Classical Music and Hockey

So a couple of week ago, the Nashville Predators advanced in the NHL playoffs. Among the congratulations they got was one from the city’s symphony orchestra.

And it took me back a bit …

The year was 1991 and I was finishing out my freshman year at Carleton. Carleton hosted many cultural events and speakers. And almost every year I was there, they would have a concert from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. This was a big deal, especially to a classical music lover like myself. The St. Paul Chamber Chamber was and is a world-class symphony; I had several of their performances on CD. This was a chance to see them for free!* That night they did Hayden’s 83rd Symphony (“The Hen”) and Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings and I fell in love with both pieces.

(*”Free” = after paying 30 grand in tuition.)

What I really remember, however, was their conductor, Hugh Wolff. Wolff was young and dynamic and conducted with verve, passion and flourish. My only prior experience with a major symphony had been the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which had the more staid pace that one usually associates with classical music. But Wolff — and his players — seemed like they were actually having a good time.

Anyway, there was something else going on at the time. The Minnesota North Stars were deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs and fighting Edmonton for their first ever appearance in the finals. The state was in the grips of a hockey fever (one that would extend into the baseball season when the Twins would go worst to first and beat my beloved Braves in the Greatest World Series Ever). That night, they were playing Edmonton and the series was tied at 1-1. After performing Haydn, Wolff went off, then came back. He picked up his baton, held it poised, then turned to the audience:

“First period, Stars 2, Oilers 0”

There were laughs and cheers. And then he brought the baton down and the orchestra launched into their next gorgeous performance. The Stars would beat Edmonton, but then fall to the Penguins in the finals. Two years later, they would move to Dallas. But it’s a fond memory of my time in college and a good reminder that a taste for classical music can come with a sense of fun and humor.

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