Friday night, Wayne Koepke leaped from his front-row seat to give the Chicago Symphony Orchestra a hand — and got a handshake right back from its music director, Riccardo Muti.
In a CSO concert with 2.1 standing ovations, Koepke’s certainly stood out. Soloists and showpieces often earn the accolade — the audience was generous with principal cellist John Sharp in the Schumann concerto and then the entire ensemble after Mussorgsky/Ravel’s Pictures from an Exhibition — but it’s rare that a curtain-raising overture brings an Orchestra Hall crowd to its feet.
Other concertgoers might fear jumping up from Row A for a standing ovation that no one else follows, but Koepke kept to his convictions. “It was such an inspiring performance tonight,” he said at intermission. “It was really well done and, just, moving — so much.”
Koepke was the first and last man standing for Dvorak’s rarely programmed Husitská Overture, a whirlwind work that lauds the even more rarefied Czech religious martyr John Huss. A retired high-school teacher, Koepke is no musical philistine when it comes to Hussite philosophers: “It was the energy, the excitement of that overture played so strongly and solidly” that he admired.
Instead of shouts of “down in front!” — remember baseball announcer Bob Uecker’s “I must be in the front row!” beer commercial? — Koepke garnered a big smile and surprise handshake from Muti. Koepke, who says he attends 60 CSO concerts a season, and prefers to sit in the first row, has caught Muti’s attention before. “Around the end of the last season, he began to recognize me,” he said. But — bingo! — this was the first time the Maestro offered his mano mid-concert.
“I feel very honored that he did that — remembered me.”
As the intermission ended Friday, Koepke’s fellow first-row compatriots lauded his lone stand. One of them leaned over and said: “Now you’re famous, huh?”
(Judge for yourself whether the overture rates a standing O: The program repeats Oct. 18.)
Andrew Huckman is a Chicago-based lawyer and writer.
TOP: “I must be in the front row!” — CSO super-fan Wayne Koepke (far right) sits in his usual spot Friday night. | Photo: Andrew Huckman