Ed Stephan: LIVE from Berlin!

Culturally, orchestras are in the midst of asking ourselves some of the most important questions in the history of our industry. What are our roles in our respective communities? Is recording important? Do we need to appeal to a broader base of audience? Is international touring, expensive as it is, a worthy endeavor? These are all very important questions that have us scrambling for answers. But in so far as touring is concerned, occasions like the one we enjoyed this evening in Berlin tell us just how important presenting our orchestra on the world’s biggest stages actually is.

This tour, my fourth international tour with the PSO, marks my second anniversary of joining the orchestra. The greatest thrill of being a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony (and, incidentally, a native of the Pittsburgh area) is having the opportunity to take Pittsburgh to the world. We all feel this way. The passion, energy and excitement with which this orchestra plays is in no subtle way a reflection of the spirit of the city of Pittsburgh overall. The existence of this venerable ensemble is itself a testament to the value that people from our great city place on the quality of things. Despite the orchestra’s storied history and tradition of the best musicians, conductors, soloists, recordings,and tours, we still encounter people – educated people – who seem surprised at the sheer polish and power of this group. I grew up hearing it, and it frequently overwhelms me still! Tonight I met a gentleman following our concert who came all the way from Vilnius, Lithuania, to hear us because he was so moved by a concert we played there two years ago.

A few days ago in Grafenegg, I spoke with a couple who drove five hours to hear us perform because of a concert they heard last fall when we were in Vienna. Back in Pittsburgh even, I’ve run into people who flew all the way to Pittsburgh from overseas to hear us perform in our home at Heinz Hall because they heard us somewhere on tour in Europe! How many more stories like this must there be? These are just a few of my own personal accounts. The impression that the Pittsburgh Symphony leaves on people, whether a first impression or an ongoing one, seems potent and long lasting. THIS is what makes our time spent on tour so very valuable – the pride with which we hope to instill in our audience at home.

For anyone who was able to see our live webcast from Berlin this evening, what was seen and heard was classic Pittsburgh Symphony. We’re here in Berlin for less than 24 hours. We’re tired still from traveling and rehearsing and performing in Austria. We have a mere 30 minutes of a sound check to get reacquainted with this wonderful hall. And yet, with no apprehension, Maestro Honeck and every member of the orchestra charge full steam ahead into presenting a typically super-charged PSO performance. Biggest props to our concertmaster, Noah, for an incredible job on Ein Heldenleben. He was the talk of the evening afterward. It’s an enormous thrill to be a part of such a committed group of people. I wish I had the capacity for describing it more effectively in words. Alas, I am a stupid drummer.

Tonight’s webcast was our second from the Berlin Philharmonie. Some may remember our performance of the Mahler Fifth Symphony from here two years ago. If you don’t, it’s a worthy look on YouTube. It’s also worth mentioning that the Pittsburgh Symphony is the only American orchestra that has had the privilege of broadcasting from the Philharmonie – from this, one of the world’s biggest stages. In a city that understandably wears its immense pride in its sports teams on its sleeves (and just about any other part of the body!), how many are aware that in the major league arena of the world’s symphony orchestras, Pittsburgh remains atop the heap? We’re aiming for better and better ways to reach out to our hometown and cultivate an even greater sense of pride in what we continue to build together. We wish we could bring our fans along on these trips, but in the absence of having you here with us, we reach out to you from afar with the message that Pittsburgh can be proud…and we’re so very proud to be from Pittsburgh.

From here, onto Romania, France, Switzerland, back to Germany and then home to Pittsburgh with an exciting season in store for you! Please join us. And please give a look for us on Facebook (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Musicians), where you can see photos and get more tour reports. Much to look forward to!

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