Monday, October 13, 2008

Music That Makes Me Happy (Part 1 of Part 2)

It was certainly a musically satisfying weekend, so let's continue on with the theme of happy musical experiences (note that happy doesn't always means happy). Two major musical events, one expected, one not so much. Here we go:

1) Saturday night, my wife and I enjoyed our first night out at the BSO as subscribers. It was quite an auspicious start, given that the entire program was Mahler's monumental 6th symphony. And true, it's a decidely not happy piece, but the evening was wonderful. A few observations. First, although I know that an "event" piece like this isn't exactly a typical symphony experience, the whole evening could not have been less like the strawman depictions of classical concerts that Greg Sandow and many of his commenters tend to emphasize. The orchestra and audience struck me as energized and engaged; the audience did not look particularly formal or elite (I felt almost overdressed in my jacket and tie), the way Sandow characterizes a standard symphony crowd here:

"In the audience, the men are mostly wearing suits and ties. They look as if they might be going to a meeting in the board room of a bank, while Jed went to his concert wearing his hair, as he always does, in a ponytail. That alone, at most classical events, would mark him as different. Classical concerts don’t attract many men in ponytails. Nor do they attract many artists, rumpled intellectuals, rock musicians (even if more than a few rock musicians have tried to write classical music), or anyone, really, who looks (and you can choose your own word here) hip, or casual, or relaxed, or countercultural."

It may just be that Boston's not such a glamorous town, but I saw a wide range of comfortable, relaxed looking people -and they weren't all old. Some were even younger than me! Actually, now that I think about it, lately Sandow has been concerned about audiences and performers not looking hip enough. Read here how horrifed he was by the picture below. It's an admittedly unglamorous photo of orchestra musicians dressed like orchestra musicians and looking like they're really concentrating. Sandow writes, "People in the outside world would never guess that these people are performing for the public." Really? I can't imagine what he means by that. As far as I can tell, his point is that the musicians don't have fashionably styled hair or, what's really inferred, they're not attractive enough to attract people to this music.
But, this is really an argument where either side can easily provide compelling evidence, and I'm sure there will be BSO evenings that we'll find less electric. I'm just gonna say that the audience, by and large, did not seem bored, and the orchestra members looked like they were having a great time - not by flashing André Rieu-like smiles out to the audience (although Levine was beaming often enough), or even by smiling frequently, but rather by playing with such intensity. I think even an unitiated audience member could have picked up on this commitment and passion, even if the length and unfamiliarity of the music had been too problematic for happy listening.

Whoops, time's up. I have much more to say about this concert, and I haven't even gotten yet to the second "happy" musical experience of the weekend, but I'm going to go ahead and post this much. Stay tuned...

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