The Five Most Influential Concerts I Ever Attended

The following originally appeared at bostonbrass.wordpress.com:

Empire Brass – Tanglewood July 1988

This was part of the Walks and Talks series that Tanglewood used to host.  The artists would lead a short walk around the grounds of Tanglewood while discussing their music.  It would then culminate in a performance for a small audience in a very intimate atmosphere.

This was the first time I ever heard Sam Pilafian play the tuba in person and it did nothing short of change my life.  I was simply awestruck by witnessing first hand what a tuba was capable of playing.  He has been my musical mentor since that day almost 22 years ago.

That is me in the blue sweatshirt looking on in awe! I have wanted to play in a brass quintet ever since that afternoon in the Berkshires.

Copeland 3 – Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein conducting – Tanglewood August, 1990

I have spent every summer of my life about a half an hour away from Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony.  As a result, I saw my first ever BSO concert when I was only two weeks old! But just before my 15th birthday I saw this TMC concert and it was the first time I really, truly got it.

This was the second to last concert of Leonard Bernstein’s career and it was an incredible experience for anyone in the audience that night.  I had enjoyed many orchestra concerts before but had never been inspired by one like I was that night.

I waited for over an hour after the concert to meet Bernstein and get his autograph.  I missed my curfew at BUTI and got in trouble.  I’ve never had someone yell at me and be so happy about it!

Mahler 2 – Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa conducting – Tanglewood July, 1991

This was the first ever Leonard Bernstein Memorial Concert at Tanglewood.  It was just nine months after Bernstein had passed away.  There might not be a single human being that has left more of a mark on Tanglewood than Leonard Bernstein.  He had a very special bond with the place and with the Boston Symphony and that was evident from the very first notes of this performance.

I have been privileged enough to see over 200 BSO concerts in my life and I have never heard them sound better than they sounded that night in 1991.  It also didn’t hurt that Mahler 2 is my favorite symphony of all time (along with Beethoven 7).

This is the only concert of any kind that I’ve ever witnessed where a large percentage of the crowd was literally tearing up afterwards.  It was such a moving experience that it was an awful lot for someone not yet 16 to process.  I do know that it left a truly indelible mark on me and my musicianship.

Wynton Marsalis and his Septet – Skullers – Cambridge, MA May 1992

Wynton Marsalis and his Septet rehearsed the night before this gig at Boston University.  I happened to be there at the same time for a tuba lesson.  I was mesmerized as a I walked past the rehearsal room from which these magical sounds were emanating.  I also had no idea who was playing since the door was barely cracked open.

Excited I ran to ask my teacher who at BU sounded that good.  He smiled and said that it was Wynton Marsalis and asked if I wanted to meet him.  He had been friends with him for a very long time and actually interrupted their rehearsal to introduce me to the band.  Wynton then asked if I was free the next night.  When I eagerly said yes he said he would put me on the guest list since it was an 18 and over show.

Not only did he get me in but he spoke with me for 45 minutes in between their two gigs.  He took the time to introduce me personally to every member of the band as if we had known each other our entire lives.

I will never forget the mind blowing music I heard or the kindness and warmth that Wynton and his entire band showed me that night.

Phish – Worcester Centrum – Worcester, MA December 31, 1993

By the time I saw this show at the Worcester Centrum I had already seen over 50 rock and roll concerts.  But this one was different right from the start.  I did not know much of Phish’s music.  I had heard a couple of tunes and had enjoyed them but that was the extent of it.  My best friend Russell was getting tickets to this show so I asked him to get me one.  Little did I know that ticket would change my life.

These four very normal looking guys walked out on stage without any explosions, fireworks, or hydraulic lifts.  I had always enjoyed the theater of big time rock and roll shows but there was something refreshing about four average Joe’s strolling on stage and letting the music do the talking.

They had me completely hooked on their very unique blend of everything from hard rock to bluegrass to barbershop quartet.  I have never heard any chamber ensemble that can play fluently in as many different styles of music as Phish.

I had no idea that I would go on to see the band over 150 times after that night during my freshman year of college.  They continue to be my favorite chamber ensemble of any genre performing music today.

As a result of Phish allowing the taping and distributing of all of their shows you can find a free download of that night’s music here.

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I don’t think it is a coincidence that every concert I have listed occurred when I was between the ages of 14 and 18.  Those were very formative years for my musical tastes.

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