It's been many years since I've attended a Colorado Symphony concert. Whether it was because our symphony friends moved away or Marin Alsop moved on, I can't say. Despite the years away, everything felt familiar, at least when I initially entered Boettcher Concert Hall last night. Walking the hallway that led to the seats behind the stage brought back memories of choosing seats to watch Alsop's bravado conducting, her energetic wide sweep of arms, her bobbed head moving parallel to the music's intensity. The concert hall sat hushed during musical movements, abashed when a clap would break the reverence before the piece had actually ended.
I grew up on Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. A dressed up classical music neophyte, I sat rapt as Bernstein commanded the podium, delighted to watch when he would jump a bit, swept into the music by his passion. Symphony concerts were proper affairs where you dressed in fine clothes (an unpleasant dress thing would be forced upon my young self, along with white gloves) and sat quietly, not making a fuss. And sometimes, I did make a fuss (a bit bored by a music I felt was the province of adults, the old ones), ending up for a brief period sitting on a bench outside the concert hall, watching the television version of inside.
Last night, all notions of the familiar symphony were shattered when Ozomatli took the stage with the Colorado Symphony. After I settled into a seat a bit high up overlooking the stage, the symphony members slowly took their seats, tuning up, awaiting the first violin. After he warmed up the orchestra, the evening's conductor Scott O'Neil took the stage. This felt like an evening at the symphony. But when he told the audience that he did not expect quiet and more importantly, expected people out in the aisles, dancing crazy at the symphony, I didn't know what to think. The minute Ozomatli plugged in and rhythmically pulsed the house, the place began to resemble more of a rock club. An odd dissonance as I sat watching the crowd below, dancing where silence usually sat. An odd dissonance as I listened to the couple next to me who knew all the lyrics, proud singers in a place where voice typically only echoed from the stage.
My feet started to tap, my body sway in my seat. I couldn't help it. I could not be the silent proper symphony attendee. After intermission, I moved down to the orchestra level, wanting to feel a bit more of the action. For most of the second half, I did a standing type of dance to the music at my seat, watching crowds in front swaying, waving arms, bobbing heads as they jumped up and down. There was chaos in the house, but one with a beat. At one point, O'Neil pulled different women from in front up on stage with him to dance, participating in the spirit of the evening.
Most of the instrumentalists sat in contrast, their black outfits a solemn accompaniment to their stillness. They were the evening's backup to the stars, a mere notice in the audience's attention. At the start of the evening, O'Neil asked the audience to applaud if they were here to see Ozomatli. He noted that the evening promised that loudness and energy.
And he was right. Last night, the symphony rocked. You could smell pot, watch someone's arm shoot up into the air pulsing the beat with gestures used to scratch a hip-hop beat, and fear that the person in front of you might spill their beer backwards toward you due to too much drink and exaggerated movements. Instead of the flickers of lighters showing their satisfaction, arms waved smart phones of light. And while I'm a purist at heart, wanting the symphony to remain a sacred space, I am now a believer in that space where the new meets the classic. I refuse to succumb to the old ones.