Play ball!

Anne Midgette riffs on the propriety of performing the National Anthem at concerts:

Does it have a place? It can seem slightly odd. The concert hall is aglitter with expensive evening gowns and tails; the audience is seated; the lights go down; the conductor comes out; and suddenly the lights come up and everyone stands up, as if in school, and sings along. Then the “real” music starts. I love the National Anthem, but in this context it always feels like an abrupt change of mood.

Part of the issue is the slight uncertainty about whether this music is part of the performance, or a ritual observed before the performance. … one of the most memorable performances of the anthem I’ve ever heard in my life was by Zdenek Macal and the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra in the weeks following 9-11. It was stirring and powerful and extremely moving: there was a sense, usually so easy to forget, of what this piece was actually about.

I remember a similar experience when we opened our season after 9/11. Andreas conducted it a little slower than is traditional and it became quite Nimrod-like; very moving.

On the other hand, I remember that, right after the US invaded Iraq in March 2003, we did a runout and management decided that the National Anthem would be a suitable opener for that concert as well. One member of the orchestra simply refused to play it (I quite envied him his courage) and there was sufficient blowback from others appalled at celebrating such an event that we did no more National Anthems that season.

We used to do Beethoven 9 at GermanFest, one of our long-time lakefront ethnic festivals, every summer. For that concert, we played both the National Anthem and Deutschland ├╝ber alles. But of course Haydn wrote that one (or at least the tune), and it only became the German national anthem during the Weimar Republic.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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