say whether it looks worse up close or farther away.

Anyway, how does the hall sound? Fantastic on the whole. Again, not having heard the Philharmonic in its old hall (in fact, it was my first time hearing the ensemble live in concert), I’m probably not the best judge, but they sounded great to my ears. The sound was warm and full-bodied. Colors and individual instruments were remarkably easy to distinguish. Some of the balances were a bit wonky at times, but that is to be expected for any ensemble adjusting to a new space. I moved seats at intermission—from the side of Tier 2 to the center—wanting to see if the balcony overhang would “deaden” the sound but was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t; the orchestra still sounded marvelous. (Alex Ross of The New Yorker had slightly differing opinions about the hall’s sound, but that’s OK!)

The program itself was awesome. A brand-new hall deserves some brand-new music, so the concert fittingly opened with a world premiere by the Brazilian composer Marcos Balter. Titled Óya—after the Yoruba god storms and re-birth—the work featured the Philharmonic playing alongside soloists Levy Lorenzo and Nicholas Houfek, both showcasing the hall’s fancy new sound and lighting package. The piece was interesting. It sounded at times like a Stockhausen meets Xenakis mash-up, which was pretty cool, but overall, it was a tad too long. At 15 minutes, the novelty began to wear thin at about the 7-minute mark, particularly during the abrasive, 5-minute cadenza for electronics.

The newly redesigned David Geffen Hall looks and sounds amazing… minus the tacky-looking rose petal upholstery.

The next work, My Father Knew Charles Ives by John Adams, more than made up for this, bringing the sole focus back to the orchestra. Inspired by the composer’s New England childhood—though Adams is quick to point out that his father did not, in fact, know Charles Ives—this symphony-in-all-but-a-name brims with Ivesian humor and pastiche but also highlights Adams’s distinctive musical language and spin on Americana. Though some parts in the first movement could have used a bit more “bite,” the work sounded terrific, particularly the second movement, which evokes the hazy sound of a dance hall band drifting across Lake Winnipesaukee on a summer evening.

Stride, by Cuban-American composer Tania León, followed after intermission. Commissioned by the Philharmonic as part of their Project 19 initiative, the work premiered in February 2020 (pre-pandemic) and was receiving a second hearing from the orchestra after winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2021. León took the life of activist Susan B. Anthony as starting inspiration for the piece and crafted a spirited work filled with vibrant colors and textures. The music often moves forward in fits and starts—much like the fight for women’s suffrage—but the work ultimately finds its groove and ends with a grin, a joyful dance for congas that slowly fades into the distance. It was a captivating piece, played excellently, and León was present to accept the enthusiastic applause. (Balter and Adams were also in attendance to hear their respective pieces.)

The program was capped by Respighi’s Pines of Rome. This was my first time hearing it live, and I was initially a bit worried about how the orchestra would handle this massive work in their new digs. The ensemble rose to the occasion, though. Climaxes were loud and exciting but didn’t devolve into bombast, even when a dozen auxiliary brass players filed into the auditorium to add some “oomph” to the bone-rattling finale. Softer moments highlighted some wonderful playing as well—principal clarinetist Anthony McGill deserves a special shoutout for the soaring solo in the third movement. Jaap van Zweden skillfully kept the proceedings in check, with particular sensitivity to the new surroundings.

After the concert, staff members handed out cookies to audience members as they exited. Maybe it’s the free food that buttered me up, but if this concert is any indication, the New York Philharmonic has finally found a more-than-suitable artistic home.

Philadelphia Orchestra

Program

• Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Sinfonietta No. 1

• Claude Debussy: La mer

• Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto


• William Eddins, conductor

• Hilary Hahn, violin

Though home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell (and the Rocky Steps), our nation’s former capital also plays host to one of the country’s finest ensembles: the Philadelphia Orchestra. The orchestra has an esteemed history of recording and collaboration—ranging from Sergei Rachmaninoff to Walt Disney—and is still praised for its rich, string-heavy “Philadelphia sound.” As with the New York Philharmonic concert, this was my first time hearing this orchestra live in concert, and I was incredibly excited. My seat from the top-side balcony of Verizon Hall—a beautiful, in-the-round auditorium inside the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts—provided a great view to watch the group from above, particularly the synchronized bowing of the strings.

Hilary Hahn, William Eddins, and a portion of the Philadelphia Orchestra after a fabulous performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

Conducted by William Eddins, the program was a perfect showcase for the orchestra’s multi-faceted strengths—a work for strings alone (Perkinson’s Sinfonietta No. 1), a work for large orchestra (Debussy’s La mer), and a work for a slightly smaller orchestra with soloist (Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto). The First Sinfonietta of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was previously unfamiliar to me, but what a fantastic discovery it was. Cast in three movements, the work inhabits a pungent, mid-twentieth-century sound world, nodding to the stylings of Bartók and neoclassical-era Stravinsky as well as Perkinson’s own Black heritage. It’s a hidden gem of a piece, and the Philadelphia strings pulled it off phenomenally.

Debussy’s La mer was a lovely follow-up to the boisterous Perkinson work. Like Pines of Rome, this was my first time hearing this piece live, and wow, it really hits differently in person. Though the balances were a tad off at times—more likely due to my seat location than to any fault of the performance—it was still a delicious listening experience. Eddins led a finely paced and ebullient reading.

The concert concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, performed by the inimitable Hilary Hahn. Hahn is one of my favorite violinists, and it was a huge treat to finally hear her play in person. (Basically, this entire concert was one of firsts!) This is a well-worn concerto I’ve heard many a time, but this performance topped all others. Hahn’s tone is stunning—pure and controlled—but she can really let the sparks fly when she wants. I was particularly blown away at how she locked in the stratospheric harmonics in the first-movement cadenza. The audience response was electric after the finale. Hahn returned to the stage for multiple bows before granting us an encore—the time-stopping Andante from J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor. It was the perfect cap to an outstanding afternoon with an outstanding orchestra.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Program

• Esa-Pekka Salonen: Helix

• Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto

• Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1


• Juraj Valčuha, conductor

• Augustin Hadelich, violin

Pittsburgh—along with Cincinnati and Cleveland—is one of those places that, when you first hear that they have a major orchestra, you do a mental double take and think, “Wait, they have an orchestra?” Yup, the “City of Bridges” is home to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, an excellent ensemble that can sit comfortably aside the more well-known and prestigious orchestras of the Northeast and Midwest. Like its orchestral cousins, the group boasts an impressive line-up of past music directors, including Fritz Reiner, André Previn, Lorin Maazel, and Mariss Jansons. The orchestra’s home, Heinz Hall—yes, named after the ketchup guy—is a beautiful “old-style” hall with a sweeping balcony that hearkens back to its previous history as a movie palace. Unusually, artists here enter from stage left, as opposed to stage right like in many other halls.

Not only was this concert my first experience hearing the Pittsburgh Symphony live (as with the previous three orchestras), but they also presented one of my all-around favorite programs of the tour—a beefy afternoon of Salonen, Sibelius, and Shostakovich. The program began with the short orchestral showpiece Helix by Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. Salonen is remarkably talented, equally at home on the podium as with writing dazzling, mercurial scores. I’ve been impressed by Salonen’s orchestral writing in the past, and this piece was no exception. It’s basically one big accelerando, which gradually increases in speed and volume until the orchestral “engine” suddenly bursts and collapses in on itself. It’s a thrilling work, and the Pittsburgh ensemble gave a committed reading under Slovakian conductor Juraj Valčuha. (Kudos to the horns especially for valiantly navigating their difficult part!)

Inside Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. Once again, yes, it’s named after the ketchup guy.

Next up was Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, performed by Augustin Hadelich. Hadelich is another of my favorite violinists. I’ve heard him live in concert several times before—including a mind-blowing performance of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto at the 2018 Aspen Music Festival—and to listen to him perform one of my favorite concertos was a total joy. His tone had a warm, big presence even in such a large hall and balanced well with the orchestra. My one quibble is that a handful of notes barely missed their mark, souring the tuning a bit. But, in a work ridden with extraordinarily difficult double stops, these were small, forgivable mishaps in the grand scheme of the performance. The rendition was terrific overall. Hadelich returned to the stage afterward to give the appreciative audience his own arrangement of the tango “Por una Cabeza” (famously used in Scent of a Woman and Schindler’s List).

The concert concluded with Shostakovich’s First Symphony. I often like to say that there are three “first symphonies” in the canon that automatically sound like the composer in question: Mahler 1, Sibelius 1, and Shostakovich 1. It was composed when Shostakovich was only 19 (!!) and sounds astonishingly mature, already full of his characteristic wit, sarcasm, and inner drama. Valčuha and the orchestra’s rendition was impeccable. The pacing was just right, and the performance highlighted some excellent solo moments from members of the orchestra. Shoutouts in particular go to the principal trumpet (for the stratospheric muted solo in the third movement), the timpanist (for this dramatic moment in the fourth movement), and the keyboardist (for superbly pulling off the part in the second movement when the Symphony briefly becomes a piano concerto). In short, this interpretation slapped (as the kids say).

On the walk back to my Airbnb, I admired the city’s mix of natural and architectural beauty and happily stumbled across a memorial to Mister Rogers, one of my beloved childhood heroes. My heart was full despite the 50-ish-degree chill in the air. (Hey, I’m a SoCal boy. It was cold to me!) So, cheers to the Pittsburgh Symphony for proving that great music can be found and heard in the unlikeliest places. Not that there was much of a question in my mind, but it’s always a good reminder.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Program

• Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto

• Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra


• Maurice Cohn, conductor

• Hélène Grimaud, piano

In the performing arts world, life happens. Artists get sick, replacements are found, programs sometimes have to change. Such is the way of the business. A similar situation greeted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert I attended on my trip. Louis Langrée, the orchestra’s music director, was supposed to lead the program, but days before the concert, strikes in France forced him to remain in the country and miss the rehearsals and ensuing performances.

Cincinnati’s Music Hall is stunningly beautiful on both the outside…

Thankfully, the orchestra brought in the young American conductor Maurice Cohn to lead in Langrée’s stead. Both me and Geoff Nelson—my dear friend and fellow music nerd who attended the concert with me—heard Cohn while he was a conducting fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and knew this was an exciting opportunity to see what he could do as a last-minute replacement. Music history abounds with stories of conductors and soloists who were catapulted to stardom after filling in at the eleventh hour (Leonard Bernstein, for instance), and this situation had all the makings for a similar tale to be told in the future.

Cohn did superbly overall. His conducting style is clear and polished but also allows for expression and some nice give-and-take with the orchestra. I noticed a couple little blips at certain points, but both were entirely forgivable given the circumstances, and the orchestra adapted to the last-minute change with aplomb.

…and the inside!

Because the original program consisted of two standard works, it remained unchanged despite the conductor switch. It’s a good thing, too. The first was a truly marvelous rendition of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto, played by the French pianist Hélène Grimaud. Grimaud is not the showiest of performers and, honestly, it’s more than satisfactory. She makes up for this in playing that’s sparklingly clean and delicate but also fiercely powerful when it needs to be. The Concerto presents one melodic delight after another, and Grimaud gave a performance that would surely have made Robert Schumann—and Clara Schumann, the work’s original soloist—give an enthusiastic thumbs up. (No encore, though, sadly.)

Intermission was followed by Richard Strauss’s philosophical tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra. The orchestra sounded fantastic; exquisite blend from the whole ensemble and some standout moments from individual members of the orchestra. It would have been nice to have had a real organ as part of the texture—Cincinnati’s beautiful Music Hall does not have one—but the digital organ used was suitable for its brief, but essential part. Cohn expertly navigated the complex score. I do wish he had reveled in the grandeur of the opening a tad more, but the rest of the performance was very well-paced and executed. (I also wish the program had perhaps included one more piece; the concert seemed a tad too short.)

This was a fabulous concert, given the sudden change in personnel, and perfectly highlighted this first-rate orchestra. Although, it did leave Geoff and me wondering: is it possible to write a program note about Also sprach Zarathustra without mentioning that famous Stanley Kubrick movie? Food for thought…

Cleveland Orchestra

Program

• Jörg Widmann: Viola Concerto

• Richard Strauss: An Alpine Symphony


• Daniel Harding, conductor

• Antoine Tamestit, viola

The New York Times once dubbed the Cleveland Orchestra “one of the finest ensembles in the country (if not the world).” After a single listen, there’s little doubt as to why. The refinement of the group’s sound, the precision of entrances and cutoffs, and the overall balance is more than immaculate; it’s heavenly. I was fortunate enough to hear the group in concert for the first time earlier this year and was absolutely blown out of the water. Their rendering of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, in particular, was one of the best performances by an orchestra I have heard. Ever. Period. So, when the tail end of this trip coincided with a concert by the Cleveland Orchestra—playing Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony of all things—there was no question at all that I would be there.

The exterior of Severance Hall (which does not look like a Cheesecake Factory).

Once again, Geoff was my concert buddy for this performance, and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon in the city—accompanied by perfect, 70-degree weather—before the evening’s concert. The orchestra’s hall, Severance Hall, is another beautiful concert venue of a bygone era. Though certain aspects of the interior design bear an unfortunate resemblance to the inside of a Cheesecake Factory, the actual auditorium is gorgeous and sounds incredible.

The two-part program opened with a delightfully weird treat—the U.S. premiere of Jörg Widmann’s Viola Concerto. Describing this piece is a tricky task. It’s perhaps best understood as a journey, both musically and physically. The soloist begins off to the side of the stage, tapping and plucking his instrument experimentally as the orchestra “awakens” from its silent slumber. Shortly after, he “discovers” the bow before continuing his trek around and through the orchestra. This takes the soloist through various states of emotional being: apprehension, confidence, smugness, and even total frustration, at which point he lets out an exasperated scream. The Concerto ultimately ends with the soloist in his “traditional” spot in front of the orchestra, with haunting music that sounds like it was composed by a warped alter ego of Strauss or Mahler. It’s an intense, funny, weird, and fascinating half-hour of music. I absolutely loved it. Antoine Tamestit—for whom the Concerto was written—played the challenging and theatrical solo part with total resolve and commitment. British conductor Daniel Harding and the orchestra proved ideal partners in their accompanying roles, particularly when called upon to draw from a “toolbox” of extended techniques. (The pianist, for instance, is asked at one point to place a scotch glass on the strings; meanwhile, the brass blow air through their instruments and tap on their mouthpieces at various points.) The audience’s response afterward was surprisingly enthusiastic for a “modern” piece, but sadly, no encore was offered.

The Cleveland Orchestra after their barn-burning performance of Strauss’s Alpine Symphony.

The concert concluded with Richard Strauss’s massive Alpine Symphony. I heard an excellent concert performance of this piece by another orchestra several years ago, but this completely left that one in the dust. The sheer sonic splendor of the Clevelanders’ rendition was unbelievable, and I lost count of how many times I got the “musical chills.” There was too much incredible playing to list her specifically, but the string and horn sections deserve special mention, particularly principal hornist Nathaniel Silberschlag (who is only 23 years old!!). Harding led a finely-paced account that brimmed with color and vivid imagery. (I particularly liked how the offstage brass ensemble—meant to depict a distant hunting party—sounded a bit more rustic and less refined than some accounts.) There were a few little hiccups in the ensemble here and there, but this provided the occasional, relieving reminder that, yes, this orchestra is indeed made up of human players. On the whole, it was an earth-shattering performance and a more than perfect finale to my twelve-day “tour de orchestras.”

Miscellaneous Thoughts

  • A few numbers:
    • Works heard: 15
    • Composers heard: 13 (2 each by Shostakovich and Strauss)
    • Works written before 1900: 3 (Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Strauss Also sprach Zarathustra)
    • Works by living composers: 5
    • Concertos: 4
  • I have now heard 4 of the “Big 5” orchestras in concert (even though this designation is now pretty much obsolete). I still have yet to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra live, but am hoping that will change next year.
  • It was fun to see a variety of different program book/program note styles during my trip. I love how Philadelphia includes a musical glossary and brief essay that frames the music with what was going on in history at the time. Cleveland’s books are lovely to look at, with some pictures and sidebars that help put the music in perspective. (I like how this particular one included an image from the Widmann score, which lays out the violist’s journey through the orchestra.)
  • My sole souvenir from the trip was this excellent CD of the Pittsburgh Symphony playing suites from Strauss’s Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier. I’ve said it many times, and will continue to say it: I am a nerd.
  • An odd moment happened before the start of the New York Phil concert. As board member Peter May welcomed the audience to the new hall, a man on the top tier shouted, “There are no toilets on Tier 3!” Slightly mishearing him but also wanting to acknowledge the interruption, May replied, “Tier 3’s got a great view!” and continued with his speech. A minute or so later, it sounded like a confrontation was happening above. The same man yelled something along the lines of, “Get the f*** away from me!” to an unknown person—who was probably trying to intervene—before screaming once again, “THERE ARE NO TOILETS ON TIER 3!!” The message was heard loud and clear this time. Without missing a beat, May responded, “You know, we actually doubled the amount of toilets in the hall!” The audience responded with laughter and cheers. The verbal assailant was not heard from again (this either shut him up or he was removed from the hall.) Ah, New Yorkers.
  • Favorite meal? Jen’s Crespelle at Café Lift in Philly. Least favorite meal? A microwavable mac & cheese I bought on the Amtrak ride from Philly to Pittsburgh. I paid $8 for it. It was awful.
  • A few more numbers:
    • States visited: 4 (briefly passed through West Virginia on the way from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio)
    • Cities visited: 7
    • Modes of transportation: 5 (plane, train, subway, Uber, car/rental car)
    • Miles walked the day I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art: ~8.73
    • Times I got on the wrong subway in New York City: 5 (I am slightly embarrassed by this number, but also, c’mon New York. Your system is endlessly confusing. I was able to figure out the London Tube almost immediately over the summer. It really shouldn’t be that difficult.)
  • Shoutout to the sweet docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for chatting with me about the Museum’s music collection and sharing some information about their double virginal and 17th-century koto.
  • The Cleveland Orchestra recently acquired the autograph manuscript of Mahler’s Second Symphony and had a neat interactive display for it in the lobby of Severance Hall, which was a cool little surprise.
  • Fun side trip I took in Philly: seeing the largest pipe organ in the world, located in a Macy’s of all places. Go figure.
  • Another cool feature of the new David Geffen Hall: several touch-screen monitors placed outside the auditorium that provide information on members of the orchestra, past music directors, and works the orchestra has commissioned/premiered.
  • I am a big fan of pre-concert announcements that feature the voices of musicians from the orchestra. It feels more personal than a random disembodied voice, and they can even have some fun with it. Philadelphia’s announcement, for instance, features a recording of concertmaster David Kim. After giving the typical concert etiquette rundown—silence cell phones, no photography/video recording, etc.—the recorded Kim says, “Ready for my big entrance?” at which point the real Kim popped his head out from the stage door and strolled onstage to join his colleagues, accompanied by chuckles and applause from the audience. A bit cheesy? Sure. Delightful? Absolutely.
Dear Northeast/Midwest fall—why are you so beautiful? Sincerely, a native Southern Californian.

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