by NICK TISHERMAN
Third-year BM Oboe
At 8:15 on January 18th, 2015, an orchestra of eager students and studs from the freelance scene was growing increasingly impatient as they sat in their seats awaiting the downbeat from conductor James Blachly, whose back was turned to an audience mostly comprised of twenty-somethings stuffed on a dance floor in an auditorium of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, transformed with the glow of neon lighting. At 8:16, James raised his baton, and everyone in the room wondered what would happen next.
Blachly, Zander Fellow of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and founder of the Sheep Island Ensemble, with the vision and direction of Johnny Helyar, had assembled an orchestra to play Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, paid for a cash bar, and invited an audience to enjoy the performance while dancing, moving, grooving, and rocking out to the Rite of Spring. Their nickname for the event? “A Rite of Spring Dance Party,” of course. Presented by the Boston Philharmonic as the inception of their “New Directions” series, BPO partnered up with Groupmuse and Music for Food, so all proceeds benefited The Womens’ Lunch Place.
Nervous classically-trained musicians in the orchestra speculated that there could be a full-on riot (not unprecedented in the slightest), but most assumed we would have a crowded dance floor of people standing still and talking amongst themselves, drinks in hand. As it turned out, the former was closer to the result.
The audience remained mostly motionless through the opening (bravo to Adrian Morejon for plaintively and beautifully presenting the bassoon solo), but when the punching chords of the Augurs of Spring started, excitement brewed and everyone in attendance began to party like it was 1913. Each time Blachly and the orchestra reached a new section, commotion ensued as the crowd found a way to dance to the new music.
Such commotion and palpable energy from the audience was infectious. The orchestra tried to hold together amidst our own excitement and the entropy going on just in front of us. Halfway through the Sacrificial Dance, a collective panic came over the orchestra when we smelled someone smoking marijuana. During a spontaneous encore of the Danse Sacrale, one passionate concertgoer went crowd-surfing (see Instagram for photo evidence). Each member of the orchestra felt like a rockstar when applause exploded from the audience after the final thunderous blow of the timpani.
Le Sacre, now a piece performed more as a concert selection than as a real ballet, as it was intended, gains something from having the extra kinetic element in the room. In many ways, it felt more historically accurate to perform under such conditions. Just as in the premiere, the audience provided endlessly unpredictable sounds and distractions. It was like Rite of Spring adversity training for the orchestral musician. But for the audience, it was a chance to experience amazing music in a way that will be forever more memorable and more engaging.
The reaction to the Dance Party was more successful than anyone could have imagined. But where do we go from here? Shostakovich 5 Revolution? Penderecki Halloween Party? Daphnis and Chloe Orgy (maybe not…)? In any case, look for music in Boston and beyond to become more interactive, more engaging, and more exciting for all in the coming years.