A LOT of people don't like the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This has nothing to do with the quality of the music they play, or how they play it. A lot of people don't like the BSO because its ticket prices are high, its concerts are sold out, and it doesn't seem very sympathetic to the music lover without much money in his wallet.
The BSO knows that some people don't like it, and lately the orchestra management has been trying to improve its relations with the community, especially with students. Open rehearsals, student tickets, last-minute rush seats have brought the orchestra to a larger audience in the past few years, and improved its public image. But the BSO, like the Bruins, almost always sells out, and, unlike the Bruins, it doesn't offer its fans the option of watching performances on color TV in the privacy of their homes. One way the orchestra makes its music available to the people who can't get into Symphony Hall is the Sanders Theatre Series of the BSO Chamber Players, which starts this Sunday afternoon at 4. The orchestra accepts a financial loss to present the series of three concerts at Harvard every year, in the hope that a large proportion of the audience will come from the student community. The Chamber Players, who are the BSO's first chair soloists, use the opportunity to perform a variety of styles and periods chosen by the players themselves.
Joseph Silverstein is the BSO's concertmaster, and first violin of the Chamber Players. An affable middle-aged man with very long sideburns, he could pass for the principal of an affluent and progressive suburban high school. It is easy to understand why the BSO's press officers like to have him act as a spokesman for the orchestra: he has a pleasant, reassuring manner and a way of keeping in control of interviews. Sitting in a comfortable armchair in a Symphony Hall anteroom, he seems to actually enjoy being asked the same old questions once more. (As we talk, two Symphony Hall employees pass through. "Oh Joey," says the first, "are you being interviewed? " And to me, "Be sure to write that he's groovy. The staff loves him.")
Silverstein is a remarkably un-phony man, who is sensitive to student criticism of the BSO. "Over the past seven years interest in the BSO on the part of the student community has eroded. With a student population of almost a quarter million around Boston, it would seem that the BSO is not doing its job." He talks of the effort the orchestra has made to win back students-the rush tickets, the open rehearsals, advisory committees of students from local colleges. The Sanders Theatre series, if it sold out, would still lose money for the BSO, he says, since subscriptions for the three concerts start at $4.00.
If the prices weren't enough to attract an audience, the performers and the program would be. The Chamber Players include some fine instrumentalists, among them flautist Doriot Anthony Dwyer, clarinetist Harold Wright, trumpeter Armando Ghitalla, and horn player James Stagliano. The programs, decided on co-operatively by the entire group, are diverse: this Sunday, the group will do a Rossini Quartet for Strings, Piston's Woodwind Quintet, and the Schubert Octet op. 166.
The Chamber Players give their concerts on the side, in addition to their orchestra duties. In order to get the experience of performing chamber works on a regular basis, they give up hugh chunks of their time. "For the Schubert Octet, we will probably have had twenty-five hours of rehearsal," Silverstein says. A similar amount of time spent on every work on the program would amount to almost eighty hours of preparation for a single concert, over and above regular BSO rehearsals.
The Chamber Players are not complete sacrifices, of course. Playing in a chamber group is a beneficial, almost vital, experience for any first-rate instrumentalist. But the Sanders Theatre Series is a great benefit to the Harvard community, one that deserves fond thanks.