By Tim Hayes
Imagine being part of a sea of 2,500-plus dancing, shouting, singing revelers as the huge windup of the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” builds…Ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhhh, WAAAAAAAA!!!…Shake it up baby! Twist and Shout!”
Any guesses where this happened? At one of those knock-off Beatles tribute band concerts? Nope. On the streets of Chicago during a parade, a la “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?” Uh-uh.
It happened in the regal, staid, classic, plush-red-carpets-on-the-stairs, gold-leaf gilding-on-the-ceiling confines of Heinz Hall, during a Pittsburgh Symphony concert.
And it became forever marked in my brain as the only symphony concert where I had a mile-wide smile plastered across my face for the entire performance. Utter joy.
When you begin with the amazing songs created by Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, add the lush and transportingly beautiful sounds of an accomplished symphony, plug in a small band of expert rockers to drive the beat and provide the guitar solos and vocals, and polish the whole thing off with a giant screen looming over them all depicting images perfectly synchronized with the words and music – then you, my friend, are in for an unforgettable evening of memories and celebration.
I know some diehard lovers of classical music pooh-pooh this sort of thing. How they see it as denigrating the prestige of a world-class symphony. Dragging these superior musicians through the gutter, just to sell a few seats.
Here’s my response. That place was packed to the gills during the Beatles tribute. When was the last time a straightforward classical performance sold out Heinz Hall?
It’s not a matter of “dumbing down” the patina of the truly remarkable, globally respected, multiple Grammy Award-winning Pittsburgh Symphony. It’s a matter of meeting the audience where they are today, and lifting them higher in the months and years to come.
It had to be 10 times during the Beatles show where the conductor or one of the guest musicians spoke quite specifically and clearly about “your amazing Pittsburgh Symphony” and how fortunate its presence is for music lovers in this town. I don’t think that was by accident. By bringing a full house inside, having them hear the overwhelmingly powerful, beautiful sound those musicians make, perhaps more patrons would consider coming back for a more traditional performance.
We’ve been to a number of classical evenings with the symphony, along with plenty of evenings spent with more contemporary material, like the Beatles. One style requires more patience and thought to truly appreciate the genius of the compositions and the stunning power of the performers on stage. The other opens up a richer presentation of familiar music, adding depth and life to the experience.
Either way, you can’t go wrong. Uptight classical lovers, loosen up a little. Symphonic rookies, give the old masters a try. It’s all good.
In the meantime, Twist and Shout? Shaking your booty in the aisles and singing your head off? In the hallowed Hall of Heinz? As John and Paul once famously wrote, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!”
Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes