Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bruckner in Linz

Our time in Linz was devoted to the making of a DVD of Bruckner's 4th Symphony.  The recording will be put together from the best parts of two concerts we gave in the basilica at the abbey of St. Florian, several miles outside of Linz.

Some Sight Seeing

On the way in to the church I was greeted by Bruckner himself!

He was the organist here.  In fact, at his request, he was buried in the crypt below in a metal coffin directly under the organ, where he could feel the vibrations.

No trip to the church is complete without a visit to the crypt. Along with Bruckner are buried many of the past abbots of the monastery and some nobles, including a former queen of Poland.

When the church was being built in the 1200's, workers discovered the remains of an older Christian community when digging the foundation.  These remains (over 6000 bodies) are neatly stacked in an ossuary just behind Bruckner's coffin.

Readers of this blog are probably now thinking that I'm obsessed with death and graves!  Not to worry!  When I have free time on a tour I try really hard to find things that we don't normally see in the U.S.  I know of no graveside tributes to bassoonists in our country, nor have I ever seen an ossuary next to a composer's coffin in the crypt of an American church!

Maybe next fall I'll visit the Funerary Arts Museum in Vienna and give you all a full report!

Back to Bruckner!

Acoustics Make the Difference

Playing his music in this church is very special -- perhaps like hearing Wagner in Bayreuth.  The music makes more sense in the live acoustics of the basilica.  Bruckner is known and sometimes reviled for his baffling silences.  With several seconds of decay, the silences are soaked up by a lovely dissipation of sound in this place.

Knowing that Bruckner was a deeply religious man it's valid to suppose that the combination of full orchestra statement followed by increasing silence in the decay could be the sonic equivalent of prayer or supplication offered to God.

The Recording Sessions

About the sessions:  In order to maintain continuity between the two days of recording we were encouraged to be sure to wear exactly the same concert attire for both nights.  No haircuts in between sessions!  If you wear reading glasses to play, be sure you wear them on both nights.

For a cleaner visual, we were discouraged from bringing cases, water bottles, etc. on stage.  Some did bring reed tools and smaller items, though. 

I refrained (for once) from using my earplugs.  Putting them in and taking them out could be distracting.  Also, we in the bassoon section avoided using our bassoon stands during rests.

We've performed the 4th many times already this year, so just the two performances sufficed for the recording.  No patch session.

Camera crews meshed uneasily with the performers on a cramped area in front of the altar.  Some cameramen asked for musicians to avoid certain poses so they could film rows of players unobstructed.  This was met with varying degrees of compliance.  In a stressful situation, it's hard enough to concentrate on playing well!

There was also a surprising amount of noise coming from the technical crew during the concerts.  I guess none of it will bleed into the soundtrack?

Reaction at the conclusion of each concert was interesting.  The audiences were appreciative, but not boisterous in applause, shouting, etc.  I think the combination of Bruckner and a sacred site gave a more muted, reverent response than what we'd experienced elsewhere.

Bruckner in St. Florian

This was certainly not the first time anyone has recorded a Bruckner work in St. Florian.  Here are some examples.

We were there in 2006 and recorded the 5th:

Here are two famous recordings of the 8th made in the church:

Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic

The Vienna Philharmonic with Karajan


  1. Love these posts!

    What kind of ear plugs to you use?

    1. Hi, Laura,

      I use "Musican Earplugs" made by Etymotic Research, Inc. They were made for me by a local audiologist. The plugs are molded to fit my ear canals and labeled left and right. Cost is about $120.

      They come attached to a clear plastic string, so there's no chance of one scooting under a riser during a concert.

      I use 15 dB attenuators in each. You can get more or less filtered out if you want.

      I HATE using earplugs in the orchestra! Certain members of the brass section are averse to putting up plexiglass screens or such things, so we're stuck with earplugs.

      I find using them disorienting and dangerous in their own way. If you're not careful to stay focused, you can play in a rest very easily. As you know, much orchestral music contains just a few seconds at a time of really loud, harmful sounds. These are often interspersed with moments of exposed, sensitive playing. So you need to be on your toes if using earplugs in these situations.

      When Welser-Möst became Music Director, he moved the trumpets right behind us, so I get both barrels pretty regularly. The Dohnanyi setup had the horns behind us -- much better!!

      I'm pretty strict about using them. I've been to too many retirement parties where our alumni show up not to notice the hearing loss.

      I have my hearing checked every couple of years, just to know if I'm suffering any damage. So far, so good!

  2. Thanks for the reply! I've been trying a few different kinds of ear plugs, but I really cant tell if I'm playing in tune, since I only hear myself in my head. I still try to use something, sometimes just cotton, for the brass heavy sections, at least in rehearsals.

  3. Your sessions look very exciting! I’m excited to know how the DVD will turn out. :) Anyway, it’s a good thing that you really exert effort to care for your ears. Constant exposure to loud sounds can cause your ears to have problems. By the way, Laura, there are ear plugs that are specially designed for loud forms of entertainment. These can guarantee that you will still be able to hear the sound without any distortions, while keeping your ears protected.

    Darren Mcandrews