On the second Saturday of the month, the Boston Symphony Orchestra offers free public tours of Symphony Hall. I’m working on a walking tour of the Avenue of the Arts for Boston By Foot and have never been inside Symphony Hall (although I have been to Tanglewood), so my co-lead Megan & I took the opportunity to visit. Despite miserable, wet weather a larger crowd than I expected turned out. The tour went beyond all expectations as well. Our guide had a sonorous voice that amply demonstrated the performance hall’s fine acoustics. His tour lasted nearly two hours and took us to all parts of the building.
In addition to the concert hall itself we visited the orchestra library and talked with the orchestral librarian. Her work space has a large collection of vintage scores and a great view of the Christian Science Plaza. Her job includes marking all the scores for each of the musicians. Definitely not something they teach you at library school. Our tour also took us back stage – a rather humble spot considering all the famed conductors and performers who’ve stood there – and down into the bowels of the building beneath the orchestra level. The elevator used to remove the seats from orchestra seating and bring up tables for Pops performances is not quite what I imagined, but impressive nonetheless.
I learned a lot on this tour, including:
- The difference between the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. The Pops are the BSO minus the 12 principal performers stepping out. Everyone in the orchestra moves up a chair and the 12 empty seats are filled with freelance musicians. The Esplanade Orchestra is entirely made up of freelance artists because the real BSO is at Tanglewood in July.
- Symphony Hall’s perfect acoustics are aided by the niches along the walls and the compartments on the ceilings.
- The exterior of the building is rather plain because construction went over budget with all the decoration and design of the interior.
- The first woman member of the BSO was a harpist and lack of a women’s dressing room on tours meant she had to change clothing inside her harp case.
- Saturday night performances are broadcast live on WGBH’s All Classical station 99.5 FM!
This tour is definitely a hidden gem in Boston and I highly recommended taking it. Now I just need to experience a performance at Symphony Hall.