Tonight, my two roommates and I attended the Free College Night Concert at the Kimmel Center featuring The Philadelphia Orchestra. Every year, The Philadelphia Orchestra hosts this event to introduce more young adults to the world-class music scene in Philadelphia. Attendees were encouraged to dress up and take pictures in their makeshift photo booth before the concert started at 8pm. The Philadelphia Orchestra performed Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. A light dessert reception party with a rock band followed.Although I’m a senior in college and known my way around Philadelphia, this was actually my first time attending the College Night concert. In previous years, I had always just blown it off as too far away from campus for a weekday when I should be doing homework. Now my senior mindset is kicking in, and I jump on last chances to do things before I graduate and possibly end up far from Philly.
My roommates and I arrived around 7pm because early attendance was strongly suggested on the event invite. We probably didn’t have to arrive that early since the concert hall doors weren’t even open yet, but we took the time to explore our new surroundings. We took pictures at the photobooth, watched the UPenn marching band play outside the Kimmel Center, and people watched. As far as I knew, I only saw 3 other Bryn Mawr students attend. We did run into/say hi to the Haverford House fellows and 6 more Haverford students we recognized.
The concert hall doors finally opened and everyone filed into the hall. From our seats, it looked like it was a full house of college students. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Philadelphia Orchestra conductor, warmly welcomed us to the concert and gave a brief introduction to the composer of the piece, Berlioz, and the story behind the music. Berlioz had apparently written the symphony to impress and win the heart of a woman he loved, but she didn’t love him back. Years later, she listened to the symphony again and fell in love with him. Unfortunately for them both, their relationship didn’t go well. Nevertheless, Yannick pointed out that the world is still thankful for Berlioz’s musical contribution. Yannick also gave us the background story of the piece and told us the story annotations and program notes were available on a mobile app called LiveNote if we wanted to follow along during the piece on our phones.
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique is a 5-movement symphony, which is quite a long time to sit still and quietly if you aren’t familiar with classical music. Audience members newer to classical music clapped between the first three movements, which breaks an typically unspoken orchestra manner. But not tonight. After the third movement, Yannick stopped the concert to educate the audience on this manner. Historically, people did clap between movements. They would also eat and drink while watching musical performances. As longer, more complex pieces started to emerge, people agreed that it was better to not clap in between movements to not interrupt the artistic flow of the piece. The audience stopped clapping in between movements after that.
Once the concert ended, there was a light dessert reception in the Kimmel Center lobby accompanied by an unknown rock band. My roommates and I stayed for a little to eat the desserts and watch our surroundings. It was getting late, and we had to get back to Bryn Mawr at a reasonable time. From what I observed, I thought the concert was a huge success for the Philadelphia Orchestra. A lot more people had showed up than I had expected. There’s this common misconception that classical music is dying because not enough young people are into it. (To be honest, not many people show up at the college orchestra concerts…) What better way to reel in young people than a free first concert at the beginning of the school year with free food, photo and social media bragging rights opportunities, and a trendy app? The only thing I thought that felt a little out of place was the rock band performing at the reception. It wasn’t really clear who they were, and it was interesting to hear such contrasting music after walking out of an hour long classical symphony.
Overall, I liked how this event made classical music a little more accessible by explaining the story behind the music and educating the audience on orchestra etiquette. Classical music constantly has to update itself, or its branding, to appeal to broader audiences. This starts with setting an attractive social scene for young people and getting them more actively involved, whether that is through an interactive app or through more performance opportunities. After all, they are the future patrons of the arts.
Oh, and of course the orchestra played beautifully. My favorite movement was the second one, the waltz. The clarinet, English horn, and oboe had many solos throughout the symphony. I still LOVE hearing the sound of the clarinet, the instrument I spent nearly 10 years playing before I quit the BiCo orchestra two years ago. I truly hope more young people will develop a taste for classical music. It’s not as “acquired” as you may think. Better to take advantage now while attending a college in close proximity to one of the best orchestras in the world!
The Philadelphia Orchestra offers a $25 season membership for college students. This is by far the best deal out there.