What if you could experience the Eagles' championship season all over again — but with better music?
Thousands did Tuesday night at the Mann Center. In a show presented by the Mann, the Eagles and NFL Films, the Philadelphia Orchestra rekindled the city's love for the team and its (hopefully not) singular season. As highlight reels flickered with action on the field, in the stands, and beyond, the orchestra and conductor Aram Demirjian strummed the chords and soaring melodies of struggle and triumph.
"Good evening, Eagles Nation," cried Eagles announcer Merrill Reese to a packed house. The Mann sold about 8,000 tickets to the event, with 7,172 counted at the gate — not the size audience that shows up for a good Harry Potter score played live to screen, but they made their presence known all night as spontaneous outbreaks of E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES! rippled across the crowd.
In terms of audience love, there's always a danger at moments like this that the orchestra ends up playing second fiddle to the shinier, more populist thing on stage, and, in fact, there was a very shiny object on hand. Sitting on a tall podium with its own spotlight (not to mention its own security guard) stood the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie presented it to defensive end Brandon Graham, bringing down the house.
The audience, though, didn't stint on its own boisterous blend of applause and deafening roars for the orchestra often throughout the evening.
The biggest ovation might have belonged to a certain baritone sax player. After the main show, Jason Kelce appeared in front of the orchestra and joined it in "Fly, Eagles, Fly." The sound produced by the 6-foot-3, 295-pound center couldn't compete with this mighty orchestra, but Kelce has a way with words.
"We have the Philadelphia Orchestra, the epitome of high culture, sophistication, art, celebrating a bunch of grown men beatin' the crap out of each other," Kelce told the audience.
Well, yes. But there was more to it than that. After the delayed curtain time, video interviews and speeches, the actual orchestra-with-film part of the show lasted about an hour, which was more than enough time to appreciate how slow-motion footage, a sharp-eyed video editor, skillful composers, and a powerful orchestra can conspire to great synergy.
The music itself was written mostly by NFL Films composer David Robidoux, but also by Sam Spence and Tom Hedden, and was organized with footage into thematic sequences. One was called Molder of Men, another The Champions Suite. Much of the mood, of course, magnifies the glorification of struggle and the great emotional rush of victory — not just last football season, but also other seasons past. Musical sources toggled back and forth between the military and the balletic. For a "follies" reel of misses and fumbles, we watched the ball skipping and bouncing just out of the hands of players as music played that was firmly rooted in Rimsky-Korsakov's "Dance of the Tumblers" from The Snow Maiden.
The main musical genre, though, was mostly hard-driving or stirring. Two striking achievements of the evening: a golden-lit Americana sequence set to relatively quiet music (football being played all over the country, a boy struggling to lift a football helmet onto his small head) suggested all that binds this country together, and the fact that orchestral music, which is often not the sound of choice for movie scores today, still has an emotional specificity and range not as readily available in other genres.
Some of the time, the scores didn't make the best use of the orchestra; once in a while the ensemble just sat there silent while a compilation reel went solo. Elsewhere, though, it was hard to imagine that quite as much adrenaline would have materialized reliving last season had this particular orchestra not been there.
The Eagles may have been the season's best players, but on this night it was the players of the Philadelphia Orchestra who were the best sports in the city.