Conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager received a standing ovation from a near-capacity crowd the moment he walked on the stage Wednesday evening to conduct the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The audience was not only applauding the music, but the principle of freedom of expression, after several left-wing members of the orchestra had attempted to organize a boycott of the event by the musicians and by the public.
A letter circulated by the boycotters exhorted: “Please urge your friends to not attend this concert, which helps normalize bigotry in our community.” One boycotter, violinist and UCLA professor Andrew Apter, told Prager on his show that he would be willing to play for the pleasure of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un rather than playing in the orchestra under Prager’s baton.
However, the boycott had the opposite effect of the one intended, as fans flocked to buy tickets as a statement of solidarity with Prager and with the principle of free expression generally.
Guido Lamell, the music director and conductor of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra, was thrilled, telling the audience that the concert was “one of the best evenings of my life.” Asking for a show of hands, he noted that many people were attending a classical music concert for the first time. That, he said, had been his hope in asking Prager to conduct — that he would draw new fans to the orchestra. But the response was much greater than he expected.
Lamell kicked off the evening by conducting the overture to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. He then brought Prager onto the stage to conduct Haydn’s Symphony No. 51 in B-flat major.
Prager took a moment to thank the audience, and to explain how he became interested in classical music and in conducting, which he has done for 25 years. He had chosen Haydn, he said, because the composer was his favorite and because the symphony exemplified the ideal of “controlled passion,” save in the fourth movement, when Haydn allowed for an “explosion” of musical emotion.
After tearfully accepting several standing ovations, Prager conducted an amusing dialogue with the orchestra in which he asked members to explain how they had developed their interest in music and in their instruments. He led the orchestra through several bars of the fourth movement, each time with a different section dropping out, so that the audience could hear the effect that every small part of the ensemble had on the overall sound of the symphony.
Following intermission, Lamell returned to conduct Beethoven’s well-known Symphony No. 5 in C minor. He and Prager performed “America the Beautiful,” with Lamell playing the saw and Prager accompanying him on the accordion. The audience joined in, singing, providing an appropriately patriotic signature for the evening.
The proceeds of the evening, according to the program, will help fund the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra’s “mission of providing all of our regular concerts free to the public and expanding our educational programs.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
This post has been updated.