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Fenway journal: At Jordan Hall, free music and no dress code

Posted by Roy Greene  February 10, 2011 02:59 PM

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(Globe file photo)

A concert at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall.

Part of an occasional series on one thing a resident likes about his Boston neighborhood.

Travel + Leisure recently ranked Boston the No. 2 city in America for classical music, a standing largely owed to Symphony Hall. Venerable as it is, though, attending a concert there isn't always practical – or ideal.

For one, it's pricey, with orchestra level seats starting at $29. Rush tickets might get you in for $9, but you'll be relegated to the back rows of the lower level where an overhang amplifies every cough and snore (and people do snore). Secondly, the airs at Symphony Hall can be rather thick.

But just a block away sits Symphony Hall’s more accessible, equally stunning counterpart, New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall. Behind an unassuming entrance on Gainsborough Street, the 1,051-seat theatre is NEC's principal performance space. Less than half the size of its more famous neighbor, it’s a warm, wood-paneled venue with excellent acoustics. A National Historic Landmark, Jordan Hall is intimate, surprisingly comfortable, and one of Boston's best-kept secrets: few know most of its concerts are free.

From September through May, NEC students perform works from every classical era on a near-daily basis. Featuring everything from solos to full orchestras, NEC concerts are dynamic experiences showcasing top-notch classical talent. Fifteen current members of the BSO are NEC alumni, while a third of the BSO teaches at NEC. So make no mistake: at Jordan Hall, the virtuosic future of classical performance is on display. And if this wasn’t enough, faculty recitals are also frequent (and also free).

But performance quality is only part of Jordan Hall’s appeal. There's no dress code, nor are tickets issued for most concerts. Instead, its doors are open to anyone who appreciates classical music, making for a diverse and passionate audience.

Teenagers sit transfixed while their classmates perform. Seniors wistfully smile through moving passages. Parents nervously await their children's solos. The common denominator, so often a rarity at classical concerts, is that everyone is genuinely enthusiastic to be there – and for the right reasons, no less. People come for the music and those performing it. Period.

Another plus at Jordan Hall is open seating, which allows you to get up close to the orchestra (something that would set you back $100 down the street). How can one fully appreciate a blistering violin solo from a back row or second balcony?

At Jordan Hall, you can sit mere feet away from the stage where nuance and virtuosity can be properly admired. Want to wear flip-flops? No problem. As long as you dig Brahms or Ravel, that’s all that matters. All ages are welcome with nary a disapproving glance.

But what if you don't dig Brahms or Ravel? What if you don’t know anything about classical music, might be curious about it, but just don’t know where to begin? Take in a concert on Gainsborough Street. After attending a few, you’ll soon differentiate between classical eras, start to develop preferences, and thus gain knowledge and appreciation. A free education for anyone who wants it, NEC's concerts are perhaps Boston's most generous cultural service.

In a world long synonymous with stuffiness, Jordan Hall is a breath of fresh, unaffected air. And each night, NEC graciously opens its doors for us, the citizens of Boston. A hidden gem on the edge of the Fenway, it is the chapel to Symphony Hall’s cathedral of classical music. It’s one thing I love about my neighborhood, and one you shouldn’t wait to check out – the next concert is tonight.

Luis Oscar Cardona is a resident of the Fenway. The Globe welcomes submissions about one thing you like about your Boston neighborhood. Click here to learn more.

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