Symphony gets buzzed



Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Russian Easter Festival Overture" had just concluded, and the Missoula Symphony Orchestra and Chorale would next perform the concert's main attraction: Mozart's "Great Mass in C Minor." First, though, was intermission.

The crowd that had filed into the Dennison Theatre on March 11 for a swishy night out enjoyed the Easter overture that opened the show with sober ears. Most concertgoers hadn't seemed to notice the trio of caterers serving KettleHouse beers, Coors Light, wine and champagne at the far end of the foyer. Cold Smoke isn't exactly part of Missoula's symphony-going tradition.

But Executive Director John Driscoll, in his introductory remarks, reminded concertgoers that they'd have a "full 20-minute intermission" during which they could, for the first time at a Missoula symphony event, purchase alcohol in the lobby—in other words, get buzzed.

Whether moved by Driscoll's plug or what the program notes described as the "explosive climax" of Rimsky's piece, the audience discovered the alcohol stand as they waited for Mozart's Great Mass to begin. A line snaked across the foyer. Silver-haired friends used staircases as seats upon which to sip their wine. Ambient chit-chat crescendoed.

"There's usually conversation," one Symphony volunteer observed, "but not this much."


Serving alcohol is the latest way the symphony is trying to create an inviting experience for a wider swath of local residents, says Missoula Symphony Association President Ed Wetherbee. Though the median age of Missoula symphony audiences has dropped over the last decade, Wetherbee says the performances still tend to attract a more "mature" and older audience. Wetherbee thinks the music can appeal to younger people as well.

"We and other symphonies are trying to demonstrate that while this isn't what you listened to growing up, this is good stuff and it's worth a try," he says.

Alcohol doesn't have much to do with Mozart, but organizers hope it can help make going to the Symphony about more than the music alone. "The symphony is not stuffy, it's not stodgy, but it is an event. It should be a special evening, a night out," Driscoll says.

The local symphony isn't being iconoclastic in offering alcohol at its concerts; many do. Despite organizers' "past overtures" to Dennison Theatre management about serving alcohol at the symphony's events, working through logistical challenges took time, Driscoll says.

With Dennison Theatre management now on board, audiences are free to drink Eddy Out from their seats. Usually, the brief pauses between symphonic movements are filled only with throat-clearing. On Saturday, a new sound pierced the silence between the fourth and fifth movements of Mozart's Great Mass: the metallic clack of a beer can touching the concrete floor.


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