On May 8, Carnegie Hall became a suburb of Buffalo. About 1,500 audience members journeyed from Western New York to New York City, to attend the performance of our Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Much like seeing very good friends proudly euphoric in their new home, our concert experience was transformed by the relocation. Within Carnegie Hall, each musician sat straighter and smiled more – and so did audience members.
Odd and exciting, it felt like being at the BPO’s home, Kleinhans, as we spotted many familiar faces on stage and off. M&T green sprouted throughout the hall. Audience members had green flags to wave or hang over the balconies, and musicians wore their emerald green as ties or scarves. Audience members from places other than Western New York knew that on this night in Carnegie Hall, they had entered a place where people knew each other, and were proud to support their hometown.
As we cheered for our orchestra during strategic points during the opening interview of JoAnn Falletta by Elliott Forrest, the WQXR classical music host, non-Western New Yorkers throughout the hall shook their heads at our enthusiasm. But their bemused attitudes toward us changed to respectful appreciation. At the end of the concert, all audience members jumped to their feet to celebrate the sounds of our music.
The chance to experience music in person is like nothing else. All senses become heightened. Discovering the origins on stage of the blasts from horns, appreciating the sight of the musicians’ bows moving in perfect unison, watching the percussionist waiting for, then delivering, the perfectly timed triangle tinkle – all provide listeners the unique rewards of watching while listening.
Orchestral concerts invite listeners into a shared space. Audience members and musicians sit and breathe together. The temporary community of an audience and orchestra is an ephemeral thing, and much of its power exists because it disappears. We are joined together for only an evening. We can take in the aural only briefly, before it becomes memory.
Orchestras are always alert to their lineage. Maestro Falletta explained in the pre-interview that she selected the two pieces in part because both were Russian composers. She made choices throughout the 2012-13 BPO season to complement, and lead up to, the presentation of the works of Giya Kancheli and Reinhold Gliere. Little did those of us in the audience realize that we were part of a related milestone. Just 122 years and three days earlier, Carnegie Hall opened on May 5, 1891, and another Russian performance took place. On that night, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky conducted his own works in the inaugural concert.
As a young person, as well as recently, I found that playing my viola in the midst of other musicians provides a chance for harmony that eliminates words. Individual musicians are responsible for learning their own parts. But when all individual parts come together, something unexpected happens. The one becomes subsumed into the many, which then, amazingly, transforms into one. It is, for the musicians sitting in the midst of sound, an out-of-body experience. And for the musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic, the surround extended beyond the stage. For three hours, together, we were all one.