A few days ago, I spent a wonderful evening with some new MSO subscribers. Having the chance to give a season overview presentation to them and receiving their positive response has made me even more excited for our opening weekend (September 23-25) when I will give the “Behind the Notes” presentation on the all-Beethoven program. I look forward to getting to know the Milwaukee community through these get-togethers – everywhere I’ve turned there’s been a warm welcome so thank you all!
I’ve included my opening remarks from the presentation below:
It’s such a pleasure to be here today and I am very excited to talk with you about the upcoming season. I can remember growing up in Boulder, Colorado, and going to the philharmonic with my parents about once a month. As there aren’t any musicians in my family, I didn’t grow up surrounded by music on a daily basis. But because of this, the concert hall was a magical place for me. I thrived on large-scale orchestra works and loved to feel the concert hall vibrate with the power of the brass and percussion. I also remember tearing up while listening to Itzhak Perlman play the Beethoven Violin Concerto and being dazzled by the virtuosity of Yo-Yo Ma’s Rococo Variations. And last, but not least, I loved watching the communication within the orchestra. I would sit in the balcony with my binoculars and focus on just one wind player: see where he was looking, the expression on his face, and the way he moved with the other musicians. These were the moments that kept me looking forward to an evening of orchestra music.
I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to subscribe to an orchestra season. After all, a symphony orchestra is not a once-a-year special event, but it is also not a Broadway show repeating night after night. So I was unsure of exactly what I wanted to say to you today until I saw Woody Allen’s movie from this summer, “Midnight in Paris”. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it since I think it says a lot about the arts and their role in society. There are two principal male characters: the main character, played by Owen Wilson, is an aspiring novelist visiting Paris with his fiancé – a sort of hopeless romantic, he daydreams his way through the city, imagining the 1920’s with its host of great artists, writers, and musicians, like Picasso, Hemingway, and Porter. His imagination recreates these legendary figures and has them interacting in entirely fictional, but vibrant ways. While on vacation, he meets another couple. The man in this couple is the ultimate scholar. He can spew endless facts about the same great artists, can critique French wines, and pronounces everything correctly. Now if you will bear with me here, let us pretend that Paris is a concert. Which of these two men is enjoying the concert? The one who freely lives the experience or the one who is busy rattling off the dates of famous works of art? And yet far too often, we place all the emphasis on knowledge – program notes, pre-concert lectures, and newspaper reviews – and while it has an important role, we forget to simply experience the performance. By experience, I mean your true gut reaction to a piece of music and ability to form your own perspective around that, not what someone else has told you to appreciate or dislike.
In essence, I believe that if we don’t go into a concert with the expectation that we have to like (or worse, understand) all the music on the program, then we free ourselves to enjoy something unexpected as well. More than anything else, that is what an orchestra season offers you and I’m delighted to share this journey with you. I’ll be honest, I can’t speak from some vault of knowledge behind me, but I promise I’m speaking about something I live and breathe and care about deeply – so I hope you will come share your “experiences” in the concert hall with me throughout this season.