Pittsburgh Symphony Makes a PIT-Stop - at the Airport!

May 4, 2022, 8:42 PM · I’ve traveled a great deal in my life. But not once have I arrived at an airport to be greeted by a world-class symphony orchestra performing Beethoven. Yet that was the experience for lucky travelers heading through Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) last week. On April 27, they were welcomed by none other than the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who transformed PIT’s ticketing concourse into a concert venue.

This performance was part of a broader initiative called "Beethoven in Your Neighborhood," which over the course of five days presented all nine Beethoven symphonies in various venues across the city under the baton of PSO Music Director Manfred Honeck. Each performance included two symphonies, with the exception of No. 9, which stood alone. Today we will focus on the airport performance.

BELOW: Hear from PSO’s VP of Artistic Planning, Maestro Honeck, and others about "Beethoven in Your Neighborhood" in this video by Julie Bercik:

Reactions from passengers and performers

What were the reactions from passengers who happened upon the orchestra during their travels through PIT?

"Well, I’ll be dipped!" That’s how PSO clarinetist (and my hometown friend) Jack Howell described the looks he saw on the faces of unsuspecting airport staffers and passersby. "It was wonderful to see the reactions of travelers who stumbled upon us and lingered to listen or take pictures."

Since the one rehearsal was also in the airport, it attracted even more "stumble upon" attention than even the performance. Maestro Honeck started each rehearsal by tackling a few spots in each movement. Then he ran each movement in its entirety.

And what was the experience like as a performer?

"It was an interesting challenge, playing two symphonies on one rehearsal for several days in a row," Howell said. "Even though we all know the music well, usually any Beethoven symphony gets played on a subscription concert with several rehearsals. Playing all the symphonies in such a compressed timeframe gave both musicians and audiences a fresh perspective on the magnitude of his genius."

Iconic and portable Beethoven

The choice of Beethoven symphonies for this project seemed perfect to Howell, who described them as "iconic and portable." (He doesn’t foresee a traveling "Mahler in Your Neighborhood" anytime soon.) And while Jack calculates he’s probably performed certain Beethoven symphonies at least 40 times, this experience brought new freshness and vitality. He also felt pairing two symphonies together was an engaging way to "compare and contrast." (Think "sunny" #4 juxtaposed with "moody" #7.)

The audience applauded between movements in all venues and that was certainly not discouraged by Maestro Honeck. As Howell said, "It’s good for classical music not to be so precious all the time."

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May 5, 2022 at 07:26 PM · Bravo! A great piece of outreach. I have always loved the sound of this orchestra from their recordings with William Steinberg. Never heard them 'live' - I must put that right! Thank you for this story, Diana.

May 6, 2022 at 06:32 AM · What a great idea to take Beethoven to non-usual places! It seems to be part of what I consider to be a healthy move toward reimagining pieces in novel ways, and playing them in different settings always casts them in a different light. Since I’ve gotten into Celtic music, I play the dance movements in Bach Suites as real foot-stompers, and they really come alive! And in the Irish band I play in, I’ve been known to weave some of those same Bach Suites into drinking songs and Green Day ballads.

May 6, 2022 at 08:04 AM · great!

May 6, 2022 at 11:58 AM · Richard, I've never heard them live either! But making that right is on my list as well.

David, "reimagining pieces," as you describe really, does cast them in a different light. I admire what you're doing with Bach!

Jean, I'm in an airport right now and feeling very cheated that there isn't an orchestra here.

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