I took my 15 year-old niece to hear the Toronto Symphony last month and she had a completely different first-time experience than I did.
I have two major memories of my first visit to Massey Hall, then home of the TSO - and both of them brought up major issues for me.
The first came after the opening work was completed and the conductor Walter Susskind motioned to the first balcony to acknowledge composer Harry Somers. I remember leaning over to my mother and asking if Beethoven, another composer whose work was on the program, was going to be there, too. "Uh, no," my mother allowed, not expecting at all that we were suddenly going to be dealing with life and death issues.
The other thing I remember is that there weren't very many women on stage, except for Judy Loman playing the harp and a smattering of violinists (Corky Musser, another role model of mine, didn't join the double base section until a few years later). The message to an eight year-old over 45 years ago was clear. Female? Interested in a career in classical music? Forget it.
But when Emily and I got to Roy Thomson Hall in 2008, the scene was completely different. The first work, called Momentum, was by a gifted Chinese musician Chen Yi. Not only was the piece awesome, powerful in its ability to evoke images of a volcanic eruption, the audience got upclose and personal with the composer, via an onstage interview with guest conductor Ludovic Morlot. And guess what - Chen wore pants.
Then Teng Li, the gifted first violist of the TSO, came on as soloist in Bartok's Viola Concerto and was sensational.
Most important, half the players in the symphony itself are now female. Everything about the experience made my niece feel included, as if women were equal participants in the symphony of life.
And can I say? That orchestra can really play.
Above: A recording of Chen Yi's Momentum.