Why do US orchestras go soft over baseball?

The latest orch to go all gooey over the local team is the Boston Symphony.

Its conductor, Andris Nelson can only remember the team’s name by reading it off a sheet.

Great playing, but something of an embarrassment, no? The conductor’s shirt?

‘Go, Sox’?

What is achieved by these gimmicks?

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  • It’s not just baseball; it often happens anytime a professional team is in a championship. I’m waiting for when the Bavarian RSO does a similar challenge on behalf of Bayern Munich for a Champions League final.

  • I speak as a disinterested observer living in Shepherds Bush, London. In view of the Boston Red Sox’ present involvement in a baseball World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, maybe the orchestra is just showing solidarity (at a filmed rehearsal) with another institution in the same city. This may seem strange to a Londoner like NL, but no, it is not at all embarrassing.

    The US is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

  • Only a few US cities have multiple teams in baseball and other sports leagues. What would be the reaction if the London Symphony celebrated a Chelsea title by playing one of their chants? Not too well in North London (Tottenham, ARSEnal), South London (Crystal Palace), East London (West Spam).

    • Right, it’s perhaps this difference in the way that the sports leagues lay out that accounts for Norman’s difficulty in understanding this, which I otherwise find as hard to understand as everyone else. Surely, as an American supporter of Tottenham Hotspur, I’d be quite enraged if the LSO ever celebrated a success by Arsenal (a feeling that I take it from your rendering you sympathize with, Rich!) Also, nobody tell Norman, but the Boston Red Sox are owned by the same people who now own … Liverpool F.C. Chew over the combined musical and sporting possibilities there!

  • It’s a popular sport in this country. This is a common practice. Also, having lived in Boston I can tell you baseball is a Big Deal there.

    Did NL find it an embarrassment when Joyce Can-Do-No-Wrong diDonato sang the anthem for one of the games when her hometown Kansas City baseball team was in the world series last year?

    • Not only is Joyce DiDonato from Kansas City, she actually is a genuine, devoted fan of the Kansas City Royals. That made it especially meaningful for her to sing at the World Series. Small additional note: This wasn’t last year. The KC Royals made it to the World Series in 2014 and 2015 – losing at the end in 2014 but winning it all in 2015. I think Joyce’s appearance was technically in Game 7 (the last possible game) in 2014, which the Royals eventually lost to the San Francisco Giants.

  • Sorry to say, Norman, but your narrative is neither accurate nor even minimally informed about cultural life in our great city. You don’t seem to know that Boston is probably the premier sporting town in the world insofar as its four professional teams (Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, & Bruins) have all won championships in recent years. Andris Nelsons and most members of the BSO are very familiar with the Red Sox, and several players are big fans. Andris threw out the first pitch in a game during his first season as MD, and Seiji Ozawa was and is an even bigger Red Sox fan.

    So, there’s nothing new about the BSO’s good-natured transcontinental volley at the LA Phil – similar clips were produced for rival cities’ bands during earlier World Series. Jerseys and caps are always part of the show, too.

    I myself and quite a few others have occasionally attended a Saturday afternoon game at Fenway Park and then strolled over to nearby Symphony Hall for the evening concert. And by the way, the tune they’re playing is “I’m Shipping Up To Boston”, a song by Woody Guthrie that was covered by a fantastic local Celtic punk band, The Dropkick Murphys. Their version is played at high volume at Fenway for inspiration at key moments in the game, and believe me, it is quite a thrilling musical experience.

    • And the arrangement of that song was done for the Pops quite a few years ago, so they have the parts in their library.

      Does anyone seriously object any longer when “the voice of the BSO”, Ron della Chiesa, refers to Symphony Hall as “the Fenway Park of classical music”?

      There’s nothing wrong with liking both sports and good music, and nothing wrong with some justifiable hometown pride. The Boston Red Sox are almost as old as the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

      • He means “premier sporting city in the US”. But many people from there confuse the US, and its sensitivities, with the whole world. Outside the boundaries of the US “there be monsters”.

        Of course, everyone else knows that London is the centre of the (sporting) world.

  • More than the other professional sports, baseball is the national pastime. Even thought the “World” series is hardly that, we take it as part of our heritage. For at least the past 30 years, it has become tradition for the two orchestras that represent the cities playing, to engage in friendly competition. There is usually a wager between the music directors as well as showing support for the home team.

    When the Minnesota Twins beat the St. Louis Cardinals, I had to conduct the winning orchestra in their teams fight song at a rehearsal. And of course, even though it was football, we all remember Sir Georg Solti leading the CSO in the Chicago Bears theme song.

    It is all in good fun and these days, we surely need something to distract us from the chaos that surrounds us every minute.

    • Bravo, maestro. And indeed, there’s nothing wrong — or embarrassing — about one of a city’s great institutions showing civic pride in another. (The BSO and the Red Sox being two of the great historic civic institutions of Boston.)

    • Leonard–the World Series received its name because the very first one, in 1903, was sponsored by a newspaper, the New York “World Telegram”. Actually, at first it was more properly called the “World’s Series”. People always trot out the name as an example of America’s self-absorption and provincialism. Guilty as charged, but this is not the way to make the case. BTW, I loved it when the Twins beat the Cards. Cardinal fans are so insufferably smug!

      • That’s been disputed for some years. The general view now is that at the time there were no better baseball players than American (now that is REALLY in dispute) so the term was just to emphasise that point.

    • If you have even been to Boston and seen the huge crowds at the outdoor concerts given by the Pops (the BSO minus principals) you would know that the orchestra very much belongs to the “blue-collar” class. Arthur Fiedler was a cherished citizen just as much as Koussevitsky. Bostonians love the orchestra. Go to Boston on July 4th and you’ll understand.

  • It seems odd that a person loving when orchestras play football/soccer against each other [https://slippedisc.com/2017/11/the-berlin-phil-played-shanghai-symphony-at-soccer-after-90-minutes/] can’t embrace orchestras having fun with another sport. In America, baseball is revered and loved. The fans in these cities go crazy for it, and mayors, cultural orgs and more have fun with the competing city. Can’t this just be fun, the way you covered this past World Series bet: https://slippedisc.com/2015/11/new-york-phil-pays-up-to-kansas-royals/ ?

  • All the above comments are on target. To be added is the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. One of the players on the Boston Red Sox made a stirring speech expressing solidarity with the victims and the city. Since then, the identification and support for the baseball team has grown and grown. If the BSO wants to be part of the community (especially to attract new listeners) it must actively and visibly support the team. But I am sure that the support is, under the circumstances, genuine.

  • Before it became a more gray-haired “mature” orchestra the Milwaukee Symphony used to field a softball team that played in municipal leagues, and they were pretty good, too. I seem to recall the American Symphony Orchestra also fielded a team and I recall a photo of Stokowski throwing a first pitch.

    A MSO recording of the national anthem used to be played before Milwaukee Brewers games before they switched to live singers or instrumentalists – who sometimes are MSO members. Lots of symphony musicians I know are avid sports fans. This is not an affectation. In the USA orchestras and their musicians are not things apart – they are part of the community.

  • It is not uncommon to spot Philadelphia Orchestra players playing national anthem for the Phillies. Audience reacts to that warmly. A nice way to connect to the community.

    • Right! The crowd at Fenway LOVED it last year when a cello quartet of BSO players performed the anthem. They also loved it when Andris Nelsons and, years earlier, Seiji Ozawa threw out the first ball.

      UPDATE The Boston Red Sox have won the 2018 World Series…no doubt in part to the BSO and its spirited rendition of ‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’!

  • Nothing alarming here. It’s only a teensy amount of crossover to show mutual respect for the city’s institutions. I believe Matthew Polenzani took a break from
    portraying Idomeneo to sing the National Anthem at a Bears game last week.

    • Robert Merrill sang the national anthem many times at Yankee Stadium. He died while watching the World Series on television.

    • Actually, San Antonio Spurs star Pau Gasol is a member of the San Antonio Symphony advisory board. Past Spurs star David Robinson narrated a composition on stage with the San Antonio Symphony.

  • I will agree with Norman on one point: Nelsons’ reading at the beginning was…odd. Otherwise, they pulled off the baseball theme song tradition quite well.

  • More than a century ago, one of BSO founder Major Henry Lee Higginson’s leading supporters of the Boston Symphony would stroll into Symphony Hall with an ornate hat of the period, which had a banner across it, “Oh, you Red Sox”. She was a Boston cultural institution in her own right, supporting artists including John Singer Sargent and composers including Charles Martin Loeffler. She created a art museum that bears her name, Isabella Stewart Gardener. Rabid enthusiasm for both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Red Sox has been a given for many in New England for generations. Just as Mrs. Jack did in the early 20th Century.

  • You pt your foot in your mouth, Norm. It is abundantly clear you do not live in, and therefore do not understand anything of, Boston

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