17. January 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Oops!

Symphony orchestra patrons aren’t generally known for shouting up a good-natured “We can’t hear in the back” if something is obviously amiss during a performance.

That’s too bad.

Because if someone had, it could have staved off a disaster during the Florida Orchestra’s performance Friday evening at the Straz. It unfolded uncomfortably when Austrian composer HK Gruber performed the solo narration of his avant-garde piece, Frankenstein!!. As he spoke and the orchestra played, the audience could barely make out that he was speaking, much less appreciate the comic nuances of the poetic text, which took up five pages in the playbill.

What happened?

“The problem was that it was a handheld microphone and, while adjusting its height, Gruber accidentally pushed the mute button,” said orchestra president Michael Pastreich, who witnessed the foulup from a seat in the mezzanine of Morsani Hall at the Straz Center.

Gruber and music director Stefan Sanderling, who was on the podium, apparently were unaware of the problem, because they plowed through the half-hour piece without a stop. Compounding the disorienting experience, the piece features a lot of zany toy instrument-playing by the orchestra.

The Gruber piece was programmed as a kind of homage to the opening of the new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, and you could say that the experience of hearing — or not hearing — it in such a fashion was surreal in a Daliesque sort of way. Audience members were at first baffled, then annoyed, and at least one couple walked out.

“The HK Gruber solo at the Straz was one of the most inept and embarrassing moments we have experienced in our decades with our excellent orchestra,” Bruce Houghton of Tampa wrote to the St. Petersburg Times in an e-mail.

Frankenstein!! was performed right before intermission. When it was over, Pastreich, with his 11-year-old daughter in tow, hustled backstage to perform some damage control.


Stuff happens, yes? But I really am surprised no one yelled, “We can’t HEAR you!”

The last line of the article has me wondering what he meant by “funky” … hmmm …? (I often think of it as a bad thing.)

Side note: Michael Pastreich used to work for San Jose Symphony (RIP) many years ago.

1 Comment

  1. I’d go with #5 or #7…

    funky (fu??k?)

    adjective funkier -·i·er, funkiest -·i·est

    1. Dialectal smelly; musty
    2. ? Jazz having an earthy quality or style derived from early blues or gospel music
    3. of or characteristic of funk (sense )
    4. Slang old-fashioned or quaint
    5. Slang unconventional, eccentric, offbeat, etc.
    6. Slang very emotional
    7. Slang informal, relaxed, casual, etc.