PSO tuba player Craig Knox gets his moment in the spotlight with Previn commission

March 8, 2012 12:00 am
  • Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tuba player Craig Knox.
    Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tuba player Craig Knox.
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You don't think of delicate dancing when the tuba is involved, but when tuba player Craig Knox plays in Heinz Hall, it's a visual as well as bone-rattling experience. The stage lights reflect off the immense shiny surface of his instrument onto the auditorium walls. It's almost as if the tuba is begging for a little attention.

Not so Mr. Knox.

From the day he joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2005, his play has been as sterling as his tuba. The PSO snatched him up when he was acting principal at the San Francisco Symphony and a sought-after sub with major American orchestras, such as Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago. He had been principal tuba of the Sacramento Symphony and of that elite training ground of classical musicians, the New World Symphony in Miami. But a career is never a given when you play an instrument that only leads to a few full-time positions nationwide. You have to have a passion for playing it on the long and uncertain journey.

"There is only one tuba in a symphony orchestra, and I enjoy being the lone voice at the bottom of the brass choir," says Mr. Knox. "[I] picked up baritone horn to play in my middle school band. When I was 11, I attended a summer music camp and was absolutely enthralled by the student orchestra ... but I didn't play an orchestral instrument! The tuba is a cousin of the baritone horn, and I switched the day I got home."

He now owns five tubas.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.

Tickets: $20-$93; or 412-392-4900.

They reside, as he does, with his family in Mt. Lebanon. His wife, Kristen Linfante, also is a musician, a violist who is a member of the Cleveland-based Apollo's Fire Baroque Orchestra and often performs with Chatham Baroque. (She recently became a commissioner of Mt. Lebanon.) "Kristen attended Juilliard and I attended Curtis during the same years," he says. "We had many, many mutual friends and almost met many times." But it wasn't until they were professional musicians that they actually did.

Mr. Knox may have made a quick decision to take up the tuba, but he loved its timbre, or sound quality.

"When played well, the tuba can have a very rich, mellow voice, like a bass-baritone singer," says the Storrs, Conn., native. "But it can also be very powerful."

But, as is the fate of this bass brass instrument, his playing has been tucked in the back of the stage and underpinning the music. Tuba solos are rare.

First Published 2012-03-07 23:11:36

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