music, technology & life in pasadena, california

A Summertime Guide to the Orchestra

It’s been hard to write anything for the last few weeks as the temperature outside has drained all energy from me regardless of any air-conditioning and artificial climate-control devices in my immediate vicinity. Weeks upon weeks of 100 degree weather with only a few days off for good behavior is causing a run on Starbucks Frapuccinos all over town. (I’m trying to stick with plain iced coffee because experience reminds me of what can happen if you’re quaffing one of these babies every night before the gig. Mr. Viapiano, you’ve gained 14 pounds since your last checkup…oops!)

Several times during the season, the members of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra were allowed to doff their tuxedo jackets and play in shirtsleeves as the heat continued to press on well after sundown. Add hot stage lights and humidity to the equation and it’s a recipe for orchestral disaster as intonation problems rear their ugly head. String instruments, like the violin, viola, cello, harp and guitar, all go down in pitch as their strings lengthen in the higher temps. Brass instruments, like the trumpet, French horn, trombone and saxophone go sharp in direct contrast. No one likes the way their instruments react in extreme weather. The humidity, dry one day and near 80% the next, plays havoc with reeds on instruments like the oboe, English horn and clarinet.

As if all that weren’t enough to keep you on your toes, most concerts start between 7:30 and 8:30 in the evening, just as the air is turning cooler and last for 2 ½ to 3 hours, so it’s a continuing struggle just to stay in tune as the night progresses…

In spite of all this, the orchestra still manages to sound amazing under the baton of John Mauceri, who will be leaving his post as music director after his last concerts in two weeks time.

September 1, 2006 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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