by Lorien Benet Hart
My first weeks with the PSO were as an extra violinist on the 2001 South American tour; I knew very few people in the orchestra and relied mostly on people adopting me into their “tour family” for any socializing. Little did I know that a hole-in-the-wall tango performance in Montevideo, Uruguay would come to define my touring for the next two decades. That was the evening I met PSO oboist Scott Bell, who soon became one of my dearest friends and my long-time “tour buddy.” Known for pairing PSO concerts to sold-out audiences around the world with finding the tastiest food, the closest H&M stores, and the driest martinis, we became a PSO tour fixture. When Scott told me he was being courted for a teaching position at the new Tianjin Juilliard campus, my heart dropped. “But … what about US?” The more he talked about it though, the more I knew it was his time to start a new chapter. One still full of great food, snappy dressing, and dry martinis, but this time in his new home in China.
What a difference 18 months can make. That is how long it took to move Scott Bell’s home address from Pittsburgh to Tianjin. From the first contact in February 2018, through the hiring process, and his eventual move in August 2019, Scott and his husband Larry Allen embraced the changes to come while still keeping a foot solidly planted in their beloved Pittsburgh. They enrolled in Mandarin language classes, they apartment-hunted in China, and they set up a schedule of trans-Pacific flights enabling Larry to keep working as the Director of Music and Organist at Mount Lebanon United Lutheran Church while still spending time in China with Scott.
Scott’s first year was supposed to be one of establishing a pre-college program and spreading the word about this new campus. With the official opening scheduled for Fall 2020, the first semester was a whirlwind of faculty chamber music performances, teaching pre-college students, recruitment trips, and, of course, more Mandarin lessons.
Scott returned to his Pittsburgh home in February when US nationals were encouraged to return before border closings went into effect. He quickly mastered the art of Zoom and spent the semester teaching his pre-college students remotely and participating in the weekly school assembly, even lecturing one week on the “History of the Symphony Orchestra.” One might think that the Covid-19 pandemic would have severely curtailed the plan to open the Tianjin Juilliard campus, but there has actually been an increase in interest from Chinese national students who might not be able to travel to the US this fall for school. Scott describes the new campus and the upcoming opening with the giddiness of an expecting parent: “it’s a fabulous facility and will provide the Juilliard experience in China. I highly encourage everyone to look at the project online!” https://dsrny.com/project/tianjin-juilliard
Looking into the rear view mirror of his 28 years with the PSO, Scott still finds it hard to believe that a kid from rural Iowa could have been part of such a storied chain of events. Hired by Lorin Maazel in 1991, playing under the batons of Maestros Jansons, Honeck, and the many other guest conductors throughout his orchestral career, Scott sees one constant: that the PSO has always been a great orchestra. For 25 of those years, Scott sat alongside Cindy, Jim, and Harold in what would become one of the longest-standing oboe sections anywhere in the world. Though three of the four have now retired, Scott has the greatest confidence in the artistry of those to follow.
Despite the unexpected complications of the past 4 months, Scott is enjoying the challenge of being part of creating something completely new. His fellow Tianjin Juilliard faculty members have a shared commitment and sense of adventure that ties them together in a unique way. With this new group of colleagues and friends, Scott is continuing our well-established tradition of pairing great musical adventures with finding great food, the closest H&M, and the driest martini. Here’s to your next chapter, dear friend! ????