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Too hot to play?

We’re  getting reports from Philadelphia that British violinist Nicola Benedetti was visibly distressed – close to tears – during a sweltering outdoors performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto in Longwood Gardens.

She changed shoulder rests between movements and completed the concerto successfully, but the conditions were not conducive to bring out her best.

It raises the question: when is it too hot to play?

Your thoughts, please.


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  1. Tom Moore says:

    ….when you are distracted by the beads of sweat rolling down your back.

  2. Robert Eshbach says:

    It really is difficult — nothing is as you practiced it — and with a piece as long as the Tchaikovsky, it can get downright discouraging by the end. Some people are better at adapting than others. Long ago, I heard Charles Castleman give a flawless performance of the Tchaikovsky with three fingers the evening of a baseball game in which he jammed his fourth. If you hadn’t known, you would never have been able to tell that he had re-fingered the whole piece that afternoon.

    Heat can also be a disaster for your instrument — I used to play summer concerts on Cape Cod, and at the end of each summer had to get my violin re-glued and repaired. I didn’t make money from those concerts… I remember hearing Isaac Stern at Tanglewood one summer, and seeing the sweat just pouring into the f holes of his Guarneri — hm.

  3. Cassandra Riis says:

    For a soloist, it should be their call. For members of an orchestra it’s more difficult. it is my understanding that contracts for playing outdoors often have “weather-related” clauses.

    • squirrel says:

      I also understand that there are temperatures in player contracts that specify when it’s too hot (or cold) for an outdoor performance… so I am surprised there wasn’t a union objection in this case.

  4. It is all about the instrument.Hot weather plays havoc with your instrument.That is why she was so upset.

    • Elaine Sloan says:

      I am sure she was upset about her instrument, but an instrument in humidity is much safer than one in dry heat. A friend of mine was at the concert. She could not execute runs properly and her pizzicati were compromised. Her instrument was also slipping from under her chin due to the humidity and sweat. It was most likely a combination of these issues which made her upset. She was seen after the concert quite distraught.

      • True enough. I used to live in Phoenix, and I am well aware of the problems of “dry heat” (and dry weather, generally) on instruments. But I also lived in Honolulu, and although not as bad, the humidity was not a friend to your instrument either. Many musician there had their “outdoor fiddle” that they used for those gigs. Really too bad about the concert conditions in Philadelphia. We need to develop climate controlled outdoor stages-or maybe fake outdoor stages with some sort of see through glass or plastic. After all, the whole out door experience is pretty fake anyway, because you need the sound mixed by an audio engineer.

  5. If you cant stand the heat………..

  6. Rob van der Hilst says:

    When a tinytiny creek of honnest sweat drops from the nosepoint upon the Strad below that same nose. Or when the more and more wet becoming gown slides down form the shoulders, slowly but unstoppably, during the energetic fight with the orchestra. Or when – fiat lux – the mind gets set during the performance into a frank ‘My God What Am I Doing Here’ (for this is NOT Wimbledon). Or w.s.e.

  7. Poor Nicky, it was her birthday too.. :(

  8. Mark Reneau says:

    I hope there’s a special room in Hell for the person who first suggested the idea of giving outdoor concerts. I hate playing them; always have, always will.

  9. Steven Honigberg says:

    The National Symphony Orchestra of Washington DC routinely plays outdoors in these months, at Wolf Trap, in 90-100 degree heat and humidity. It is a hazard of the position no one likes to talk about. It can be excruciating on both the player and instrument. Management turns the other way when mention of any sort of air conditioning device is needed. We are supposed to rise to each and every occasion with strength, courage and professionalism. Sounds like Stalin’s Soviet machine of yesteryear that imploded. Imagine trying to stay hydrated and at the same time performing a 2-hour plus program – to come back the next day and to do it all over again.

  10. Adrian Varela says:

    The UK government stipulates a minimum temperature for working environments but not max. Perhaps it is time to instate one?

  11. Linda Grace says:

    The picture is for real, Benedetti had on a shoulderless dress — and no should pad. One of the violinists gave her a shoulder pad after the first movement,
    lowered to its lowest, which seemed to help the slipping and sliding.

  12. Dean Williams says:

    Oh my God, imagine! Some poor soul sweating while at work!
    I used to whine quite a bit about playing conditions. Then I watched the movie ‘Kinshasa Symphony’, and I must admit, it made me feel quite ashamed to have complained about those supposedly bad conditions. I have not complained about very much since seeing it, and I urge other musicians to see it as well. Believe me, an outdoor concert may be hot (I did play one two weeks ago, temperatures in the 30′s (Celsius)), but it is nothing compared to what others have to go through to make music. I have seen artists go down during various shows, but it is rare, and I have yet to see one go down with heatstroke. The one thing that I believe can and should be changed for such concerts is the dress policy . For our concert, we were authorized to wear shorts, and I was the only male musician who did. Everyone else complained. I was quite comfortable, and the bugs ended up bothering me far more than the heat. I see nothing wrong with changing tuxedos and evening dresses for clothing which is far better adapted to the prevailing conditions, and this is what should be impressed on management. It would make playing in the heat much easier. But a bit of sweat will not kill you.

  13. > had to get my violin re-glued and repaired.

    Dumb question from a non-musician: is hot weather more of a problem for string instruments than, say, for brass wind instruments?

    I’m writing this in Finland and I haven’t come across complaints about hot weather, but I’ve heard my share of wind instruments that were out of tune because of the cold. There are some videos from the bad old times when Finnish military bands were frequently forced to wait outdoors in the winter to play for arriving heads of state or such, and, depending on the delay, the music would sound quite atonal when it wasn’t supposed to.

    • Rosalind says:

      Yes Mikko, hot weather can potentially be a huge problem for string instruments – far more damaging than simply sending the instrument out of tune.

      The glue holding the instrument together can melt and so it starts to come loose at the seams, but even worse is the danger that strong direct sunlight will damage the varnish by softening it. From a young age, string players have it drummed into them never to leave the instrument in a car parked out in the sun, nor to expose it to the sun for more than a short time. Profuse sweating can also affect the varnish on a stringed instrument

      Many professionals will have a less valuable second string instrument which they specifically use for outdoor gigs or other situations where using their main instrument would be far too risky. I’m sure Ms Benedetti was wishing she’d done that.

  14. Stephanie says:

    It most definitely is too hot to play when the heat index is above 90! The fact that there was no protest from the union or that management had no compassion (other than for the almighty dollar) demonstrates the new lows to which Vulgamore and cronies have brought to the orchestra. They simply do not care about the musicians’ health, let alone mere comfort. Even back in the old days when I played for another symphony orchestra, lesser conditions would have most certainly canceled the performance, in favor of our health and safety!

    • Musicians’ health? How is sitting on your rear end flapping your arms around detrimental to the musicians’ health (let alone safety)? Man, you people are soft. Next time you find a bead of sweat on your forehead spare a thought for the roofer who fixes your house or the farm worker who picks your melons on pretty much any day of the summer.

      In regard to managment’s compassion for the almighty dollar, you might stand to consider that you are getting paid for this job. Or would you prefer to draw a paycheck for doing nothing? No? Then I recommend you ask your union if you can relinquish your daily pay for those concerts which are cancelled due to the heat index.


  15. Rosalind says:

    I thought the American Federation of Musicians was supposed to be pretty powerful and there would be plenty of contractual protection for the orchestra (and soloist) in such circumstances. Was she playing her Strad? If If I’d been in her shoes I’d have used a far less valuable instrument for the gig, as presumably the hot weather was forecast?

    Mind you, kudos to her for soldiering on to the bitter end – a sign of a true pro.

  16. Gilbert Dejean says:

    Musicians play in all sorts of conditions. When it’s hot, the pitch of the winds and brass goes up and in the strings, it tends to go down, creating all sorts of pitch issues. We can adjust to a certain extent, but don’t expect a performance to be at the same level than if it was done under more favorable circumstances.

  17. Here’s my review of this event:
    AMC attended a concert by the considerably downsized Philadelphia Orchestra held at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA. The temperature and humidity combined to make the night a drenching experience. Some observations:

    1. The orchestra played on a portable stage in a meadow area of the Gardens. AMC would recommend not sponsoring these performances until a suitable stage is available.
    2. Because of the poor stage, lacking an acoustic shell, all of the music had to be amplified. AMC’s home audio system sounds way better. In addition, when live music is amplified, its impossible to tell anything about dynamics, balances, or intonation because of the vagaries of microphone placement and the taste of the sound technician.
    3. It was so hot and humid that soloist Nicola Benedetti struggled with an un-tuning violin and sweat. She had an animated exchange with conductor Macelaru after the first movement of the Tchaikovsky. Apparently the shoulder support for her instrument was malfunctioning. AMC was certain that Ms. Benedetti was frustrated with the conditions and she produced a less than stellar performance, through no fault of her own. This was her premiere with the orchestra, so at least she add that she has soloed with it on her resume.
    4. The audience loved everything- they applauded anytime there wasn’t music. Really?- in Philadelphia? AMC expected a bit more sophistication.

    This venue is so bad that it seems only good for warhorses. “1812″ anyone?

    Finally conductor Macelaru should find some shirts that fit properly.

    Did AMC mention that it felt like the gateway to hell only with more humidity?

  18. Schöne Müllerin says:

    How warm was it in C? Imagines the Italien Summer Festivals, singers in warm cloth running around.

    • That afternoon it had been around 37 degrees C in Philadelphia. I don’t know how much cooler it was by concert time, but it was certainly above 30 degrees C.

  19. Do soloists’ contracts include weather provisions? The Philadelphia orchestra was contracted to accompany an evening of organ concertos during a convention of the American Guild of Organists in 2002, during a heat wave similar to the current one in a venue with no windows and no air conditioning. A rather full orchestra was on stage at the beginning of the concert and about half of those musicians appeared for the second half. Afterward, the buzz at the convention was that the union had insisted on a clause in their contract allowing them to opt out, even in mid-concert, of any performance where the heat (and humidity?) exceeded specifications, and that the absentees had exercised that option at intermission.

    • Yes, I remember that concert. The organ playing was memorable.
      Regardless of contractual protections, our musicians (many more than half, btw, played after intermission) seldom withhold our services except under the most oppressive circumstances. FYI, playing string instruments in excessive heat, esp. w/ humidity, is like trying to hold onto a wet eel.

  20. Gabor Fuchs says:

    Try to get through the Liszt b minor sonata in 40 Celcius heat with sweat in your eyes!

  21. R. James Tobin says:

    Many years ago, at an outdoors concert in Lewisohn Stadium in New York, it was so hot and humid that it affected the tuning of the violin on which Szigeti was playing the Brahms concerto. Mercifully, the reviewer did not mention that the soloist was sweating for more than one reason.

  22. Steve Foster says:

    Acoustically speaking, outdoor performances are a waste of time anyways.

  23. This is why I have a carbon fiber cello for my outdoor summer concert series.

  24. Catherine Hamilton says:

    As a professional violinist who was present at this concert, I’d like to add that the temperature was a sweltering 110 F (43C!). It was evidently a great challenge for everyone involved. The soloist hadn’t even had an opportunity to rehearse with the orchestra, so she could never have anticipated the nightmare of performing without a shoulder rest (as she always does) in this heat and it seemed like she spent the first movement trying to stop her invaluable Gariel Strad from slipping from under her chin. Thanks to a section violinist who leant her a shoulder rest at the end of the first movement, Nicola was able to actually hold her violin and much admiration to her for persevering through these conditions!

  25. The audience seemed to love it and the orchestra – meaning Orchestra Association – received its fee.
    These two pieces of the puzzle must be just too large to be brought down to size by the poor quality (relatively speaking) of the performance (should I say “product”), frustration with instruments which CANNOT bear such heat/humidity conditions – even possible damage to the instruments- and gross discomfort of the musicians – the latter being unpleasant but the least of the problems.
    In the case of our soloist, her portion was difficult enough without her having to do battle with her instrument – to put her through that was a criminal act and she and all of us on stage suffered knowing what a tribulation she had to endure.
    Weather can’t be accurately predicted, of course, but when such conditions are even likely- and these were known nearly a week in advance! – a concert should be rescheduled – there need to be insurance policies for this kind of thing.
    Professional musicians like their comforts, yes, but more importantly, we take our music making SERIOUSLY and often these outdoor programs are the only time some will ever hear us; if they don’t hear us at our best, i.e. under REASONABLE playing conditions, they may never know what a thrilling thing our music making is and may never come AGAIN. We have lost future listeners and, more importantly, they have lost an opportunity to know- to love great music.

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