The following showed up in my e-mail today. It was from the New England Conservatory, but (with no disrespect to NEC’s public relations department), the animating spirit here — the person who made the press release so convincing — is Benjamin Zander, music director of the Boston Philharmonic, whose descriptions of music he’s performing have wowed me before.
And maybe what follows is a little over the top, but how many press releases (or advertisements, or marketing brochures) do we see that make classical music even a little bit appealing? The issue, remember, isn’t just how we write our press releases. It’s how we make our music mean something to the very large part of the world that doesn’t care about it.
Here’s the press release:
Musical Alternative to the Super Bowl? NEC’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra Shows its Winning Form, Brilliant Plays, Awesome Teamwork, February 6, 2005
Snowed Out by the Blizzard of 2005, Orchestra and Conductor Benjamin Zander Reschedule Concert for Head-to-Head Showdown with the Pats and Eagles
Performance at NEC’s Jordan Hall Begins at 7 p.m. Tickets Purchased for Snowed-Out Concert will be Honored
When New England Conservatory’s premier Preparatory School ensemble, the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, had to cancel its January 23 concert because of the Big Snowstorm, the only makeup date available in NEC’s Jordan Hall was Super Bowl Sunday. While it might seem crazy to schedule a concert that evening, the YPO (composed of musicians aged 13-18) and conductor Benjamin Zander decided to take the chance.
In fact, for someone who wrote a book called The Art of Possibility and who lectures corporate CEOs on creating new paradigms, Zander is exactly the person to embrace the challenge of competing with the Super Bowl. Sitting at home the night of January 23, watching the football playoffs when he should have been conducting Holst’s The Planets, Zander dashed off a passionate manifesto. In it, he stated his belief that many people would enjoy an alternative to football-even on the night of February 6. He argued that the brilliant YPO was exactly the shot of spiritual adrenaline many people need-even if they didn’t know it. And the young musicians deserved the chance to show off the results of three months’ hard work
“Now, might there be some people around the Boston area who, if they knew about it, would choose (the YPO) over watching the Patriots win the Super Bowl?” he asked. “It’s counter-intuitive, of course. No one organizes a concert on Super Bowl night, which is why the hall was available. Give up, Ben. Just go with the (nay-sayers). Well, yes, but what if people knew what this experience was going to be like? I don’t mean the real football fans, of course. But the people who just watch the Super Bowl out of habit, without getting that much out of it. People who are looking to be inspired, moved, touched and entertained. And those who feel proud that very young people in this area are some of the finest musicians of their age in the world. Proud of being part of a community that has so many superb young string players…For these listeners, hearing the YPO play the concert on February 6 is likely to be just as exciting, perhaps more so, than watching the Patriots shellac the Eagles.”
What can such listeners expect to hear at the YPO concert?
Well, consider the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations. “The young soloist, Jacqueline Choi, is simply the most expressive cellist to come out of these parts since Yo-Yo Ma appeared at the same age,” says Zander. “…she dances and sings and embraces the audience with sheer love and joy. There couldn’t be a child who could more perfectly embody all we care about most in life. She has the fervor of a preacher, but without the slightest whiff of self importance.”
Then there is Gustav Holst’s stirring and brilliantly scored orchestral suite The Planets. “Can any orchestra in town make as much sound as the YPO strings in the motor rhythm of Mars-the Bringer of War?” Zander asks. ”These blue-state kids see war as a personal affront and they pour their anger, with crushing ferocity, into every note.”
Finally, Ravel’s sensuous Rapsodie espagnole. “In the final movement, the whole orchestra turns into a wild Spanish dancing percussion section,” Zander says. “…the whooping horns are led by a French horn principal from the Walnut Hill School who still has three more years in high school!”
The YPO concert begins at 7 p.m.-plenty of time for listeners and players to get home for the final minutes of the Pats’ victory and before any rowdiness by revelers in the streets.