“I can’t afford it.” OK, it’s not exactly a cheap night out. The cheapest seats in the Garde are $30, and that’s either way in the upper deck (I’m tempted to call them “nosebleeds”, but the Garde isn’t that big) or way in the front, where you’re extremely close but can’t see too well. Most of the seats on the main floor are $47; a few in the back are $37, and they’re great. In fact, I have yet to find an acoustically bad seat anywhere in the place; the orchestra isn’t as gloriously loud in the nosebleeds as it is in the $47s, but it’s just as clear.
“Orchestra concertgoers are snotheads.” Last night, some guy in a suit cut me off at the concession stand. He may have been making a statement about my denimy sartorial presence, but I think he would have been rude and pushy at the grocery store or anywhere else. The experience said nothing about music. The point is well taken, though. My general experience is that classical music fans don’t go to concerts to make friends, and concerts aren’t the greatest social experiences I’ve ever had. (The most talking I ever did at one of these things was was at the Waterbury Symphony when I ended up sitting next to an affable Chamber of Commerce guy. The orchestra played the living daylights out of Shostakovich, as it happened, so I was able to say some real nice things about Waterbury and the cultural life thereof. Such moments please me on several levels.)
I’m sure there was a time when orchestra concerts reinforced some brutal hierarchy of established wealth and entitlement. But that time is passing. Internet discussion forums about classical music can be miserable affairs (as are many of the specialist journals), but those people either don’t live around here, or they stay home with their CDs, or they behave differently in public. I haven’t run into them anywhere in Connecticut.
“If these guys were any good, wouldn’t they be in New York or something?” In a future post (later tonight if I stay awake long enough, otherwise tomorrow), I’ll write a blow-by-blow description of last night’s events. For now, I’ll just say that the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra has become a jewel. I don’t know what might make one regional orchestra more accomplished than another. That’s an interesting question that’ll require more research, but I’ll offer the opinion that there’s no shortage of classically trained musicians with chops to spare. The Hartt School in Hartford is one of the better ones around, I’ve heard, and even places like UConn and URI have large and interesting music programs that they aren’t famous for. I’ve seen four of the state’s orchestras (Waterbury, as noted; New Haven, though not under its current musical director; and Hartford, whose musical director is retiring and whose new one will be chosen soon), and though each has its own personality, I’d be really hard-pressed to say whether, never mind how, one is “better” than another.