He's a BSO long-hair no longer Haircut: BSO concertmaster Herbert Greenberg gets an ovation when he steps onstage without his trademark ponytail.

September 21, 1996|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN STAFF

Some people thought it was cute, others called it quirky. But one thing nobody could do was ignore it.

Now it's gone, and a lot of people think the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will never be the same.

So much fuss over a hank of hair.

"I'm shocked at the reaction," said BSO violinist Herbert Greenberg, the man whose tonsorial style started the ruckus.

"With all the other things going in the world of music, for somebody's hair to be the issue is unbelievable."

Not if you live in Baltimore. We take hair seriously here.

That's why for years Greenberg was easily the BSO's most instantly recognizable member -- probably the only concertmaster in America to wear his hair in a ponytail.

The concertmaster is the fellow who appears onstage just before the conductor and gives the signal for the musicians to tune their instruments.

In other words, you couldn't miss him -- or his ponytail.

So when Greenberg recently appeared onstage sans ponytail for the opening concert of the BSO's 1996-1997 season, the audience was so stunned the usual polite applause gave way to a spontaneous mini-ovation.

"There was a collective gasp, and then delight," recalled WJZ newscaster Sally Thorner, who was in the audience that evening.

"He came out and turned around to show that he had cut off his ponytail, and the audience loved it," Thorner said. "For a minute there he really had them in the palm of his hand."

Greenberg insists he was surprised by the audience's reaction.

"I got it cut at the end of August, and we'd had a gala a week before the opening concert," he said. "At the gala a few people like [BSO board chairman Calman] "Buddy" Zamoiski mentioned 'Hey, you got your hair cut,' which he's been wanting me to do for years. But then I just forgot about it."

So on opening night, Greenberg said, it took him a few seconds to catch on.

"I thought, 'What is happening, is my fly open, or what?' It wasn't until I got to the podium that I finally realized why they were clapping."

Since then, Greenberg has been besieged by requests from TV, radio and magazines to explain his new hairstyle.

On Thursday, the violinist finally gave in:

"When you've been married for 25 years it's very simple," he said. "Several years ago I grew the ponytail after my wife Mary said, 'I'm tired of looking at you.' She wanted to look at something different.

"I also have three sons, Aaron, Michael and Ian, who all had long hair. We're that kind. We're longhairs. So I grew a ponytail.

"This summer, by coincidence, they all cut their hair. So I did, too. But the reason really was that Mary wanted something different."

Greenberg concedes he was aware of the fact that not everyone -- including some of his fellow BSO musicians -- thought a ponytail was appropriate for concert appearances.

"I'd always worn my hair long in college, part of the '60s college scene, and some older people didn't like that," he said. "But you know the story: The more they tell you to cut it, the more you grow it."

At least two other BSO musicians, trombonist Christopher Dudley and violist Christian Colberg, also have worn ponytails. But neither attracted the attention -- or controversy -- Greenberg did.

L On the other hand, concert etiquette changes over the years.

"By the old standard he may have been breaking the etiquette," said BSO percussionist Leo LePage. "But today almost anything goes."

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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