With all the buzz these days coming from the next trendy music festival or newest Chainsmokers radio-ready hit, orchestras have had to devise more inventive ways of enticing young people to come their concerts. The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) does not appear to struggle in drawing in attendees of all ages, but the ensemble’s continued efforts to maintain their traction with younger audiences has lead them to host a series of concerts that non-regular orchestra attenders now have the option of easily attending.
One such initiative the BSO has taken to encourage a wider audience to learn more about classical music is their “Casual Fridays” series, first launched in January 2016 and now back for the fall season. Rather than being an extensive, several hours long affair, “Casual Fridays” offers audience members a select taste of the BSO’s repertoire. These shorter, more affordable performances offer pre- and post-concert receptions and do not require the formal dress generally expected at a traditional BSO concert.
The first “Casual Friday” concert of the fall season occurred this past Friday evening at Symphony Hall and impressed attendees with two select works from classical composers Dimitriy Shostakovich and Modest Mussorgorsky. The concert opened with an impressive rendition of Shostakovich’s vibrant but brief “Festive Overture,” a mere six minutes long.
The rest of the time was dedicated to Mussorgorsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Beginning with “Promenade,” a grand, majestic segment guided by a strong brass section, it wasn’t long before the quick transition into “Gnomus” impressively showcased the orchestra’s keen skill at paying close attention to the conductor. A trepidatious, crawling lower strings section in “Gnomus” coupled with the ominous airs provided by the lower winds kept the audience on the edge of their seats. The second “Promenade” opened with a lone French horn solo, rich and slightly balmy. Here, the French horn caressingly entwined itself around a duet with the sonorous flautists, and the fluid dynamic between these wind maestros ensnared the audience’s attention. Continuing to showcase the winds, “The Old Castle” opened with an eerie, warbling alto bassoon solo, giving the spotlight to BSO’s lone saxophonist, who did a marvelous job bringing his solos to life. Guided by the murmurs of the string orchestra, saxophone and clarinet blended into a whirl of grim notes. The segment ended with the eerie, lingering notes of the saxophonist floating slowly up into the air of the concert hall.
A third “Promenade” finally gave the strings some attention, and the first violins had a moment to show off their talent by tugging their bows across their strings with vigorous energy. A quick transition into “Tuileries” marked a playful change in tone from the previous nature of Mussorgorsky’s work. One of the most impressive characteristics of the BSO that audience members could easily take notice of was the orchestra’s ability to transition between the mood of each segment quickly and effortlessly. “Promenade,” this time opening with the airy sound of the winds and guided by a heavy-set string section, without a pause changed into the fast-paced, tiptoe nature of “Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells.” From there, the articulate nature of “Ballet” wasted no time in transitioning into the grouchy-sounding, “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle.” “Limoges, the Market Place” offered concert attendees an impressive understanding of the communicative skills between the different sections with a canon-like conversation going on between upper and lower strings, winds and percussion, before collapsing into a frenzied mish-mash of rehearsed chaos.
Moving into the last few tracks in “Pictures at an Exhibition”, the BSO captivated its audience with a stunning rendition of “The Hut on Fowls’ Legs” before finally getting to the resplendent, mighty sound of “The Great Gate at Kiev.” The brass section of the BSO was showcased in an amazing performance that evening and it was made most apparent with this final segment. Booming and confident, the brass players ended “Picture at an Exhibition” on a grand note, accompanied by the sounds of cymbals, a metallic bell and tremolo-ing strings.
The audience rose to its feet almost before the final note, such was the enthusiasm in their admiration for the orchestra, and the conductor received a thunderous round of applause before coming out for the second encore. It was apparent after attending this first “Casual Friday” that while attendees are offered merely a glimpse into the regular BSO concert experience, such a savory peek might just convince people to dedicate themselves to the full course.
Photo Courtesy of Chris Lee