For the first time since I took the classical critic post at the Post-Gazette, I took the entire Thanksgiving week off. It was wonderful, although I did miss commenting on the new seating, including dividing the violin sections across the stage, that Pittsburgh Symphony music director Manfred Honeck imposed last week after I wrote about it. Former PG classical critic Robert Croan reviewed the Friday concert (my ulterior motive also was to get another voice assessing him, so it isn't just me touting him).
But, of course, I couldn't stay away. We came back in time for me to zip to Heinz Hall for the Sunday concert. I agree with Croan, and everyone I met on Sunday, that the new seating was a success. The tone of the violins was rounded, antiphonal and billowing with the seconds sat across from the firsts. It was a real "stereo" sound. At least for common practice period works, Honeck should continue to use European seating (he calls it "old German seating). This is music that is melodic in nature and the seating brings that out gloriously.
But I think Honeck will have to pay more attention to the seconds than he did yesterday. He only rarely turned to face them and there were some ensemble issues. It's a lot to ask, even of excellent professional musicians, to switch seating (with its concomitant change in what they hear), but in addition, the seconds are used to getting a lot of "face" time from conductors and now sit in Honeck's blind spot. I would hope he turns to them more. But, overall, I think it was a success, and you can hear it for yourself when he returns in February for Beethoven and Haydn Oboe concertos.
I will re-visit the divisi-string/seating issue after the PSO has had more time to get used to it, but readers have helped me to figure out more about which orchestras are now doing this. It appears that Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston SO and Philadelphia Orchestra have tried it, with LA doing it most consistently (even with guest conductors). More on this later as it develops. It is so much fun to be reporting on a purely musical issue at the PSO!