Signifiers of an atypical night at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall were everywhere Thursday.

In the lobby, concertgoers waited in lines for Union Craft Brewing beers that many placed in highlighter-yellow koozies. A sign at the bar encouraged patrons to take their drinks inside the hall. Band T-shirts on sale hung on a rack next to a table selling vinyl records.


Some seated fans waited for the show to begin with bowls of ice cream in hand.

There was nothing stuffy or antiquated about the opening night of Pulse, a collaboration between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and radio station WTMD-FM 89.7, and that was decidedly the point. The program, which was made possible by a grant from the Wallace Foundation, married the BSO with folk-rock act Dawes in an attempt to find middle ground between pop and classical music.

The hope was also to attract a new, younger crowd to the Meyerhoff. Judging by the amount of plaid, shorts, flip-flops, beards and other lax fashion choices that filled most of the the hall, the concept paid off. It felt like a crowd you would expect at a First Thursdays concert: A mix of young and old, all in tune with WTMD's brand of easy-listening indie-rock, or at least curious enough to give it a chance.

While L.A. band Dawes was the clear reason for the night's stellar turnout, the surprising star of the show was BSO assistant conductor and Pulse orchestra artistic developer Nicholas Hersh, who quickly made the many newcomers feel comfortable. Before the BSO performed Baltimore native Philip Glass' Symphony No. 3, Hersh put the crowd at ease.

"The piece is designed to tap into the subconscious," Hersh said before telling the crowd it's OK if their minds wander during the 25-minute piece. You can think about work, tomorrow's breakfast or anything else, he assured the audience. Essentially, Hersh said, there is no right or wrong way to listen to music, even high-minded classical works.

The 20-piece orchestra, which lacked brass and percussion players, proceeded to play Glass' highly dramatic piece. Its loud-and-soft dynamics and unpredictable tempo changes felt like a high-speed car chase that occasionally ran into rush-hour traffic.

My mind did wander, as Hersh predicted, but the gorgeous string playing was too compelling to completely drift away. When the piece ended, it felt like a short 25 minutes.

WTMD host Alex Cortright briefly interviewed Hersh as the stage transitioned from classical to rock. (The station broadcasted the concert live on air.) Hersh smartly continued to hold the audience's collective hand, explaining why he paired Dawes and Glass (like Glass, he said, the band takes repetitious sections and adds subtle new elements to change a song's tone) and why Glass' compositions have endured.

Hersh did not dumb down the material, but helped untrained ears process what they heard.

After a brief talk between Cortright, Hersh and Dawes lead singer Taylor Goldsmith, the band played a set for an audience clearly familiar with its work. Highlights from the quintet included "Somewhere Along the Way," a tale from June's "All Your Favorite Bands" about a woman taking on the world and the world winning, and the 2011 mid-tempo bar-rocker "Fire Away."

Dawes relies heavily on the predictable solo -- mostly electric guitar, but keyboards at times, too -- and the group's easy-listening vibe feels a bit toothless at times, but the band's easily digestible sound likely appealed to the classical-leaning audience members.

The crowd sat politely at first, but by the time the opening notes of "When My Time Comes" rang out in the second half of the set, everyone was on their feet.

Goldsmith, who told the Sun the collaboration was "a dream come true," was thrilled to share the stage with the BSO, and frequently reminded the audience of the privilege.

"This is easily the most beautiful room we've ever played music in," he said. "This is incredible."


Unsurprisingly, the high point of the night came at the end, when Hersh and the BSO rejoined the stage to play three songs with Dawes. The orchestra added a fuller and richer sound, but never overpowered the band. On "Things Happen," the strings swelled behind Goldsmith's vocals, lending a sense of the cinematic that would not have been there otherwise.

As the final song concluded, Hersh and Goldsmith made eye contact, with the conductor enthusiastically giving a thumbs up to the band and his own players.

If there was skepticism surrounding Pulse's ability to connect two audiences, the final standing ovation answered any questions.