I sometimes listen to classical music when I study. My sister is a musician, and I attend her concerts here and there. But, I can’t recall a time where I’ve chosen to go to a professional concert outside of some class or other obligation. It’s not like I don’t enjoy music or its benefits; I’ve just never had a chance to go. That changed for me after the Honors Program took a trip to the Pittsburgh Symphony.
When we arrived at Heinz Hall, our group was ushered in through several sets of ornate doors that led into a beautiful lobby. Grand columns surrounded us. Gold adornment was everywhere we looked. One of us made the comment that it looked like the grand staircase from the Titanic. The venue looked like it was out of a movie, which was ironic since the theater had been previously used as a movie theater before the Symphony claimed home to it.
Our tour guide showed us around the lobby, before taking us outside to a small courtyard. A sculpture was the centerpiece of the courtyard, with a fountain acting as part of its display. The city skyscrapers acted as backdrop, but seemed so far away because the courtyard was so peaceful. Even the sounds of the city: the cars, the buses, the people walking, seemed distant and quieter than they had all afternoon.
We were shown back inside and taken upstairs. There were two large chandeliers at the very top of the stairs. A small balcony took you a little closer to them. Intricate details were in every piece of the chandelier. Between some of the lights, she pointed out that there were faces: they appeared to guard over the whole theater. From our place at the top of the stairs we could see that there were more rooms to the lobby. There were more chandeliers and mirrors. Windows that looked like archways lined the perimeter. Every few feet there was another space to look down at the rest of the large room. Intricate gold lined the walls and the ceiling. The design looked almost like a cathedral.
By this point, we were starstruck by the beauty and elegance of the hall. We were taken to the balcony section and led inside. A bass player was practicing for that night’s performance. Even alone, it was beautiful music. Large lights lined the outside of a large circle on the ceiling. More gold decorations lined the walls. The largest gold pieces were above the box seats in the theater. They appeared almost like a throne above the boxes, but instead drew your attention toward the stage, instead of the people sitting in the boxes.
After several breathtaking minutes inside the hall, we were ushered out of the theater and into a hallway. The walls just before the hallway were covered in a pattern that almost looked like wallpaper, with displays showcasing the musicians we would hear in just 90 minutes. We were taken into one of the boxes. The stage felt so close; I felt like I could just reach out and touch it. Two musicians had begun practicing with the bass player I mentioned before. Together they sounded more incredible, and the sound was so rich from where we were sitting. The sides of the stage were lined with gold leaf decorations you could only see up close. We sat listening to the musicians for several moments, not wishing to leave. I didn’t think the hall could get any better from where we were sitting in those moments. I was wrong.
We moved through a hallway to the backstage of the theater. People were rushing around, and musicians were preparing backstage. There was an opening where the musicians entered that we couldn’t help looking through. Looking at the entirety of the hall was another experience in and of itself. I couldn’t imagine looking at that view every week and still being able to play. The ambiance from the backstage seemed to filter the view of the venue perfectly. Lights highlighted some of the decorations on the base of the balcony that we hadn’t been able to see previously. The intricacy of the handiwork was evident from the instant we saw it.
We walked through several other parts of the backstage. Artifacts from old shows were all around. Even Stormtroopers were there, leaned up against a wall in painting form. Our tour guide told us about the other places we didn’t have time to see: a library of music, practice rooms and a rehearsal space. I could only imagine what they looked like.
As we neared the end of our tour, we were taken to a lower level. The bathroom had a lobby that held old memorabilia and a fireplace. I suddenly felt a little out of place, being in a bathroom that had a lobby. Despite being in a lower level that was beneath the theater, the level of decoration had not decreased. There were fewer gold pieces, but the architecture was no less beautiful. It felt just as intricate and detailed.
We moved into another room and met one of the musicians, the principal piccolo player for the symphony. She spoke about music as though it were another one of her limbs. Another arm, another leg. She was more than passionate about her craft. The smile on her face when she spoke about the love she had for her job and playing was infectious. She told us about the birth of her daughter in which she and her husband (who also plays for the symphony) scrambled to get their new daughter a passport so that they could bring her to an overseas concert a few weeks later. The concert was one that the Pope would be in attendance for, so they were especially interested in making it for the concert. After several more stories and another 20 minutes, she needed to leave us in order to prepare for the concert. We explored for a few minutes before settling in our seats.
The music started. It was a shorter piece, with a guest musician, award-winning violinist James Ehnes. The music felt like it had only gone on for a brief minute or so before it ended. Mr. Ehnes gave a fantastic solo at the end. The music was mesmerizing; my eyes never left the stage. The music swept me away. The next piece, a concerto, was much longer. But, even after 40 minutes of music, it felt like no time had passed. I felt completely at peace while they played. Everything was in sync. The movement of the bows, the brass trumpets.
A few times I pulled myself away from the stage; it was fascinating to see how everyone else was just as enthralled as I was. Someone was moving along to the music, moving as much as one could when stuck in his or her seat. Others moved their hands to the rhythm. Others just stared, clearly engaged, but unable to move. Every time the music ended, people throughout the theater would jump up from their seats to give a standing ovation. Each time I felt too stunned by the magnificence of the music to immediately stand up. There were several people like that. It was like a heartbeat ... the people that would jump up immediately followed a second later by everyone else in the theater. The pulse of the performance seemed to resonate long after the music was over … both at intermission and at the end of the night. The music keeps each moment vivid in my memory. Even our tour of the concert hall is backdropped by the music that was played. I’m so blessed to have had an opportunity like this, and I can’t wait until I can hear the symphony again.