For one inspiring afternoon, Boston returned to its elevated Athenian stature, as Mayor Michelle Wu, resplendent in an intensely blue evening gown (how often has anyone so described a mayor?) filled two movingly essential roles on the Symphony Hall stage. To begin with, she welcomed a young full house many of whom have never been in the Hall before to the BSO’s free “Concert for the City,” but that was not all, she later showed off her musical chops by playing the Andante from the Elvira Madigan Concerto (Mozart’s 21st) with poetic engagement. To witness an articulate, intellectual, and artistic child of immigrants show so much compassion for her diverse citizenry, moved this writer to intense pride in having such a woman represent him in City Hall.
The BSO outdid itself for this event, filling the lobbies and lounges with assorted young players, dancers, and singers in a variety of genres in the hour before the main event. Though the mantra for the afternoon was music is for everyone, the BSO hardly pandered or condescended. We got the Boston Pops A team, including all the BSO principal players and maestros Andris Nelsons and Keith Lockhart for a program that never failed to interest and excite.
If Michele Wu’s concerto stint reached into realms sublime and elicited a grateful acknowledgement of the rarity of such an encounter, it occupied but one slot (briefly outside time and place) within an hourlong traversal of short works with strong Boston connections. The alternating conductors led us through a variety of stylish performances that seemed idiomatic time after time, advocating for composers across genres, doing justice and more to George Whitefield Chadwick, Chick Corea, Florence Price, Roberto Sierra, John Williams, Duke Ellington, Valerie Coleman, and Dropkick Murphy’s punk Irish band as well as Mozart. Will anything banish the memory of Lockhart’s Irish jig? Well maybe his later do-si-do with an astonished but amused Andris Nelsons while Mayor Wu and the entire cast, including brilliant Ellington narrator Charlotte Blake Alston, sang and swayed in the encore “Sweet Caroline.”
In the subsequent presser, Mayor Wu once again stressed the universality of music and its necessity to the human experience. She spoke of how, when she arrived in Boston with her soon-to be husband, they made a discounted subscription to the BSO among their first priorities when they had little disposable income. She spoke of the importance of music in public education, and how this would be a priority for her administration. She answered this writer’s question of how she would pay for it by explaining how she would jawbone non-profit cultural institution to reach out to the underserved. Compassionate and appropriate arm-twisting indeed, say I.
Lockhart and Nelsons, who also made statements, both spoke to offering many such “Concert(s) for the City” in ensuing seasons…some with Wu. The Mayor apparently learned her Mozart concerto movement for the occasion, but she also apparently has some Liszt in her fingers. One of the hardworking BSO PR staff told of having overheard her spontaneously playing a credible Un Sospiro.
And maybe she could run for president on the Paderewski ticket.