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In Love With: Symphony in the Key of AL

01.29.2008 by André Natta · → 2 Comments

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Sometimes, what a person needs to feel right with the world is a little class, even if you have to fake it. I get my class courtesy of my friend Amanda, who works in the offices of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra (ASO). She knows I’m a classical music lover who never actually gets around to seeing the symphony unless someone hands me tickets. She has volunteered me for service (with the promise of sneaking in the back of the theater later) a few times now, and it’s thanks to her that I’ve been to as many ASO events as I have this year. So this week’s list is my three favorite things about the ASO: people watching, Maestro Justin Brown, and the recent New Year’s concert at the Alabama Theatre.

First of all, let me say the fact that my In Love With list doesn’t include the musical performances is not to say that the music itself is lacking. The performances have been wonderful. Not being a music critic, I can’t tell you why it’s good. I will leave that to the expert reviewer named Alex Ross in a little rag called The New Yorker.

But the thing I enjoy even more, as I stand in the back of the Alys Stephens Center, is the people watching. There’s an interesting collision of people that come to these events. The first few rows are taken up by some of the wealthier donors-names you will have heard from the buildings, businesses and foundations they own around town. There’s a smattering of real music lovers, usually identifiable by their blissed-out expressions during the 3rd movement and fingers surreptitiously conducting along. Students and earnest “Young Patrons” fill in the cheap seats in the back, and are always good for a game of “Spot the First Date” or “Hey, I Know That Guy.” And that’s not even including the musicians themselves, as they swoop through crescendo after crescendo.

The man leading the orchestra through each espressivo and presto is the primary reason to people watch at the ASO these days. Maestro Justin Brown is the best thing that could have happened to the ASO. If classical music has rockstars, this man is one of them. He’s musically gifted, athletic, funny, and he keeps the audience in rapt attention and awe, no matter how long the piece. Let’s add in “seriously hot” and “British” to boot. Watching him conduct is a treat. Watching him set septuagenarian pulses pounding in the donor’s lounge is another treat entirely, and I highly recommend it.

For sheer pageantry, and the collision of all this aforementioned fun, I fell in love with the New Year’s Concert at the Alabama Theater, this past December 31. Amanda got me a volunteer spot handing out spangly gold masks to the audience, in exchange for a glass of champagne and a listen at the all-Strauss program. For a good hour, I stood in the Christmas-bedecked lobby of my favorite spot in Birmingham, watching each excited couple or family as they flooded through the doors. Everyone was dressed to the nines (except for the guy in the red sports coat and green plaid pants-I give him a 7.5). The hubbub, the glistening chandelier, the rush of patrons up and down the grand staircases-it all blended together into something entirely otherworldly, or perhaps just old worldly.

I will admit to you that when the music began, I never looked inside the theater doors. I preferred to stay in the lobby, listening to the waltzes sweep through the marble foyer. In my mind, the inside of the theater was filled with couples swirling across a dance floor, all taffeta dresses and tuxedos. Despite leaving soon after intermission, I felt at peace with the world and the New Year. It was nice to start 2008 with a little waltz, a little glitz… and a little class.

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