One of the biggest disappointments for Craig Knox, the principal tuba player of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra [PSO], was the cancellation of Mahler’s seldom-performed Eighth Symphony.
“Mahler used my instrument very much and in very creative ways,” Knox said, “and we all were very excited to play this piece for the 125th anniversary of the orchestra.”
Alas, performing in Heinz Hall with a huge orchestra and a huge chorus won’t fly amid the pandemic. The PSO canceled 115 concerts, including a European tour.
“The hardest thing is not being able to perform and experience the music together with an audience in the same place,” Knox said. “We’re used to having thousands of people listen to the orchestra. It’s very difficult to be torn away from that.
“As musicians we are used to spending lots of time in isolation, practicing the same music over and over again, trying to perfect it, trying to make it as beautiful as possible. But the whole purpose of that is to share it with the world.”
So it made perfect sense that from the very first week of the lockdown, many PSO musicians — Knox among them — explored ways to virtually share their music with audiences.
“Many of us started recording videos of our performances at home and posting them on social media for the public, for anybody,” he said.
To keep the orchestra afloat, the PSO musicians agreed to three consecutive pay cuts since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We understand that we have to work with the institution to find a way to stay alive,” Knox said, “and right now that means we have to make some financial sacrifices.”
Recently, musicians have returned to film the PSO’s new digital series, though with restrictions in place, including masks and distancing. Needless to say, Knox cannot play his tuba while wearing a mask — brass and wind players sit farther apart and play almost exclusively outside.
On a positive note: With limited performances and rehearsals, Knox found the time to become an even better tuba player. “I had the time to address aspects of playing my instrument that have always frustrated me. So it was an opportunity to continue to develop.”
Teake Zuidema is a photographer and journalist living in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This story was fact-checked by Emily Briselli.