Orchestras Hit High Note

Some of America's best symphony orchestras are on an uptick. Young people who follow the Beastie Boys are also applauding the beauty of Bach.

Plenty of them were listening appreciatively to Beethoven's Ninth at a free concert last Sunday on the Boston Common. While Mo Vaughn was whacking balls toward the famous Green Monster at nearby Fenway Park, 80,000 people of all ages were celebrating the Boston Symphony Orchestra's own double-hitter: the outdoor opening of its season and the 25th anniversary of Seiji Ozawa's leadership as conductor. (He has served longer than any other conductor today.)

Mark Volpe, managing director of the BSO, was encouraged to see so many young faces at Sunday's gala. Especially since not long ago, the greatest challenge to symphony orchestras beyond fund-raising was the "graying" of their audiences. Now, says Mr. Volpe, it's music education. "When I was in high school, there were five bands," he explains. "Now there are only two and maybe one orchestra for the same size school.

"At the BSO, we should've been more proactive to defend music classes when they were being cut from school programs," he says.

The BSO is now playing catch-up by working with area schools, building an educational resource center, and strengthening its partnership with local public television. Other orchestras, especially the "Big Five" (Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and Philadelphia), are also making the classroom connection. "It's a challenge facing orchestras everywhere," says Volpe.

Recent studies about benefits of early musical training - increased ability to problem-solve, greater concentration, sharper memory, and more - have bolstered the orchestras' case.

And as for the BSO, it doesn't hurt to have one of the world's most respected conductors on your team. Anyone who has seen Ozawa in action knows why. In the words of John Williams, award-winning composer and laureate conductor for the Boston Pops, Ozawa is a man who is "exhilarated by his art and by every moment that he practices it, filled with animation, vibrancy, and joy. He is among those most fortunate of God's creatures who are nourished and sustained by the love of what they do."

In Boston, at least, orchestral music continues to be alive, young, and even cool.

* For more on American orchestras and Seiji Ozawa, look to a future Arts & Leisure section.

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