750 B Street, Downtown San Diego
Saturday night at the Jacobs Music Center was about the most fun I’ve had at a symphony concert. The buzz before the April 12 concert was alien to those hallowed walls — at least in my experience.
People were dressed differently. They spoke differently. I swear I heard men calling each other “dude” and “bro.” Sullen women in fantastic makeup haunted the lobby. The line for drinks before the concert was long.
I was fully immersed in the fashion oblivion in which I travel through most of life.
On almost every occasion I wear jeans and a t-shirt to the symphony, but on this night — for God knows what reason — I wore my tuxedo. My standard symphony uniform would have been much more in line with the evening.
However, as my equally elegant companion and I navigated the stairs, a younger guy turned to us and said, “Dude, nice tux. I wanted to do that but no one else was with me.”
Why is a young guy at the symphony wishing he was wearing a tuxedo? Why were an army of be-denimed 20- and 30-somethings there? Why was there so much hair in the audience? For the first time I can remember, less than half the men in the house were balding. Why were people drinking before intermission?
Dave Mustaine is the answer.
The famous metal guitarist, who was an original member of Metallica and later founded his own band, Megadeth, was there to rock Vivaldi and Bach.
The lights went down in the house and the audience cheered. It finally happened! An audience at the symphony expressed their excitement for the start of a concert. Well, they had some help from the heavy metal world.
The concert began with the orchestra playing Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture. It was well received. Conductor Ken David Masur welcomed both the orchestra and Mustaine factions of the audience and then the man walked out, plugged in, and started wailing on Bach, accompanied by the orchestra string sections.
Here is where things get tricky. The way in which Mustaine had set up his amps created a certain amount of distortion in the sound of his guitar. Every now and then his distortion got in the way of the music he was playing. At least, that’s what I heard.
I asked a few questions at intermission and found out that this distortion is in keeping with the tradition of how Mustaine plays the guitar.
Mustaine followed up Bach with Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The tempos were a bit slower than normal, but the electric guitar isn’t the same instrument as the violin when it comes to being nimble. I liked it, the audience liked it, and the performers appeared to be enjoying themselves.
Mustaine warned us that he would see us after intermission.
Ah-ha. Now, in order to hear Mustaine again, his fans were required to listen to about an hour of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony: From the New World.
Nuvi Mehta, the voice of the symphony, came out and prepped us for Dvořák as only Nuvi Mehta can. I can’t say enough about how infectious his speaking about music is. The audience was ready to hear the Native American and gospel spiritual tunes that Mehta had demonstrated for us.
What some of the audience wasn’t ready for was an hour-long piece of music. After the slow movement, during which the orchestra’s playing made me feel as though I was being weightlessly suspended by Dvořák’s music, a question pierced the silence of the theater.
It was a fair question.
A few people got up and left but, by and large, the audience appeared to enjoy Dvořák. I even saw some head banging when Dvořák asserted himself.
The audience cheered and stood and clapped their hands over their heads. I was reminded of what my metal friends in high school always used to say: “Dude, heavy metal is like the closest thing there is to classical.”
This was an audience who respected music. I can only imagine how many symphony goers would stay for an hour of Megadeth in order to hear Renee Fleming sing a couple arias.
Dave came back out and smashed The Ride of the Valkyries with the full orchestra. There was only one thing lacking. I wanted to hear Dave play Dave. I found myself wanting to hear him do his own thing as an encore. I even started chanting “Dave, Dave, Dave!”. It didn’t happen.
I hope this is only the first of several concerts of its type. Now, for two weekends in a row, the San Diego Symphony has stepped out of the classical mainstream and innovated a little bit. Last week was The Project Trio, this week was Dave Mustaine.
San Diego Opera, are you paying attention? Innovate or die, it’s up to you.