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Reviewer's Bio

Bob Grossman
Principal Librarian of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Member of the Orchestra Media Committee, retired freelance bassoonist, ICSOM Braumeister and certified beer judge.

 

 

  Could you tell our fans a little bit about what being an orchestra librarian entails?

I'm responsible for locating and coordinating the production for all of the music performed by the orchestra. This is accomplished through buying, renting, and preparing all of the parts and scores. The librarians provide the instrumentations so personnel can properly be hired and the stage correctly set, and maintaining the budget for music expenses. This requires correspondence with conductors, soloists, publishers and our artistic department to assure we have the correct editions and versions for the repertoire we perform. Most music is available in different editions and publishers and is constantly revised with new urtext editions. We hand bow all of our parts and coordinate the strings parts with our principal players, hand bind music, repair and clean old parts, and print new sets when necessary. We devote a lot of time to editing and preparing the music before getting to the point of assembling the concert folders. Each concert has a folder for every instrument to for the musicians. Setting the stage is like the the icing on a cake. I mean it's the final touch of a long process. But like decorations on an elaborate wedding cake, some stage setups can be very complicated. The Library holdings need to be cataloged and shelved too. We also and keep track of the music circulation of all the parts and at least five scores for every piece. That's thousands of sheets of paper! Shipping and receiving is another major part of our job as music comes in from multiple foreign sources, publishers and needs to be sent overseas. A librarian also travels with the orchestra on all tours to take care of the music while on the road.

 

What did your path to becoming a librarian at the PO look like?

I was inspired to study music after Bill Smith and the Philadelphia Orchestra played a concert at my elementary school. I started on trumpet and eventually switched to the bassoon studying at Settlement Music School with retired members of the Orchestra. I love all aspects of music and started helping behind the scenes at school to organize and setup the orchestra. I've always had an quirky knack for organization and collecting everything that interests me so found myself ideally talented to work in a music library. I can remember details about parts and scores that I prepared for Maestro Ormandy and all of our other music directors over the past 35 years that I have been here. I went to Drexel for my Masters in Library Science after getting my music degree and combined both fields.

 

 

Do you play any instruments? Do you still get to play them fairly often?

I play a prewar Heckel bassoon from 1932 that is a similar vintage to what is used by the musicians in our bassoon section. I developed a collection of early double reed instruments in order to perform Renaissance music on period instruments and was a founding member of a consort that played for over 25 years. I commissioned a variety of dulcians, kortholts, sordunes, and baroque bassoons from European makers and picked them up while on Orchestra tours. I recently sold my collection and only continue to occasionally perform on the bassoon.

 

What's the first piece of music you fell in love with?

I don't remember. I kinda remember waking up to the sound of my Dad's home built Hi-Fi and enjoying classical music, jazz, and the occasional Broadway show.

 

What are some of your earliest memories of the Philadelphia Orchestra?

Taking the subway downtown and climbing up to the amphitheatre at the Academy to hear Ormandy conduct our great orchestra.

 

What are your hobbies?

I devote a lot of time to listening and reviewing high end stereo equipment. My cousin says I'm like a drug dealer that samples his own wares except this is a legit operation and I return the super expensive equipment while buying a few pieces for adding to my own reference system. I collect records and estimate there are over 5,000 LPs and 2,000 CDs at home. Summer times are devoted to gardening and winters allow home brewing in my elaborate basement brewery. My garden had been featured on several home tours. I'm a certified beer judge, have won over 100 beer awards, and lecture on the history of brewing and styles. Our family has provided foster care and adopted many cats and dogs over the years. We recently added a six year old retired breeding queen cat. Cooking is another passion and company seems to enjoy my creations. My older daughter is now a chef and nutritionist and my younger daughter is quite a baker and has spent time cooking in Italy for a pension.

 

When you're on tour with the orchestra, what do you like to do when you're not in rehearsals and concerts?

I love getting to museums and seeing local sights. I've been able to meet many instrument dealers and learn first hand how they work. 

 

 

Do you have an embarrassing moment or funny story with the PO that you'd be willing to share?

A good librarian develops close personal relationships with our musicians and conductors. Some things are best kept quiet. Perhaps one of my favorite stories is how I came to wear Maetro Ormandy's Tails. 

 

What does "The Philadelphia Sound" mean to you? Or what makes the Philadelphia Orchestra special?

I have been hearing the "Sound" all my life, steeped in traditions from my teachers, and continue to be amazed and inspired whenever I hear this special orchestra. I find it especially fascinating to hear us perform when we are on tour and performing at so many concert halls and venues yet always quickly manage to adjust the balance, timbre, phrasing and articulations, volume levels, and overall interpretation and presentation to maintain our identity and sound. Of course the orchestra varies with each conductor and their interpretation yet an underlying presence of the "sound" is always in our midst. The orchestra has a long, deep history and tradition that somehow manages to be passed along with each generation.

 

 

What have been your favorite place(s) to visit with the orchestra, and why?

I enjoy travelling and have had many great adventures and experiences over the years. All of our tours are have been special in different ways and I've heard so many extraordinary concerts in very special places with great artists.

 

What do you love most about your job?

There are many aspects to working here that I enjoy, however it's the music performances that is first and foremost a never ending love for me to hear. The constant challenges of producing so much music at this level of quality and detail stimulates my perfectionist side and never ceases to keep me thinking, learning and working out solutions for ways to get the best looking and accurate music into the hands of our players and conductors to facilitate their performances and enable their artistry to be expressed. 

 

 

Listening Room And Gear
The listening room is 14 x 22 feet with an 8 foot ceiling. However FYI, one side of the room has a half wall that opens into the rest of the house so I can hear music everywhere and avoid overloading the room with too much sound pressure. The room has substantial acoustical treatments with Synergistic Research products with placements made in person by Ted Denney when he visited and I did a review of his products. Beyond his samples left behind, I have purchased additional products because they are great enhancements. I've devoted the past two years to developing this system with careful upgrades and acquisitions to bring out the best sound after purchasing the 20.7 speakers. The speakers are incredible performers but very demanding to have only superb and excellent front end equipment and room treatments. I am convinced that I simply wouldn't be able to achieve the kind of resolution and performance levels I'm hearing without the power treatments, the equipment stands to control vibration, and good acoustical treatments. I'm looking forward to meeting in Chicago.

 

 

More Info About Bob Grossman
I was weaned on The Sound of Music. My earliest memories are waking up hearing my dad's HiFi playing show tunes, classical music or the cool jazz playing of Chet Baker and Dave Brubeck along with occasional forays of big band jazz records of Ellington, Basie and Hampton or the hip Mose Alison and Stan Getz. His Hi-Fi was built into a blonde mahogany console that included a Garrard Turntable, Fisher Tuner and homemade preamp and amp. I now have many jazz recordings but Basie with 75 and Ellington with 50 LPs top the list. I have over 150 Stravinsky Lps in the classical collection. I was an audiophile long before that term came into fashion. My Dad clearly would be laughing his ass off at me speaking so poetically about the sound of vintage British valves and American vacuum tubes along with other musical artifacts. To him, tubes were simply parts and tools of the trade when he repaired TV's and radios.

My Mom would drive over to Philco in nearby Lansdale, PA to pickup tubes. I remember my Dad's quick wit, analytical mind to trouble shoot issues and clean soldering skills when I occasionally tagged along on house calls or went down to his basement workshop. Although I didn't follow in his footsteps to assemble and repair electronic equipment, I feel a sense of his musical interest and appreciation for equipment design was passed along. I also pay painstaking attention to details and will relentlessly pursue figuring out the sound and impact of any piece of equipment introduced into a stereo system. I like to work towards enhancing and balancing the best features and attributes that the new items offer with adjustments in room placements, tubes, weights, cables, repertoire playback, or other complimentary choices of equipment. It's essential to identify and find the correct synergy of products. I've found there ultimately isn't any 100% absolute level of perfection when it comes to sound creation. Heck, as a performer everything changes daily with my mood, strength, choice of reed, acoustical setting, ensemble and repertoire. Something in my performing setup that's perfect for Mozart and Beethoven isn't going to be the same for Mahler, Strauss and Stravinsky.

I embrace these differences and make the necessary adjustments. Essentially it's the same concepts and ideas that I bring to hearing stereo equipment. There are so many choices and great designs available these days at every price point. They all deserve exposure and a fair evaluation. I enjoy learning and experiencing what each item expresses technically and musically.

Fifty five years ago on one fortuitous day, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra played a concert at my elementary school. The assembly was followed by a promotion to speak to the music teacher about studying an instrument. I went home that night to ask my parents about taking up the licorice stick so I could play like Benny Goodman. They approved the idea and I was excited at the prospect. However, it turned out that all the clarinets were taken by others so I was presented a cornet which was just as well, as instead I could learn to play like Satchmo. My musical talents and studies provided many rich experiences and opportunities. I took to practicing, rehearsing and performing like a duck to water. Little did I know at that youthful time how all of the studies and lessons over the school days and years with retired Philadelphia Orchestra members as my teachers would eventually lead to me joining the famous orchestra.

My early studies on the cornet and trumpet were with the renowned Stokowski era player Sigmund Hering. Luckily, I got to play trumpet in the jazz band for a while. Later, I had two great bassoon teachers who provided a further historical context, traditional education and perspective. Ferdinand DelNegro, the retired contrabassoonist took over as my inspirational teacher when I switched to the bassoon in High School. Later, the former Principal Bassoonist of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Sol Schoenbach was a mentor that encouraged me to become a librarian along with performing on the bassoon. Sol is performing on the Disney classic Fantasia movie and any other Philadelphia Orchestra recordings made from 1937 through 1957. Many years ago, I met Maestro Ormandy and started part-time work in the Library earning $3 an hour! This rather limited pay wasn't much of an issue because the true value was getting to be a part of this great orchestra and hearing all of those rehearsals and concerts. Destiny and good fortune came together when Maestro Ormandy approved my selection a year later to become a full time member.

The seasons passed quickly as the assistant librarian for 25 years with our music directors Maestros Riccardo Muti and Wolfgang Sawallsich. During the Music Directorship of Maestro Christoph Eschenbach, an audition committee of 20 musicians promoted me to become the new Principal Librarian. I have now completed 40 seasons and are in the top ten of seniority tenured members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. However, now at my age I am no longer considered the boy wunderkinder bibliothecaire. I have seen, heard and worked with an incredible number of maestros, soloists, composers and musicians. I've travelled on many international and domestic tours with The Philadelphia Orchestra and attended performances in many of the most famous concert halls.

Although the vast majority of the 20,000 LPs and CDs I have at home are classical, I also have a large and growing collection of jazz along with world music and electronica genres. I hear live music many hours a week either at work or practicing and rehearsing at home. This has prompted wanting to hear reproduced music sound as realistic and natural as possible as when I hear it performed live. The tonal colors and timbre of instruments and voices must be clear with realistic textures and balances. The dynamic range and contrasts in transients must be engaging with a fast pace. As a performer, I need total control of dynamics from piano to forte. Being able to properly tune and blend when playing with an ensemble is essential so layers and sounds of orchestrations, music textures, and pitch stability during vinyl playback is something I notice. While tube based gear and analogue playback is a particular passion that I enjoy, I really appreciate the fine quality and design of solid state equipment and high resolution digital products. In fact I find it fascinating that many of the greatest historical recordings and performances, especially old radio broadcasts and alternative version takes are now seeing new life and exposure for the first time with clean remastered releases on Lp, CD formats or high resolution streaming.

I seek equipment that has the ability to provide musical satisfaction and emotional involvement. I am used to hearing live music sound levels of 80 or 90 db and even the occasional peaks that go over 100db. I've lived with and enjoyed systems based around speakers that are mini monitors, giant horns, and planar designs. The front end has included massive tube amps from Rogue or a 300B design from Allnic, big muscle amps from Krell, Burmester and ModWright or more modest solid state designs. I find a lot of the musical satisfaction is related to the context and size of room where the stereo is located. Even the listening room decor and aesthetics can help bring the music to life by being a pleasant place to relax along with having excellent acoustical treatments. My desire is to bring and share knowledge of music and performance experiences to you in my reviews.

My other interests include devoting time with my family, cooking, gardening and home brewing of beer and mead. I come from a family of teachers. My wife is a dance therapist with a specialty in early childhood development. Our daughter Sarah has recently published her first book. Our other daughter Leda has traveled and taught in Italy, Chicago, Rochester and currently resides in Boston. Our garden has hosted several neighborhood tours and is recognized as a certified wildlife habitat and river friendly garden by the Delaware River Keeper Network. I've won over 100 brewing awards and specialize in recreating historic British Ales and various Belgium and Trappist styles of beers with authentic yeast cultures. I practice yoga and provide a nurturing home for retired show cats. 

 

Equipment List
VPI Aries Turntable with two tone arms:

FatBoy Arm mounted with the Kiseki Purple Heart stereo cartridge 
Aries Arm mounted with VAS Novus MC mono cartridge

Manley Chinook phonostage - Upscale Audio Special Edition

Rogue Ares phonostage - with Cinemag "Blue" 1254 SUT 

PrimaLuna Prologue Premium CD Player with vintage NOS tubes from Cibde/Mazda, Brimar, and Philips

Rogue RP7 Preamplifier with vintage NOS tubes from Brimar

Rogue Audio Apollo Dark Monoblock Amplifiers

Magnepan 20.7 Speakers with Grant Mye stands filled with Atabites and sitting on Mapleshade two inch brass footers 

JL Audio Labs e112 subwoofers

Mapleshade equipment racks with 4" platforms and 3" footers, various brass weights 

Herbie's Audio Lab tube dampers, footer cups, footers, dots, sonic stabilizer, black hole cd mat

Cables for interconnects, speakers and power cords by Joe Kubala, various types on manufacturer loan

Cables for interconnects and speakers by LessLoss, various types on manufacturer loan

Firewall Module Current Conditioning Units and DFPC Reference power cords by LessLoss on manufacturer loan

 



Synergistic Research products on manufacturer loan: Black Box, UEF Acoustic panels, Atmosphere Tower "XL" Version

Synergistic Research products purchased: HFT Speaker kit and room treatments, UEF dots, quantum blue fuses

Siemens electrical panel with two dedicated 20 amp lines connected to four SR UEF Black Duplex outlets

Home to over 20,000 LP records and CDs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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