You know that scene in Love Actually — bear with me — when the pairs of instrumentalists join the organ and vocalist in performing one last surprise song at their friends’ wedding ceremony, raising goosebumps on your typically cynical forearms. Don’t deny it, even if Hugh Grant flicks make you nauseous, that scene was romantic as hell.
Now picture Symphony Hall. A packed house. The final number of the inaugural performance of the youngest music director in over 100 years. Two trios of horns pop up in opposing balconies. After the initial giggle you share with your date after pointing out that that’s the first note the man with the white hair and thick-framed glasses has heard all night, the beauty of the evening washes over you, and, it should go without saying, it blows the romcom out of the park.
Andris Nelsons’ first night as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 15th music director was a delight, and I say that not as a critic, but as a young person living in Boston. National and local classical music aficionado’s sat to my right and to my left and they’ve served up the particulars on the timing, the texture, and the phrasing of the nights program that featured Wagner, Puccini, and Respighi. I could join the conversation and offer my critique (which would lean positive, see above), but perhaps I am in the unique position — a recent grad, a twentysomething who arrived in the city only after Nelsons’ predecessor James Levine went from absentee to retired, and the youngest person at the opening performance gala besides the few tweens accompanying their parents — to be a different voice. That is the voice ArtFuse critic Jonathan Bluhomfer dubs the orchestra’s “untapped audience: students; young professionals; and others who have, for various reasons, stayed away in seasons past.”
It’s not only Bluhomfer who has pinpointed the glaring demographic challenge that the BSO faces in winning over young blood. In a piece last week, Dig assoc. music editor Martin Caballero quoted Nelsons’ own desire to be a conductor for the people: “This music is for everyone, for rich or poor.” In an epistolary Boston Globe OpEd, Geoff Edgers urges Nelsons to “Embrace the Pops,” “Symphony Hall’s poor stepchild,” in order to reach the younger demographic. In his New York Times review, Anthony Tommasini criticizes Nelsons for a timid bill that was comprised of only dead and decaying composers and suggests he “takes some chances and reaches out to living composers, especially those in the Boston area.” While the latter may not say it outright, injecting some living, breathing flesh into the Hall will undoubtedly spark a buzz throughout the city.
But the question remains, are we listening to that buzz?
Don’t underestimate us. Didn’t you read the MFA’s Culture Track report? We’d hear about it as quickly as we heard the 35-year-old maestro was coming to town (with, as one forever crass friend put it, “two smoking hot opera singers” in tow). We might hear about it faster than the rest.
Earlier in the day on Saturday, I was shopping at The Closet on Newbury St. for a dress to befit the occasion — I’m last minute like that. Stepping out of the dressing room, the young, smart sales attendant asked what the occasion was, and I told her I was going to the symphony.
“Oh, I read about that, and then heard it on the radio this morning,” she replied. “Isn’t he the youngest conductor in the BSO’s history?” She told me about the time her mom brought her to the orchestra and she got dolled up only to get there and be greeted with men in light blue jeans and frumpy button ups. She felt silly for her unnecessary get up, but her experience was delightful nonetheless. She decided for me that the dress was perfect and wished me a good evening. She told me she’d be going to a performance later in the season.
Take note, BSO: The young people of the city are listening, they want to partake in the fun, and they’ll dress for the occasion. Now it’s your job to continue to welcome us, and with Nelsons at the helm, it shouldn’t be too hard.