By A.Z. Madonna Boston Globe, Updated May 7
Michelle Wu is the first woman, person of color, and Asian American to be elected mayor of Boston. Sunday afternoon, she added another item to that list of firsts when she took a seat in front of a grand piano at center stage at Symphony Hall and became the first sitting mayor of Boston to appear as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, during the orchestra’s free Concert for the City event.
The concert, an all-ages event that attracted a diverse cross-section of the city to Symphony Hall, featured both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops (the two orchestras share numerous musicians), conducted by the tag team of BSO music director Andris Nelsons and Pops conductor Keith Lockhart. Wu, who also gave opening remarks, delivered a competent performance of the solo in the slow second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major.
At a news conference following the concert, Wu affirmed her administration’s commitment to supporting the arts in the city and creating more opportunities for school-age children to get involved in music.
“The arts are necessary,” she said. “They are absolutely critical infrastructure for communities and for individuals.”
According to the BSO archives, a handful of sitting mayors have appeared with the Pops during holiday concerts, but Wu is the first mayor to play an instrument with the BSO. A classically trained pianist since childhood, Wu attracted some attention shortly after she took office when she installed a city-owned upright piano in her mayoral chambers at City Hall.
At the news conference, the mayor revealed she had never studied the Mozart concerto before practicing it for the event, and it had been suggested to her by the BSO.
“I had not spent time really practicing in many, many, years, so this was a wonderful re-invigoration for me, and a reminder that I need to stay at it,” she said.
The program, which was performed without intermission, featured music from the 18th century through the present. Most of the pieces featured had some connection to the Boston area, including a movement from 1906 New England Conservatory graduate Florence Price’s Symphony No. 1, the world premiere of Emilio Solla’s arrangement of Chelsea-born jazz fusion pioneer Chick Corea’s “Spain,” and “Fanfare for Fenway” by Pops laureate conductor John Williams.
In remarks from the conductor’s podium, Lockhart elucidated some of the program’s less obvious local links, citing Duke Ellington’s collaboration with Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler before conducting the Pops in “Come Sunday” from Ellington’s “Black, Brown, and Beige,” which was paired with an original poem by narrator Charlotte Blake Alston.
Before the orchestra took the stage, several local dance and music groups performed in and around Symphony Hall, including student musicians from the Boston Public Schools, a performance crew of school-age children representing Boston-based nonprofit DEAFinitely Inc. with routines that mixed acrobatic hip-hop choreography and American Sign Language, and the Berklee College of Music Chinese Traditional Music Club. The orchestra also set up an “instrument playground,” where children and adults could try playing several string and percussion instruments.
Boston’s Higher Ground chair and retired UMass Boston vice chancellor Charlie Titus, a member of the concert’s host committee, tried a violin for the first time with visible delight. “We need to be doing this all the time,” he said, positing that unless children get exposed to music early in life, they might assume they just can’t do it — “like me and the violin.”
Nelsons later mirrored Titus’s sentiments. “How wonderful it would be if we could make this day like today very regular, several times a year if possible,” he said. “And we could think of different ways of inviting an even more diverse audience.”