Last week, I raised my right hand and exchanged a Vulcan salute with Leonard Nimoy.
“That greeting originated in Boston,” Nimoy said, to cheers from the Boston Symphony Hall audience. He went on to explain that as a child he saw a priest make that hand gesture to a congregation, and was so moved that he brought it to Star Trek. For those of you who don’t know. Leonard Nimoy is famous for his role as Mr. Spock in the original 1960’s Star Trek TV series. He grew up in the Boston area, where (in his words) “they would probably say ‘He’s Spock from Stah Trek!’”
Now Nimoy is 83 years old. Last week, he came home to Boston to narrate an outer space themed concert by the Boston Pops orchestra. He sat on stage and told us about his barber, who discouraged a young Nimoy from pursuing a career in acting and told him that he would be better off playing the accordion. “I like to think,” he said, “that [my barber] would have liked to see me now, sitting on stage at Symphony Hall.”
“Pops” is a portmanteau of “popular concerts.” The Boston Pops was founded in 1885 with the goal of performing “light classics” and popular music: for example, excerpts from musical theater, film scores, or particularly recognizable classical pieces. Between 1980 and 1995, you could even go watch the Boston Pops conductor conduct his own film scores. His name is John Williams, and in case you haven’t heard of him he’s responsible for Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan, Harry Potter…and so on. That guy has over twice as many Academy Award nominations than I have years of life.
It’s probably very difficult to include film scores in a concert without John Williams slipping in there somewhere. It’s definitely very difficult to include outer space themed film scores in a concert without featuring John Williams. Last night, the orchestra performed music from three John Williams film scores: E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars.
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Symphony Hall is a lovely half-hour walk from MIT’s West Campus. The walk takes you across Harvard Bridge and down Massachusetts Avenue, past busy shops and restaurants and the bizarrely grandiose First Church of Christ, Scientist. I ate dinner then walked over with Lucas ’14, Jacob ’17, and Abby 17. We picked up our tickets at the box office.
A word on those tickets. Our seats would normally have cost $94. But this is Boston, a city that caters spectacularly to young people. Symphony Hall sells special 20-under-40 tickets: tickets for people under the age of 40, that cost $20. So, we each paid $20 to sit at tables right on the concert hall floor, near the stage. And, while I’m at it, the BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra) sells special College Cards for people like MIT students. You pay $25 once and can go to any number of concerts for no additional cost.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE OPPORTUNITIES!!!!!!
Anyway, back to last night’s concert. The usual rows of seats had been replaced by tables and chairs, people sat around drinking wine and chatting, and waiters rushed up and down the aisles. During the performance, people whooped and cheered during their favorite songs, as if at a rock concert.
The orchestra opened with Star Trek Through the Years, by Courage-Custer. That got a lot of whoops. It was impossible not to hear Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship enterprise…
…and then Mr. Spock walked in, hair greyer and ears rounder than I remembered from TV. The orchestra was still playing but the audience cheered and applauded anyway. Spock waved. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek our new life and new civilizations, to boldly go…
Mars, the Bringer of War. The first movement from Gustav Holst’s famous The Planets suite. While the orchestra played, Spock sat at the front of the stage, a red folder poking out from his music stand. A big screen showed images of Mars, from drawings conceived in 1630 through high-res images taken in the past few years by telescopes and the Mars rovers. We watched an animation of the Curiosity landing.
Before the third movement (Mercury, the Winged Messenger) Spock told us a bit about the winged messenger and then about the gravitationally-bound planet. “Wouldn’t we rather think of Mercury as that winged messenger – always noble, never caught?”
Following Mercury, he looked out into the audience and said that “our planetary expedition ends with Jupiter.” He told us about its immense size, and as the orchestra played the suite’s fourth movement (Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity) we watched beautiful images of aurorae on Jupiter and close-up photographs of its moons Io and Europa.
After the Holst suite, the orchestra played Debussy’s Clair de Lune and a piece from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial while Spock sat serenely with his hands folded together and smiled at the audience. “Ever since man began sketching constellations,” he told us, “we have been looking for our companions in the universe.” During the ET soundtrack, he bobbed his head to the music.
The post-intermission program included On the Beautiful Blue Danube. An astronomer at Adler Planetarium in Chicago had put together a video to accompany the music. There were shots of Earth from space, of a gliding space shuttle, and of an astronaut somersaulting and tumbling through the ISS. I imagined waltzing on a spaceship with a view of earth and felt very giddy.
Perhaps because the music director knew that nobody would listen to the Star Trek piece the first time around (we were all too busy whooping and cheering at Leonard Nimoy) the orchestra played it a second time, right towards the end of the concert. “Now,” Nimoy said with a dramatic pause, “for music that is particularly meaningful to me.” He put his hands in the air and said “welcome to my world.”
I looked at Dora ’11 next to me and mouthed AHHHHHHHHH THIS IS SO COOL.
I noticed then that Nimoy’s chair at the front of the stage was right next to the conductor, so that all of the musicians were facing him. It was like they were playing to him. Throughout the piece, he stared above our heads at some point way up at the back of the hall. After all the music was over and it was time to make his exit, he said “I bid you, wherever you are, go boldly, and live long and prosper!” I made a Vulcan salute right back at him.