“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.
“I don’t know anything about classical music.” Join the club. Show up an hour early (that is, 7:00), and you can sit in on the pre-game talk (they call it a lecture, but it’s not quite that formal). Last night, this was delivered by Stephan Tieszen, the ECSO’s concertmaster. (I’d love to explain to you what a concertmaster does, but I’d be leaving my zone of competence. If Stephan Tieszen is typical of the profession, I’d say it has something to do with being a music geek.) He talked about a variety of matters, including how his violin was made in the early 1700s by a guy who learned how to make violins from the guy who made last night’s guest soloist’s violin. I thought that was pretty cool. But mostly he compared the composers of the night’s two “big” compositions, Antonin Dvorak and Jean Sibelius, who were born 25 years apart but otherwise had remarkably parallel careers. All this is a roundabout way of saying that you don’t really have to know anything about classical music. Just listen to some.
To get you started, here is an audio stream from WSHU, Sacred Heart University’s radio station in B-port. If you don’t like what they’re playing, try WFCR from up in Amherst. (Note: those are .pls, or “playlist”, links. You might have to right-click the link and save it and paste it into Winamp or Windows Media Player. I regret that I’ve forgotten a lot of what I used to know about Windows, but I’m sure you can figure it out. They work great in Rhythmbox, the GNOME desktop’s music player.) I remember at one concert, a nice person asked me which ones were the cellos, because her neighbor’s daughter was a cellist. I love questions I can answer! “Not the real big ones,” I said, “the not-quite-so-big ones in front of them. They’re really neat.” That was all she really needed to know to get started, and she ended up enjoying the music. And what could be better than that?