Sunday night's concert of traditional New Year's fare, Viennese polkas, galops and other delights, played at the National Gallery by the Gallery Orchestra, was an occasion for reflecting on the things that have changed over the years and on those that haven't.
The Gallery Orchestra is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and in that time has given enormous pleasure to several generations of music lovers. For 26 of those years, first under Richard Bales and now under George Manos, the orchestra has offered a Viennese New Year's gala, and the audience that clapped along with the final boisterous encore Sunday night signaled its appreciation just the way many audiences in the past have. George Manos carries on the good old Bales tradition of milking the music for all its stylish excesses; breathtaking rubatos, noisy bells and broad string lyricism, and if his galops are not breathlessly fast, they do go at a pretty good clip.
What has changed are the concert conditions themselves. The gallery used to be open on Sunday evenings, and one could spend an intermission with medieval Madonnas if one wished, or with Rembrandt. These days the gallery is officially closed on Sunday nights, and the medieval Madonnas are roped off in darkened rooms. The public used to wander in, a mixed bag, and they sat on anything that was available. Now they need tickets (free ones, but you have to plan ahead), and Sunday night's crowd was rather homogeneously middle-aged, prosperous and seated on chairs. They all seemed to enjoy themselves, but something has been lost.