My husband and I actually got out the other night. Together. Without kids. And we weren’t running errands or working at the store or being told to go by the US Army.
We were given a pair of free tickets to a Milwaukee Symphony
Orchestra concert, were able to find a spur of the moment babysitter,
and spend a couple of hours together dressed in nice clothes listening to music. It was great.
I’m not used to sitting in the audience, though. It’s a rare treat.
The theater where my orchestra (Festival City Symphony) performs is
called the Pabst, and I usually see it from the stage and it looks like
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performs in a different, much larger
space downtown, and Friday night we were treated to a Haydn symphony, a
Dvoraak symphony, and the Glazunov Violin Concerto in A Minor performed
by Frank Almond. (For such a shockingly good soloist, Frank is down to
earth and quite funny, and when he was in my violin store last he
offered to let me look at his Stradivari. He somehow made the Glazunov
look easy which sort of blew my mind.) I really enjoyed getting to wear
a new dress and sitting next to Ian in the audience instead of waving
to him discreetly from the stage. As I said, it was a nice evening.
But beyond the lovely music and the company, I was mostly struck by
the way the orchestra was seated. I don’t get out enough to know when
the MSO changed the way they are arranged on stage, so maybe they’ve
used this setup for years and I am just hopelessly behind the times, but
I was intrigued.
A traditional symphony orchestra is arranged around the conductor in a
horseshoe, or half circle shape. From the audience’s perspective, the
first violins are on the left, then as you continue around the horseshoe
you have the strings in order of descending voice, so next come the
second violins, the violas, and then cellos with the basses lined up
behind them mostly off to the right. Sometimes the viola and cello
sections switch places, but the violins stay on the left.
The MSO was set up very differently. The first violins were still to
the left, but next to them were the violas, then the cellos in the
middle, and the second violins on the right side of the stage. The
basses were lined up behind the viola section on the left. I found this
fascinating. (Of course, I’m a nerd and I don’t get out much, so I
don’t claim to have a high threshold of what I claim is interesting.)
There are some great advantages to this setup. Being a violist the
biggest one to jump out at me is that the viola section can be heard
with more clarity. When we’re seated on the right we’re actually aiming
sound at the back of the stage, not toward the audience at all. And
violas play in the most difficult range to hear, that middle alto/tenor
voice that loses out to sounds both higher and lower than what we’re
doing, so to point us the proper direction would help a lot. Cellos,
too, being in the center, points them directly at the audience, so
that’s also a good idea. Having the second violins on the right was
interesting, because they were pointing their sound toward the back of
the stage, but they play in a range where they can still be heard fairly
well–better than violas can. Plus it changed the general quality of
their sound which gave them a different identity from the firsts.
In any case, I liked it and kind of want to try it. I wonder if
other orchestras sit this way. Who started it? Or is this something
that people used to do that has come back? It didn’t hit me until later
that this arrangement is actually how we sit in the mandolin orchestra, so that’s interesting.
Where you sit makes a difference. From how things appear to how you
are perceived by others. Trying different seating is often a good idea,
because having a new perspective teaches us so much. What I learned
this weekend is I need to find more opportunities to sit next to my