That Amazing Thing That Can Happen With an Orchestra and the Audience

My late friend Jack Howe, a superb horn player courted by the BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra), and studied under Joseph Stagliano the 1st horn chair of the BSO, discussed that rare "thing" when the orchestra acts as a single living, breathing, playing organism. They lose themselves in the music playing in perfect step with the other musicians.

Jack said it only happened once with him. He was as Tanglewood, the BSO estate and training school, and Igor Stravinsky was there as a guest and conductor. They were giving a performance of "The Firebird Suite", the ballet work that originally gave Stravinsky his fame. As they were playing near the end, which is absolutely spine-tingling at the finish, no matter who is playing it, actually it was probably about two-thirds the way through. Jack realized that something special was happening, he was playing without exerting control, and he could tell that the entire orchestra seemed to be doing the same. There was absolute perfection in the sound, totally together, tight, equally expressive with all musicians.

Jack was in state he had never been in, feeling something he never felt. Usually there are a ton of little things that the musicians are aware of that are not quite right with the playing, they ignore these, and the public usually doesn't even pick up on them. But this was perfect playing, probably aided by the master conducting them, but still a rare and unique moment. The ending was incredible, and the audience felt these same feelings in their own way, they had never heard the Firebird the way it could be, as Stravinsky imagined it. The audience went wild as the musicians came back to earth. I told Jack that I never felt that when I was in an audience, but that I hoped it would happen one day.

The day came. Several years ago, at an Oregon Symphony performance of "The Pines of Rome", by Ottorino Respighi, they began playing. This work is a favorite of mine, I always think the Native American tom-tom drums are interesting; that's what it makes me think of. Ha, Ha, Ha. Anyway, about halfway through the work, it suddenly dawned on me that the orchestra was "really" together, and that I was enjoying it more than even on the recordings I had.

I then thought back to Jack, and realized that this thing might be happening. I continued to listen even more carefully; and as we came about 5 minutes from the end, I knew it had happened. My heart was racing, I grabbed by wife's hand. As the ending came nearer and nearer, and the emotions of the music rose higher and higher, I could feel the unity of everyone in the hall and on stage. The ending was almost an orgasm. The audience went wild like I have never heard with the Oregon Symphony, We applauded, again and again. I was exhilarated that I had finally experience this "thing that can happen". What a night, and I will never forget it. I would love to hear from someone who was there.