Trib Total Media
February 9, 2021
Joanne Klimovich Harrop

On a warm fall night in Downtown Pittsburgh, members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performed in the Heinz Hall garden.

Principal oboist Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida complemented the symphony’s strings ensemble for Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” with a sound that resonated, a memorial to the composer who died in July.

Port Authority buses could be heard in the background. People walked nearby.

“The music rose up from the city,” said Jennifer Schlieper, director of Flying Scooter Productions, a Pittsburgh-based production company hired to create the “Front Row” digital series for the symphony. “These are such incredible musicians. Cynthia’s performance made this evening magical. There wasn’t a dry eye among any of us.”

It was the first episode in the series.

The “Our Love for Pittsburgh” show features performances and interviews.

“Playing outside lifted me up,” DeAlmeida said in the video. “With everything we are going through, I invite people to close their eyes and listen, and then listen again.”

Schlieper and Courtney Gumpf, Flying Scooter’s executive producer, recalled moments such as DeAlmeida’s performance as a way to connect the city to its symphony, which has been unable to perform as usual during the pandemic. Heinz Hall is temporarily closed.

Some filming was done there and outside because of Gov. Tom Wolf’s covid-19 mitigation orders.

Other locations include Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side, Z-Best Barbecue in Uptown, Washington County Airport Hangar, Fallingwater in Mill Run, Fayette County — and Musikverein, Austria.

The series is free at Comcast On Demand for Xfinity customers in the Pittsburgh region and on the symphony’s website. Later this month, additional footage will be released, which will include a gala episode to recognize the symphony’s 125th anniversary on Feb. 27. There is a $25 fee for this episode.

Performing virtually is a first for the orchestra.

“These musicians have not forgotten their mission. … They play for the community,” said music director Manfred Honeck. “They share their talents with the people. My heart is thankful to them.”

Schlieper said she is honored to be a part of the series and is thankful to the symphony “for believing in us.” It’s been challening because the bulk of the outdoor shooting had to be done before the weather got too cold. Working on the project made her realize even more that Pittsburgh is fortunate to have such world-renowned musicians. Schlieper said having the natural elements outside added to the production. They wanted the imperfections of buses going by and people stopping to see what was going on.

Those things create natural and true moments, she said.

At Fallingwater, the “environment woke up,” Schlieper said. “Birds flew over head and chipmunks ran by.”

“Music heals,” said Schlieper. “The musicians miss performing live, but they are grateful for this opportunity. We are blessed with the most incredible talent here.”

Gumpf said collaborating with such wonderful locations added to the experience. They shot at all times of the day and week.

“It is important to support the arts and culture that we have here in Pittsburgh,” Gumpf said. “It’s a way to connect us. It has been fun listening and watching. There were times when a performance was finished and the crew would cheer and clap because it was so emotionally moving.”

It is important for the muscians to play music together, Gumpf said. They feed off of each other. There were so many incredible moments, she said.

The series tells stories of the neighborhoods that surround Heinz Hall, Schlieper said.

“We wanted to give Pittsburgh Symphony patrons and new audiences something to explore,” Schlieper said. “We built a series that anyone who watched it could identify with the music, the people or the stories. Music is the base but the real magic comes from the voices all around the city.”

Gumpf said it was important to “deliver a series that was accessible to everyone.”

Schlieper said the support of symphony President and CEO Melia Tourangeau and vice president for marketing and sales Aleta King made the project run smoothly. The series helped some people get back to work, Schlieper said.

They worked to create a look and feel of being “right there and having a front-row seat.”

Director of photography Phil Akins previously worked with Schlieper on the award-winning mini-documentary “Eye of the Needle,” detailing the heroin and homeless epidemic in Pittsburgh, and “Welcome Home,” about Light of Life Rescue Mission on the North Side.