Home Game

It’s always fun to root for the home team. Gives you a more immediate connection to the event at hand, a sense of belonging.  It’s just not something anyone really ever expects to do at Carnegie Hall. At least not in the roof-raising, hanky-waving way that became the norm during last week’s Spring for Music festival. Seven different orchestras rotated through the schedule for one-night only appearances, many bringing along hundreds of hometown fans for support (and a few extra days in the Big Apple). Festival promoters encouraged the home-game atmosphere by seating them together in large blocks and handing out color-coded handkerchiefs to wave whenever the mood struck, but particularly when the spotlights came on during a pre-concert introduction.

I’d already given away the green hanky that was included with my press ticket for the Oregon Symphony concert. The evening marked the orchestra’s Carnegie debut and an excited fan had grabbed my arm as I wandered past one of the commemorative plaques in the foyer, where she’d been getting her photo taken. “Oh, where’d you get that?” she exclaimed. “I’m collecting souvenirs.” The kindly Portland visitors seated next to me made sure I got another, as they shared stories about the orchestra or the people they knew onstage. Everyone wanted to talk about their favorite players; a number of parents with small children could be seen pointing out specific musicians on stage, probably mom or dad or Uncle Bob.

The energy was palpable as the crowd buzz grew noticeably louder than normal, as audience members eagerly scanned the hall for familiar faces, and as even the onstage warmups seemed livelier than usual. A thunderous roar greeted Music Director Carlos Kalmar when he took the stage, and the audience erupted in an immediate, prolonged standing ovation after the program’s first half.

It was an extraordinary evening, and not just because the concert was terrifically programmed and played. It felt more like being in the stadium for an important major league game. And I was reminded of a New York Times opinion column by David Lang that had appeared a few days earlier, in which the Bang on a Can founder compared classical music to baseball.

Lang’s point was about the connection between the traditions of baseball fans and appreciation of new music, or actually lack thereof. The newest work on the Oregon program was John Adams’ The Wound Dresser, from 1988. But the thoughtful manner in which the “Music for a Time of War” program was ordered—leading from Ives’ The Unanswered Question into the words of Walt Whitman from his Civil War-era poem The Wound Dresser, to pacifist Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem—all performed without breaks or applause, did prompt a reflection on the never-ending cycle of human conflict. Which was what the Spring for Music Festival was about, at its core. Orchestras were chosen on the basis of innovative concert proposals and artistic vision, programs that prompt listeners to see works new and familiar in a fresh way.

I don’t know if it was the music, the emotions of love/peace/war examined, or the energy in the hall, but something proved a real turn-on for one couple seated at the back of the orchestra level, who were locked in a passionate embrace as the concert ended. The rest of the exuberant crowd poured out around them, largely oblivious to the classical make-out scene in their midst, so caught up were they in the triumph of their home team.

And the reviews weren’t bad either.