18 May 2011

Simon Oliver writes: It was a fairly small stage last night. The concert hall in Hamburg is a beautiful one, but not that spacious for us basses. The positioning of some instruments in a symphony orchestra is a topic much discussed at the moment. What can prove to be difficult on some occasions, is to find yourself up really close to loud instruments in such massive works, such as last night's Mahler Symphony No 5.

Out in the audience you get a very different acoustical result to that which many of us experience on stage. Sometimes I can't even hear when or what I'm playing, especially when the orchestra reaches a loud passage and all the brasses are going for it like crazy horses!

Many options are discussed such as who goes where, the use of sound screens, earplugs and the distance between each player. Last night I was right in front of 5 trumpets, I couldn't get any closer to them if I tried. It was as If I had them growing out of my ears!

But you know what, It was truly amazing! When they got to a triumphant passage, It covered me in a such a sound world that I had never really experienced before. Total immersion in crystal clear, golden trumpet chords. It was like being in a cave full of fanfares, a surround sound that no set of speakers could ever reproduce and an IMAX 3D movie could never hope to match!

Being close to different instruments in different halls also brings out parts of Mahler's writing that have sometimes escaped me. Small details are revealed, a trumpet passage here, a tuba run there. It makes me appreciate Mahler's compositions more and more, and his genius for brass writing exploded on me last night!

The performance turned out to be a brilliant experience! But such a close one perhaps should only be enjoyed every once and a while. I loved it, but if my ears could talk, they would probably be asking for a quiet weekend away in the country!