An ode to joy


How did I love last night’s Tanglewood concert by Apollo’s Fire? Let me count a few of the ways:

I loved the way the seventeen musicians interacted, as if they really liked each other and loved making music together. In particular, the looks on the faces of the backup players while they laid out during solos made for quite a contrast with the dour visages one sees too often from orchestras.

I loved the way the players used their whole bodies to express the music, especially in the final selection, Vivaldi’s “La Folia.” That this and the encore (a medley of reels from their new “Sugarloaf Mountain” CD) were the only selection performed from memory rather than read off music stands made me wish that they had also done so on the other selections. I know, easy for me to say. But isn’t it more fun to watch performers make eye contact with each other and with us than with a sheet of paper? Add this to the things that make classical music different but not better.

I loved the fluidity of the performances, in which tempo, dynamics, articulation and all the other interpretive elements never, but never, rigidified. I’ve rarely heard Baroque orchestral playing — or any orchestral playing — that was so free and alive.

Most of all, I loved the joyousness that pervaded every element of this concert. You would almost have guessed last night that the works on the program weren’t Great Classical Pieces by Immortal Masters but were actually, you know, really cool pieces that were played for our enjoyment.

Why can’t more classical concerts be like this? I know, I know, some works are much more serious, and it just wouldn’t do to treat them so joyously. I love some of those pieces too.

But I have to say, I’ve taken more pleasure of late in performances by artists like Apollo’s Fire, Brooklyn Rider, A Far Cry, Roomful of Teeth and Chanticleer — artists who perform varied and diverse programs with both great musicianship and a decidedly unclassical informality — than in most (by no means all) of the traditional classical concerts I’ve heard over the same span. I could be wrong, but something tells me that over the long run, due to a combination of cultural and economic factors, concerts like last night’s by Apollo’s Fire have a brighter future in American classical music than much of what will take place at the Tanglewood shed later this summer. Let’s get together in 25 years or so and compare notes.

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