Anatomy of a mighty noise
Those in the audience at Disney Hall on Sunday afternoon at Esa-Pekka Salonen's conducting farewell with the Los Angeles Philharmonic weren't the only ones a bit startled at the raucous fanfare played by the brass and timpani that came after the performance was over.
The normally unflappable Salonen, returning from the wings for a solo bow, seemed caught off-guard; he jumped about a foot in the air as the blast hit him. When it ended he had regained his composure and placed his hands over his heart and bowed to the musicians responsible for the cacophony.
What he, and everyone else in the hall, had just experienced was a rarely played "tusch."
"Tusch" -- pronounced "toosh" -- is the German word for a brass fanfare, or any flourish. It is bestowed by musicians on fellow musicians or a conductor, the highest musical honor they can give each other.
The tusch goes back as early as the 17th century and is believed to stem from European trumpeters. Basically, it's short and loud.
No two tuschs, it turns out, are alike -- it's something of a jubilant exercise in spontaneity.
For instance, there was no formal vote within the orchestra on whether or not to do one, and there was no rehearsal.
"It was just something we knew we were going to do -- we wanted to honor Salonen," said trumpeter Boyde Hood, who has been in the orchestra since 1982. "About the only discussion in advance was what key -- C major, which is such an open key -- and then you make a mighty noise."
Sunday's tusch started, as they usually do, with the timpani. Principal Joseph Pereira built a quick, brief roll, then the brass layered on top of it for maybe 10 seconds and it was gone.
"There's no set length, it's that loose," Hood said. "It goes for a while until we hit a big chord and that was it."
Hood, 69, recalls playing tuschs for Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez and others over the years, but he said that Sunday's fanfare, followed by the scene on-stage when the musicians formed a line and one after another hugged Salonen, was something special and unique in his experience.
"It was all a spontaneous show of affection and respect. [The tusch] was so loud because we were just all really laying on it. It's how we feel about Esa-Pekka."
-- Christopher Smith
Photo: Esa-Pekka Salonen. Credit: Craig T. Mathew, Associated Press / L.A. Philharmonic