Friday, December 3, 2010


Back in October, just before the long tour to Tokyo, the Philharmonic did a miniature tour, or 'tour-let', to Rome. I think almost every year the orchestra travels to this same giant church near the Vatican City to play a concert for the upper-ups of the Roman Catholic church. I've been once before, in 2008, and the pope himself was in attendance.

This year, it was a much smaller deal (no pope, and only one short piece with trombones), but I made sure to take my camera because the place where we played is one of the most awe-inspiring church buildings I've ever seen.

It's called the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and you can follow this link to read more about its history. The orchestra always enters through a secluded rear door, and from that perspective the building looks somewhat like a run-down old warehouse. You would never think that waiting inside was this absolutely breathtaking and gigantic space.

The gold-inlayed stucco on the ceiling is my favorite part.

They set up a stage for us in front of the altar, with thousands of chairs that dissolved into the horizon at the back of the nave. The above photo was in the middle of rehearsal, Andris Nelsons conducting. If you look close, you can see the part for the one piece I played, the prelude to Wagner's Parsifal.

They have friezes of all the popes in a row above the hundreds of tall columns. Below you can see they have a spotlight on the portrait of the current pope, Benedict XVI.

The orchestra dressed and warmed up in an area just outside the main hall. It had a beautiful and peaceful courtyard with these really beautiful columns all around.

Behind the orchestra's stage is the literal and also spiritual centerpiece of the basilica, the tomb of Saint Paul. Yes, THE Saint Paul. According to church tradition, Paul was interred here after his martyrdom and a memorial was erected at the site, which eventually became the basilica. Below you can see the altar, and just in front of it is a pit which leads to Paul's alleged sarcophagus. Kinda creepy and cool at the same time.

Musically, the concert felt like a bit of a joke, mostly because the place is just too large. The quiet stuff probably can't be heard by the back half of the audience, and the loud stuff just bounces around the ginormous nave for 18 minutes. Everything sounds either anemic or completely muddled. But it was still a neat place to visit, and I hope to take Kristi there sometime to show her around.

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