Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

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lennygoran
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Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jan 12, 2019 10:11 am

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Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better


By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

Jan. 11, 2019

The pianist Gerald Moore, one of the great accompanists of the 20th century, called his memoir “Am I Too Loud?”

It’s a question members of the New York Philharmonic should ask themselves on a regular basis. Gentlemen of the brass section: I’m talking to you. Conductors might want to pull up a chair, too.

The Philharmonic’s sound has taken on a hard edge, disrupting some of music’s most glorious moments. Tutti eruptions that felt crude rather than grand blighted the orchestra’s two most recent programs at David Geffen Hall. On Jan. 3, Paavo Jarvi led Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, a Sibelius tone poem and Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from “Daphnis et Chloé.” This weekend’s program, which opened on Thursday under the direction of Jakub Hrusa, included Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”

In both programs there was much to like, even to be thrilled by. The strings can be a marvel of cohesion and warmth. Individual solos — of the flutist Robert Langevin in the Ravel, or the concertmaster Frank Huang in “Scheherazade” — are exquisitely nuanced. But dynamic peaks tend to ring out harshly aggressive, with a sound that’s big without being full. Put delicately, fortissimos are not this orchestra’s forte.


In the Dvorak concerto, the cellist Gautier Capuçon battled valiantly to assert himself against an ensemble that seemed intent on belittling him. His tone sounded tight and strained at first, but over the course of the first movement began to glow; his playing became eloquently assured.

This is heroic music that builds pathos and excitement from the contrast of solo cello and large orchestra playing, yes, fortissimo. But while that Italian term translates as “loudest,” brawn should be matched by character. Dvorak marks these moments “grandioso.” They should be an exhilarating amplification of the cello-protagonist. Here, the ensemble obliterated him.

In the hard-driving “Danse Générale” that concludes Ravel’s suite, there were more sledgehammer moments in which volume swallowed up color and complexity. (A shame, since the light-dappled opening “Daybreak” movement held glimpses of the Philharmonic’s playing at its most beguiling.) And in the start of the Rimsky-Korsakov on Thursday — this movement marked “maestoso,” or majestically — the huge brass statements burst out with saber-rattling strength but little majesty.

The most satisfying part of that evening was the Prokofiev concerto with the ebullient pianist Simon Trpceski, who gave a performance that encompassed cartoonish humor and hushed lyricism. Mr. Hrusa is a charismatic conductor with a particular knack, evident in “Scheherazade,” for minutely shaping a string melody so that an entire section appears to play with the same effortless freedom as a soloist. Mr. Hrusa also managed to husband the dynamic forces in the Rimsky-Korsakov so that the most voluminous louds came near the end. But there, once again, the sound lacked the necessary roundness and texture to support the decibel burn.

As the orchestra adapts to its new music director, Jaap van Zweden, who returns to the podium next week, its sound will surely evolve. The ability of a group of musicians to produce earth-shattering loudness with purely acoustic means is one of the joys of classical music, and a selling point in an age in which volume is cheap and controlled by a dial. It’s worth getting these fortissimos right.


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/11/arts ... hrusa.html

maestrob
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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by maestrob » Sat Jan 12, 2019 11:08 am

The NY Philharmonic has had a problem with loudness since the days of Zubin Mehta, mainly because of the acoustics on stage: it's hard for the musicians to hear each other, even with the modifications put in by Kurt Masur. The way the hall is set up, the sound travels out to the audience directly, and doesn't soften much. If I were writing the article, I would caution guest conductors of this fact and then let them figure out how to round out the tone of the fff pssages.

Frankly, I think the orchestra would sound much better in Carnegie Hall!

Good article and to the point. Thanks, Len!

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by John F » Sat Jan 12, 2019 12:18 pm

Kurt Masur tamed the Philharmonic's brass right from the start, in the Bruckner 7th in his inaugural program, but I guess it didn't last after he left.

A possibly contributing factor: unlike some other American orchestras (Los Angeles, Cleveland) whose music directors have had a Viennese background, the NYP does not use rotary-valve trumpets with their mellow sound but the piercing piston-valve trumpets which are best suited to French and modern music (and to marching bands). In the Cleveland Orchestra anniversary program on PBS, you could see the rotary valve trumpets in the Strauss, then the players switched to piston valve instruments for the Ravel.
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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Rach3 » Sat Jan 12, 2019 12:39 pm

Thanks for the trumpet info, new info for me.
If I recall correctly , was there some grumbling about Masur’s choice of the Bruckner 7 at his NYPO debut ?

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by John F » Sat Jan 12, 2019 12:45 pm

Maybe so, I don't remember, though not from me. In an interview at the time Masur cited Bruno Walter as an important influence on him, and I'd say Masur's Bruckner bore that out.
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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Sat Jan 12, 2019 3:43 pm

NYPO has always played big, brassy and loud, esp from the 1940s on....that's the style of playing, and I love them for it...big, hefty woodwind sound - Gomberg, Wummer, Baker, McGinnis, Druccker, Polisi, Zegler etc -huge sounding section - and the brass has always been big sounding and brassy...Vacchiano, Ware, Phil Smith, Chambers, Myers, Pulis, Ed Herman, Alessi, Bell, Novotny, etc - these guys really swing[swung] for the fences...big ,brawny string sound, not so intimate and refined as other orchestras, but really hefty-sounding.....this is readily apparent on their 50s recordings, and their many recordings with Bernstein, Mehta, and other conductors...
That review sounds like a real wimpy, chicken--cr*p effort....this guy likes everything soft smooth, subdued, and wimpy....no thanx, I'll take the big loud brassy, edgy fortissimos...give me everything in the bank... I'll have to remember this critic - Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim.....if she dislikes it, it was probably great. I have the feeling I'd have loved the concert!! :D :D
as for rotary trumpets - their use should be restricted to classical era - Mozart, Haydn, etc..they simply lack the brilliance for so much of the orchestral repertoire - way too covered, subdued, and "blend-y" - they don't project sufficiently. the brass section needs the contrast, and it needs the brilliance....as a most accomplished brass player, a schoolmate, described to me - modern brass section is comprised of two families of brass instruments - conical bore [horn, tuba] and cylindrical bore [trumpet, trombone] - the former provides the full roundness, the resonance; the latter, the brilliance, the projection....rotary trumpets tilt the tone quality too much towards the round, mellow side, at the expense of the brilliance....
I saw a clip once of the BerlinPO, a summer Pops festival concert - they were playing "Huapango" by Moncayo - a steamy Latin pot-boiler, that features some big trumpet/trombone solos...it needs that bright, sharp, chattery Latin style sound - like you'd hear from a mariachi band...the guy was playing on a rotary trumpet....gawd, it was awful, really quite embarrassing - not only did the trumpeter not really have the Latin style down, but the tone was completely wrong, sounded quite ridiculous....
for a perfect example of how it should sound - try Bernstein/NYPO recording of Copland's "El Salon Mexico" - wonderful, bright, chattery, and hefty sounding trumpets, perfectly accented...great stuff.
Last edited by Heck148 on Sat Jan 12, 2019 3:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Heck148
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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Sat Jan 12, 2019 3:45 pm

John F wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 12:45 pm
Maybe so, I don't remember, though not from me. In an interview at the time Masur cited Bruno Walter as an important influence on him, and I'd say Masur's Bruckner bore that out.
Walter liked it big and brassy - full woodwinds and brass - of course, he was most influential during the post war period, when he was a regular conductor of NYPO...

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by jserraglio » Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:09 pm

big, brassy and loud
I reckon that's why the Chicago is my favorite American band.

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:16 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:09 pm
big, brassy and loud
I reckon that's why the Chicago is my favorite American band.
Yup!! :D same here -
My training was at Eastman School [Rochester, NY], which was real Chicago, New York, Cleveland territory...
I've always loved these orchestras....When the big climax comes, I want to get blown out of my seat!! :lol: :lol:

Belle
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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Belle » Sat Jan 12, 2019 7:57 pm

I feel much the same way, but sometimes it can grate. I was at Harnoncourt's last performance in the Musikverein in May 2015, with Beethoven 5. The brass section was waaaay too loud and destroyed the piece in that section. It was recorded too, that evening, and I didn't learn this till later. Sometimes Harnoncourt went overboard. And I wonder about 'industrial deafness' for members of orchestras and what can be done to mitigate the effects of this - which will cause ringing in the ears and loss of hearing after age 60.

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Modernistfan » Sat Jan 12, 2019 8:23 pm

Agreed. That's why I kept the old Barenboim/Chicago Bruckner cycle on Deutsche Grammophon. I cannot stand the Bruckner Seventh and Eighth Symphonies with wimpy brass. (And that goes double for Mahler and Shostakovich!)

Belle
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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Belle » Sat Jan 12, 2019 8:37 pm

Wimpy brass? Does that come in a cone or a cup? :lol:

Heck148
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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Sat Jan 12, 2019 9:16 pm

Belle wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 7:57 pm
The brass section was waaaay too loud and destroyed the piece in that section. It was recorded too, that evening, and I didn't learn this till later. Sometimes Harnoncourt went overboard.
Harnoncourt, ?? Try Solti or Bernstein
....the sound pressure levels could be unbelievable...balance is critical tho - so they just used bigger string sections....and the woodwinds produced a huge section sound...
And I wonder about 'industrial deafness' for members of orchestras and what can be done to mitigate the effects of this
Some orchestras use big plastic shields to protect the string WW section members from the sonic blast radiating from the brass and percussion, many players use ear plugs....it gets very loud, believe me, one of my section mates had a decibel meter running at the end of Shostakovich Sym #7 - between 116-119 db - once the percussion-bass drum/timps, etc got into it!!

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Sat Jan 12, 2019 9:25 pm

Modernistfan wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 8:23 pm
Agreed. That's why I kept the old Barenboim/Chicago Bruckner cycle on Deutsche Grammophon. I cannot stand the Bruckner Seventh and Eighth Symphonies with wimpy brass. (And that goes double for Mahler and Shostakovich!)
you got it!! Solti's CSO Bruckner #8 - recorded live in Leningrad, 1/90 - the biggest brass sound I've ever heard recorded...unbelievable....then the pianissimos, by contrast, are so soft, most stunning...huge dynamic range...
That Bareboim/CSO Bruckner set is outstanding, gawd, what a sound!! Splendidly recorded!! The Sym #7/III is the best I've ever heard.....

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by david johnson » Sun Jan 13, 2019 7:01 am

I tend to doubt the op review as being 100% accurate. It sounds more like a mix of acoustics and pre-conceived notions. Depending on equipment/performer, a piston trumpet can sound even more mellow than a rotary trumpet. I mostly go piston, but have heard some fine rotary action, for sure.

Heck148
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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Sun Jan 13, 2019 11:27 am

david johnson wrote:
Sun Jan 13, 2019 7:01 am
....Depending on equipment/performer, a piston trumpet can sound even more mellow than a rotary trumpet.
agreed, piston valve trumpets have a very wide range of tonal possibilities.
mostly go piston, but have heard some fine rotary action, for sure.
The VPO gets a pretty good sound out of the rotary instruments - it's brighter, has more brilliance than those used by the BPO or other German orchestras, at least, to my ears..

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by John F » Mon Jan 14, 2019 9:20 am

No doubt an outstanding player can make a piston trumpet sound more dolce, and a rotary valve trumpet more aggressive. But the different character of those instruments' basic tone seems to me beyond dispute. That's not just from hearing many concerts in which the rotary valve instruments have been played, notably by the Vienna Philharmonic - that can't be mistaken as the instruments look very different - but from this in Zubin Mehta's autobiography, "Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life":
Zubin Mehta wrote:I have already mentioned that my entire basic musical training and understanding were influenced by Vienna. I carried within me a very specific, Viennese sound ideal. Wherever I went, I had a vision of the so-called Viennese sound. Whether I always succeeded in these first few years in living up to my own standards, however, is an open question.

In order to bring the [Los Angeles Philharmonic] orchestra as close to this ideal as possible, I tried to import some instrumental elements from Vienna to America. Sometimes I would play records of the Vienna Philharmonic for certain individuals in Los Angeles to try and make them understand what I expected of them. Initially some of the musicians were deeply insulted by this approach, but in time they all understood me.

I also brougnt along trumpets from Vienna - German, or rather Auistrian, trumpets, which are completely different from American instruments. In fact, I was the first conductor to introduce these instruments into North American orchestras. The Austrian trumpet has a much warmer sound than does its American counterpart, which is rather piercing. The legendary Helmut Wobisch, trumpeter of the Vienna Philharmonic, gave me his moouthpiece, and I had it reproduced in Los Angeles so that I could get exactly the sound that I wanted. I am grateful that my colleagues in Los Angeles were willing to try this new experiment. They became so adept that they played these new instruments on our recording of Bruckner's 8th Symphony.

Whether a warmer tone is preferable naturally depends to a great extent on the piece, but it is always preferable for Central European classical music. Viennese trumpets can be played loud without any loss of that warmth. The mouthpiece and breathing technique are equally important for the sound. Since the technique is so fundamentally different, the musicians get a doubling fee when they play Viennese trumpets. Musicians in my other orchestras, such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, are also required to use these instruments.
Besides trumpets, Mehta wanted his double bass players to use the German bow rather than the French (Tourte) bow, which some of his players complied with while others didn't, and the Viennese clarinet. No mention of the Viennese oboe, whose sound is very distinctive - more French than German - but perhaps American oboists, especially the pupils of Marcel Tabuteau, may already have been producing a sound that's close enough to the Viennese instrument to satisfy Mehta.

As for the New York Philharmonic, I believe its principal trumpet Philip Smith always played a piston instrument, though I could be wrong. (I didn't attend that many Mehta concerts.) He joined the orchestra as co-principal the same year that Mehta became music director, and was promoted to principal ten years later. It's notable that Mehta's autobiography hardly ever mentions the New York Philharmonic, whose sound during his tenure couldn't have been more different from the Vienna Philharmonic's. The New Yorkers are notoriously contrary, and I've no doubt they would have resisted any effort to remake their sound from the ground up, including the instruments they play. But I don't know that, and it would be interesting to have an inside account of the orchestra during Mehta's long tenure.
John Francis

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 12:19 pm

Interesting long quote from Mehta, John....

Pretty "brassy" on his part to insist that the LAPO trumpets change horns, and adapt to an entirely different sound....no doubt, Chicago, New York would have told him to go stuff it...also his absurd remark about bringing Wobisch's mouthpiece along is really ridiculous...mouthpieces, like reeds, are extremely personal, individual, finely geared to suit the player's own physical makeup and performance criteria...."one size mouthpiece fits all" is a ridiculous, unsupportable premise...."One reed fits all"...silly, in the extreme...
Conductors may certainly request that different instruments be used for different repertoire, and I think that's what Mehta was getting at...I doubt that he meant that rotary valve trumpets were to be used for everything....I don't agree with him at all that they are "always preferable for Central European classical music." definitely a value judgement on Mehta's part, that is not necessarily shared by many orchestra musicians...


An anecdote regarding Mehta's arrival in New York...a friend heard Ed Herman [trombone I/NYPO] warming up, using his big loud horn, that he used regularly during the Bernstein years...he had often been playing a smaller, softer instrument with Boulez, who, at the time, seemed to prefer that. Friend to Herman<<Hey Ed, I see you've pulled out the heavy guns again, what's up??>>
Herman <<Oh, Mehta's coming to town....Zubin likes a lot of sound!!>>

I heard Mehta/NYPO perform Mahler 1st @ Boston Symphony Hall - trumpets were definitely using piston instruments...it was very loud, for sure, but the horns were way off the mark - "clobbering" incessantly, clam after clam [bad piece for horns to have bad night :roll:]
A number of years later - heard Masur/NYPO perform same piece at Tanglewood - plenty loud, and the horns never cracked a note...not one....

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by maestrob » Mon Jan 14, 2019 12:28 pm

I, too, did not attend many Mehta-led concerts during his tenure, nor did I buy many of his recordings, due to my prejudice against the (to my ears) harsh sound of the Philharmonic, both live and on disc. The problems with the acoustics in the hall were evident during one concert led by Rozhdestvensky where the orchestra's wind soloists simply came apart and couldn't get back together during a suite from the Nutcracker: due, I think to the fact that Rozhdestvesky was not the clearest of conductors and that the players could not hear each other well.

Mehta's harsh strings and unfeeling conducting mar Midori's version of the Dvorak Concerto, and NY's beefy sound make Mehta's Beethoven IX with Vickers and Horne (can't remember the other soloists) a non-starter for me.

The idea that Mehta would try to impose a Viennese sound on NY would have been treated as just flagrant egotism on his part, IMHO. In those days, the Philharmonic was known for its bold, brassy style, yet with guest conductors, they would shape up into a world-class sound and could make some glorious music, something rarely achieved under Mehta's baton. Each orchestra has its own sound, and the NY players would have been right to resist Mehta's efforts to change them, if he had tried. I'm not surprised Mehta hasn't much to say about his tenure here.

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 3:38 pm

maestrob wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 12:28 pm
I, too, did not attend many Mehta-led concerts during his tenure, nor did I buy many of his recordings, due to my prejudice against the (to my ears) harsh sound of the Philharmonic, both live and on disc.
his "Rite of Spring" with NYPO [9/77] is very excellent, however...Mehta certainly has that piece down - his LAPO one is very fine, also...Mehta is not without his strong points - I have a broadcast tape of Strauss "Symphonia DOmestica" - Mehta conducts the ChicagoSO c'90 - stunning!! amazing!! best I've ever heard it...don't know if it was a straight take, or composite from different concerts, but it is incredible..CSO makes it sound easy....

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by THEHORN » Mon Jan 14, 2019 7:33 pm

I saw the NY Phil. new year's eve concert on PBS conducted by the new man Jaap Van Zweden , and to my ears the brass section was on its bets behavior and at least on television, nothing was harsh or too loud . They recently hired Chris Martin, who succeeded the legendary Bud Herseth in Chicago and was recently lured away to to New York . Only time will tell how the new boy on the block will do with them, but the orchestra seems to really like him from all reports .
This was an eclectic program of Johann Strauss , Broadway music and odds and ends , including the prelude to the 3rd act of Lohengrin .

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by maestrob » Tue Jan 15, 2019 10:43 am

THEHORN wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 7:33 pm
I saw the NY Phil. new year's eve concert on PBS conducted by the new man Jaap Van Zweden , and to my ears the brass section was on its bets behavior and at least on television, nothing was harsh or too loud . They recently hired Chris Martin, who succeeded the legendary Bud Herseth in Chicago and was recently lured away to to New York . Only time will tell how the new boy on the block will do with them, but the orchestra seems to really like him from all reports .
This was an eclectic program of Johann Strauss , Broadway music and odds and ends , including the prelude to the 3rd act of Lohengrin .
Hi, Robert! :)

Yes, I saw that program too, and found it excellent. Van Zweden seems to be off to a good start.

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by Heck148 » Tue Jan 15, 2019 5:30 pm

THEHORN wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 7:33 pm
I saw the NY Phil. new year's eve concert on PBS conducted by the new man Jaap Van Zweden , and to my ears the brass section was on its bets behavior and at least on television, nothing was harsh or too loud .
I heard van Zweden conduct Shostakovich 5 and Prokofieff 5 in Chicago a couple of years ago - the brass definitely had the "green light" - they were pounding it out pretty good....it will be interesting to see/hear how he does with NYPO.

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by barney » Tue Jan 15, 2019 6:03 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 11:08 am
The NY Philharmonic has had a problem with loudness since the days of Zubin Mehta, mainly because of the acoustics on stage: it's hard for the musicians to hear each other, even with the modifications put in by Kurt Masur. The way the hall is set up, the sound travels out to the audience directly, and doesn't soften much. If I were writing the article, I would caution guest conductors of this fact and then let them figure out how to round out the tone of the fff pssages.

Frankly, I think the orchestra would sound much better in Carnegie Hall!

Good article and to the point. Thanks, Len!
Absolutely right. The Carnegie accoustic is a miracle. I was under-impressed by the New York Phil in David Geffen Hall, compared with, say, the Bavarian Radio SO at Carnegie Hall. Maybe this is partly why.

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by barney » Tue Jan 15, 2019 6:06 pm

Heck148 wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:16 pm
jserraglio wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:09 pm
big, brassy and loud
I reckon that's why the Chicago is my favorite American band.
Yup!! :D same here -
My training was at Eastman School [Rochester, NY], which was real Chicago, New York, Cleveland territory...
I've always loved these orchestras....When the big climax comes, I want to get blown out of my seat!! :lol: :lol:
Thanks for the trumpet info, most interesting. And in general I agree, but it still has to be proportional.

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by barney » Tue Jan 15, 2019 6:15 pm

JohnF says Walter liked it loud and brassy, but not always according to one of my favourite musical quotes:
"Already too loud!" - Bruno Walter, at his first rehearsal with an American orchestra, on seeing them reach for their instruments.

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by John F » Tue Jan 15, 2019 8:43 pm

barney wrote:
Tue Jan 15, 2019 6:15 pm
JohnF says Walter liked it loud and brassy, but not always according to one of my favourite musical quotes:
"Already too loud!" - Bruno Walter, at his first rehearsal with an American orchestra, on seeing them reach for their instruments.
I didn't say that, Heck148 did, and it's not what I think. What I said is that Masur "tamed" the Philharmonic's loudness and coarseness in his first concert as music director, which featured Bruckner 7.
John Francis

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Re: Memo to the New York Philharmonic: Louder Isn’t Better

Post by barney » Wed Jan 16, 2019 5:33 pm

Sorry John
I did that from memory, obviously wrong. As you know, once you hit reply you don't see the thread, and I didn't bother to go back and check. Apologies to both of you.

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