Ever heard The Rite of Sprinklers?

Ever heard The Rite of Sprinklers?


norman lebrecht

April 25, 2016

A twist on The Philadelphia Story, sent to us by Clinton F. Nieweg.

philadelphia hall



From Carol Westfall, Orchestra Librarian Volunteer:


At the morning rehearsal on Tuesday, December 3, 2002, The Philadelphia Orchestra was rehearsing Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring with Maestro Eschenbach. They were using Clinton F. Nieweg’s 2000 corrected edition. Clinton suggested I go listen to the rehearsal since I had worked for almost two years with him on the project. No one was at the rehearsal except the musicians on stage, so I stayed out of sight on the Second Tier. This was the final rehearsal so there weren’t very many stops and starts.


All of a sudden the lights near the stage started to flash and before anyone could react to why that was happening, the sprinkler system turned on and flooded the stage. Musicians scurried everywhere to get their instruments to dry ground. Some jumped off the front of the stage. Others ran to the side of the stage. Still others dashed to the back of the stage which had remained drier than the front. I don’t recall anyone rescuing their music at that point. The obvious concern was for the instruments.


After watching all this in disbelief, I hurried back to The PO Library to see what was being done to save Clinton’s edition. The library staff and stage crew had collected the soggy, dripping parts and delivered them to the Library. We spread them out on the carpet outside the library door and took inventory and did a quick assessment of what could be saved.


A few minutes later, Maestro Eschenbach came by to see what we were doing and to add his support. That is the first time I heard the phrase Rite of Sprinklers uttered by the Maestro himself.


We got some hair dryers from somewhere, perhaps the guest artists’ dressing room and many sheets of music were hung on lines draped around the library. Every effort was made to salvage each piece of music we could. Some sheets were even ironed to get the wrinkles out. I remember we were not able to save them all. The string parts were the most affected since they were closest to the sprinklers.


Fourteen years later, I attended another Philadelphia Orchestra concert to hear The Rite of Spring performed. The Orchestra played a beautiful Symphony #1 by Prokofiev. Then they began Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes. The lovely cello and harp section was just concluding when the lights started to flash just as they had done in 2002.


Sirens blared and an insistent and very loud recorded voice told us to evacuate immediately due to threat of fire. Thankfully, no sprinklers this time! It was a false alarm and the concert continued about forty minutes later. The Rite of Spring was performed without incident this time. But those flashing lights certainly brought back some vivid memories of the Deluge of 2002.

rite mss


  • Fred says:

    Fun story. Thanks for sharing it!