Shawn Galvin's triangulated homecoming with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra | Music

Shawn Galvin's triangulated homecoming with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

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Manfred Honeck conducts the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. - PHOTO BY SHAWN GALVIN
  • Photo by Shawn Galvin
  • Manfred Honeck conducts the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Editor's note: Raleigh percussionist Shawn Galvin is a co-founder of New Music Raleigh and a performer with the North Carolina Symphony and several other ensembles in the region. He's spent the last week touring with the renowned Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who perform at Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall Sunday, Sept. 28–Monday, Sept. 29. We asked Galvin to write about his experiences with the PSO. Tickets for the performances are available here. 

In May of 1996, I was lucky to get one of the last standing-room tickets to hear Lorin Maazel's final concert as Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony. I was a wide-eyed college freshman at the time. I had the idea that, someday, I too would play with a professional orchestra. I found a place at the top of the balcony in Heinz Hall and got as comfortable as I could in anticipation of the 80-minute Resurrection Symphony, by Gustav Mahler. Despite knowing the piece from recordings, I was in no way prepared for what I would hear. I was completely overwhelmed by the commitment, power, clarity and passion of the performance. An editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said, “The applause was thunderous, the memories many and the gratitude deep in Heinz Hall Sunday.”

Almost exactly a year later, I played my first concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony as an extra percussionist. This was an unusual opportunity for a young student, but I managed to advance in an audition in the fall of 1996. Never in my wildest dreams did I consider that this would mean I'd get to play in the orchestra. Now, 17 years and many, many concerts later, I'm writing this in Pittsburgh at the end of a week of preparations for two programs that the PSO will play at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill on Sunday and Monday. Because I now reside in and spend most of the year performing in the Triangle, these concerts are a weird sort of triangulated homecoming for me.

The lasting effect that the PSO has had on my life as a musician is undeniable. Early on, it was the experience of learning beside my teachers and mentors. Later, it was the opportunity to learn the nuances of the orchestral canon as a part of the PSO's rich tradition. Opportunities to play for some of the world's most respected conductors in concert halls all over the world have buoyed my musicianship and musical confidence. Over the years, I've developed quite a bit of pride in my hometown orchestra, and I'm very excited about your chance to hear them.

Whether you attend orchestra concerts regularly or not, there will be something for you in these two programs. First, this is an incredibly dynamic orchestra. I commonly call them risky, which is generally not a term you hear associated with orchestras. They don't let phrases sit; there is intent in every instant of the music. The range is astounding, and the solo playing is world-class. Second, Manfred Honeck's interpretation of Mahler is fantastic. He was a violist in the Vienna Philharmonic before becoming a conductor, and his strong sense of the Viennese tradition convincingly informs his performances of Mahler . Last, in the course of the two nights, you'll hear not just orchestral standards but also music representing seven different living composers—one whom has won a Pulitzer Prize.

Maestro Maazel passed away this year. I spent the days after his passing reflecting on the incredible impact that he had on the PSO, the city of Pittsburgh and me. When you hear the PSO this week in Chapel Hill, you'll hear not only the impact he made on this orchestra, but the collective work of an impressive list of past music directors, countless fantastic musicians, years and years of community supporters, and most importantly an unyielding commitment to excellence in the arts. 

Steel wasn't the only thing they built in Pittsburgh. They also built a world-class orchestra.

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