BSO, Dawes bridge gap between classical and rock in first Pulse concert

09.25.15
Nicholas Hersh
Baltimore Sun

Signifiers of an atypical night at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall were everywhere Thursday.

In the lobby, concertgoers waited in lines for Union Craft Brewing beers that many placed in highlighter-yellow koozies. A sign at the bar encouraged patrons to take their drinks inside the hall. Band T-shirts on sale hung on a rack next to a table selling vinyl records.

Some seated fans waited for the show to begin with bowls of ice cream in hand.

While L.A. band Dawes was the clear reason for the night’s stellar turnout, the surprising star of the show was BSO assistant conductor and Pulse orchestra artistic developer Nicholas Hersh, who quickly made the many newcomers feel comfortable. Before the BSO performed Baltimore native Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3, Hersh put the crowd at ease.

“The piece is designed to tap into the subconscious,” Hersh said before telling the crowd it’s OK if their minds wander during the 25-minute piece. You can think about work, tomorrow’s breakfast or anything else, he assured the audience. Essentially, Hersh said, there is no right or wrong way to listen to music, even high-minded classical works.

The 20-piece orchestra, which lacked brass and percussion players, proceeded to play Glass’ highly dramatic piece. Its loud-and-soft dynamics and unpredictable tempo changes felt like a high-speed car chase that occasionally ran into rush-hour traffic. 

My mind did wander, as Hersh predicted, but the gorgeous string playing was too compelling to completely drift away. When the piece ended, it felt like a short 25 minutes.

WTMD host Alex Cortright briefly interviewed Hersh as the stage transitioned from classical to rock. (The station broadcasted the concert live on air.) Hersh smartly continued to hold the audience’s collective hand, explaining why he paired Dawes and Glass (like Glass, he said, the band takes repetitious sections and adds subtle new elements to change a song’s tone) and why Glass’ compositions have endured. 

Hersh did not dumb down the material, but helped untrained ears process what they heard. 

Read the rest of the review here