No blast like the past disappoints July 4 symphony fans

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To critics, this July 4 the Houston Symphony turned into the Houston Sym-phony.

The annual holiday classical musical concert at Miller Outdoor Theatre this year lacked the signature cannons used during the performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

Officials with the symphony and theatre, in a joint statement, said the decision was made last year, citing “logistical reasons.”

Last year, actual cannons were not used, but instead a “live blast” was used to simulate the use of real gunpowder. The effect is a stage pyrotechnic.


“While a great alternative for the 4th of July festivities, the live blast made a few concert-goers feel distressed over fears of safety,” symphony and theatre officials said.

This year, the booming cannon sound was piped in via the speaker system.

“We are currently exploring ways to augment the actual sounds of cannon fire for 2018,” officials said.

The symphony did use real cannons for its performance the previous night at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. A battery of cannons along the pavilion’s hillside fired the shots for the penultimate part of the piece.

No big bang had some Miller attendees fired up on the fourth.

“It is how you should experience it,” said John Barton, a local music teacher and supporter of the symphony. “You really do lose something without it being a real cannon blast.”

Not only is it an audible boom, but Barton noted the use of cannons at Miller is visual as well, with the muzzle flaring and smoke rising as part of the experience.

“They are a big draw,” he said. “I think the people around me were disappointed when it didn’t happen.”

A handful of attendees took to Twitter to note the absence.

With few disruptions, the symphony has been using a stack of eight cannons, each fired twice, for the 16 cannon blasts needed for the piece. The cannons are typically placed on the right side of the hill used for viewing performances.

Prior to bringing in the heavy artillery, the symphony used shotguns to replicate the blasts.

It was not the first time the symphony has gone without the real thing, but it has been a rarity over the past 30 years. In 2012, Stephen Brosvik, then the general manager of the symphony, acknowledged it was an audience favorite.

“The real thing is more fun,” Brosvik said at the time.

Though a crowd-pleaser and one of the symphony’s largest attended events, the overture was not a favorite of its composer. Tchaikovsky blasted it as “very loud and noisy and completely without artistic merit, obviously written without warmth or love.”

Despite his displeasure, the piece made Tchaikovsky’s estate very rich, as one of the most-performed pieces of his work.

It was written to celebrate Russia’s 1812 victory over Napoleon, intended to be debuted at the consecration of the Kremlin’s Cathedral of the Redeemer. It’s first shot, however, did not occur at the cathedral opening, as the Tsar’s assassination put a damper on the festivities.


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