“Go away! Go away!”
The screams came from the second balcony at Symphony Hall on Wednesday. It was Opening Night at the Pops, and Keith Lockhart was on the podium, conducting a medley from Gigi. I looked across from my first-balcony seat and saw a scuffle breaking out in the second tier: a mini-melee, fisticuffs, and a couple of rows of people scrambling for the exit. One usher later called it “chaos.” Police came. At least two persons were ejected. Lockhart, meanwhile, brought the orchestra to a graceful halt and turned to look up at the balcony. Those close to the action reported that one man had been tapping another on the shoulder to tell him to stop yammering, and that the guy being tapped took both umbrage and the first swing.
At the post-concert gala dinner in the Fairmont Copley Plaza ballroom, Lockhart told me this had been a first for him as Pops conductor: first fight, first orchestra stoppage. “You keep going [with the performance] until you have more information.” When he realized that there was an actual fight going on, he put the music on hold for a few minutes.
“We generally have a well-behaved crowd,” Lockhart mused, “but occasionally you’re going to get someone . . . It was a blip in what people took away from the concert.” True enough. If this had happened at Gillette Stadium or a Metallica concert, it’d barely merit a mention. But at the Pops?! And Opening Night, no less. Lockhart, who has a sharp sense of humor, was not above making use of what happened. When he addressed the dinner crowd and thanked the patrons for their support, he added that the Pops is considering music from the movie Fight Club for its “A Tribute to Oscar and Tony” program.
The first half of the concert was given over to music from The Sound of Music, The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, All That Jazz, and Gigi. After intermission, the evening’s special guest, pop pianist/singer Ben Folds, joined the orchestra. Like last year’s Opening Night guest, Elvis Costello, Folds is versed in numerous genres and fully at home with orchestration. Lockhart explained that Folds brings a generation even younger than Costello’s crowd to the Pops experience, and that this is essential to the orchestra’s mission: “We want to fill the house with people who aren’t standard Pops attendees but should be.”
Folds, perhaps the Elton John of his generation, can be unpredictable — tossing his piano stool, tossing out the f-word. He indulged in some collegial banter at the concert, but for the most part he behaved himself. At the press conference, he explained, “We had a talk about not saying ‘fuck.’ You have to stay on page.” He added that his eight-song set would not include his infamous version of the Dr. Dre–penned “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” (Folds reinvents this as a piano ballad and lament.)
The 40-minute second half of the concert started with “Zak and Sara,” and it scored with “Gracie” (a tender number about one of Folds’s twins), the sad abortion song “Brick,” and “Narcolepsy.” This last was seductive and lulling, with Folds’s “I go to sleep” declarations and “I’m not tired” protestations, before a whoosh of rise-and-fall dynamics led to a climactic surge from tenor Edgar Ramirez.