Last night we attended another tour de force performance given by the New York Philharmonic. Featured artists included violinist Joshua Bell, who dug into the Glazunov violin concerto like a teenager behind the wheel of his first car. It was thrilling to hear and watch. And at the podium was assistant conductor Case Scaglioni, age 31, who conducted two of the three pieces on the program from memory with great artistry and depth. There was real joy in watching him coax various nuances out of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. There were shouts of "Bravo" from all corners of Avery Fischer Hall. That Prokofiev symphony has some magnificent textures and really difficult passages for the entire orchestra. I, for one, was so thrilled with their skill and enthusiasm that I lept to my feet to initiate a well-deserved standing ovation.
I was reminded of similarly thriling performances given nearly 20 years ago by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, then and now considered to be the superior of the two orchestras. Here's the thing. It's true that the musicians in Boston were then and are now among the best in the country. And, sure, the New York Philarmonic has improved over the years so that the gap between the two in terms of skill is now not what it once was. But you want to know what the key difference between these two orchestras is?
It's the audience.