Orchestras, say people who want to defend those organizations’ importance in today’s world, are focal points of community spirit and civic pride. And, oh, how wonderful it is on the rare occasions when they actually feel like that.
Although Tuesday night’s free concert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall wasn’t really about an orchestra. It was about a brand-new pipe organ. Organs don’t figure that largely in the concert life of an average symphony orchestra; nonetheless, they still have power to galvanize a community. Shortly before the concert, the line of would-be attendees snaked through the lobby and out the doors. A lot of those who did make it inside had stood in line for upwards of an hour and a half. Once they got inside, they were excited and involved, whooping and hollering with a genuine enthusiasm I wish people felt freer to express during regular subscription concerts.
The happiest man in the room may have been William Neil, the resident organist of the National Symphony Orchestra, who after years of playing on the frustrating Filene Organ (an instrument that was never quite right for the hall and that was given to going off unexpectedly during performances) got to play the first chords on its successor, named the Rubenstein Family Organ for its donor, David M. Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center chairman. Those chords were the opening of Bach’s famous D Minor Toccata and Fugue, perhaps the best-known organ piece, which puts the instrument through its paces and evokes everything from majesty to horror movies.