I’m pretty sure in the entire 55-year history of the Phoenix Symphony, they’ve never had a professional athlete lead them in the Star-Spangled Banner.
They will on Thursday night, as Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will try his hand at being a conductor.
Fitzgerald came to Symphony Hall on Tuesday to meet the talented musicians he’ll be leading on Thursday, and get a little dress rehearsal time in with them, and from my vantage point in the upper suites, Fitzgerald looked like a natural in the lead position.
Fitzgerald got a little bit of instruction from Jim Ward, president and CEO of the Symphony, then he was on his own after that.
Fitzgerald admitted to having a case of the butterflies as he took the podium, although you could never tell by looking at him.
“I was extremely nervous up there practicing,” Fitzgerald said. “You’re in front of some of the best musicians in all the world right here in our Valley, and I think it’s so special that we have so many talented people congregated in one room working together as a team.”
Fitzgerald said he was approached by team president Michael Bidwill one day, and Bidwill asked him if he would be interested in conducting the Symphony, to which Fitzgerald replied “absolutely,” and the rest is history.
“I was really excited when he [Mr. Bidwill] talked to me about it, and I was looking forward to it ever since,” Fitzgerald said.
Ward says the word of mouth to Fitzgerald’s debut as special guest conductor on Thursday night has “spread like wildfire,” which would naturally please him, because it shows that people have caught on and are really interested in coming out to see Fitzgerald, and a great performance from the Symphony.
“The sports world has gotten a hold of this thing, and it’s not very often we intersect with the sports world,” Ward said. “To be able to bring that kind of attention to the Symphony, it’s been good all around.”
Ward noticed how the members of the Symphony immediately embraced Fitzgerald from the very second he took the podium.
“You saw out there the instant chemistry and command that he had, walking up just on the podium, that Symphony was right with him every step of the way,” Ward said. “There were no mistakes, he did it, command performance right there.”
Fitzgerald doesn’t take this opportunity for granted, especially to be able to conduct one of the most cherished songs in our nation’s history.
“It really is special,” Fitzgerald said. “To be an American, [with] the freedom we have here, I’m really moved. Never in a million years would I think I’d ever have the opportunity to do this, but I’m truly honored and humbled to have this opportunity.”