On Thursday night my friend Chinwe and I went to the inaugural concert in the BSOPulse series. BSOPulse is a grant-funded collaboration between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and WTMD, which is Baltimore’s NPR Music station out of Towson University. It brings in indie bands (this year’s are Dawes, Wye Oak, Dr. Dog, and The Lone Bellow) to play with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
I was stalking this series for probably about 4 months before they ever officially announced it. I pretty much only listen to Baltimore radio stations when I’m in the car and then I just flip through looking for songs I like. I rarely hear much of what the DJs are saying, but one morning on my way to work I caught the tail end of one of the WTMD DJs saying something about Dawes and the BSO. It wasn’t really enough to go on at that point and I couldn’t find anything about it immediately, but I kept looking. Eventually many months later they finally made the official announcement about this series, and it was even more exciting than I thought it was going to be.
This year marks the BSO’s 100th season, and they’re doing a lot of interesting and fun stuff in addition to their more traditional fare. They seem to be making a big push this year to attract a younger audience including this concert series. I think this concert did exactly what it was supposed to do. It brought a crowd to the BSO that would normally have never come and introduced them to an accessible piece of symphony music to hopefully encourage them to return for something else. When asked if it was their first time at the Meyerhoff, the majority of the crowd indicated that it was. Nicholas Hersh, the BSO’s assistant conductor, who conducted the symphony at the performance did a good job of introducing people to the symphony in a way that let people who may have no experience with a symphony performance know what to expect in way that didn’t seem like he was talking down to the audience.
The performance started out with the BSO string section playing Phillip Glass’s Symphony No. 3, which is a 25 minute piece. It was really a nice introduction to the symphony for anyone who may not have been before. During the set change Alex Cortwright, WTMD’s morning DJ led a discussion between Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Nicholas Hersh about the Phillip Glass piece and how it relates to the music that Dawes plays. I really like that they added that piece into the show.
After that Dawes came out and played a set by themselves. You could tell that they were really stoked to be there. Aside from the fact that Taylor Goldsmith kept saying so, they just looked filled with joy and wonderment in a way that I haven’t seen in the other times I’ve seen them live. They played a good mix of stuff from their new record along with old favorites, although I was a little bummed that they didn’t play “Right on Time”, which is definitely my favorite song off the new album and may have possibly overtaken “If I Wanted Someone” as my favorite Dawes’ song. They of course played “When My Time Comes”, which got the crowd on its feet for the first time during evening. Speaking of joy at the point in the last chorus where they always drop out and let the crowd sing on their own, Taylor Goldsmith had this look of pure, unadulterated joy his face like I’ve never seen.
The performance ended with an actual collaboration between Dawes and the BSO. Nicholas Hersh created arrangements to go along with three of Dawes’ songs. They played “Things Happen”, “Just Beneath the Surface”, and “A Little Bit of Everything” together and it was glorious. I wish they had done more than three songs, but I understand it’s not realistic for them to write a bunch of arrangements and learn them for something they’re only probably ever going to play this one time.
It was a really great performance and something I hope continues even after the grant funding presumably ends after this year. I already have tickets for The Lone Bellow show later in the season. I’m contemplating going to the Wye Oak one too. I’m not much of a Dr. Dog fan, so I’ll probably sit that one out even though I’m sure it will be wonderful too. I definitely encourage everyone to check out at least one of the remaining performances.