The Paris philharmonic provided a fitting score to Spain-Croatia at EURO 2016


Andrew Gastelum is Howler’s man on the scene for Euro 2016 and will be sharing his experiences in France throughout the tournament.

I’ve only been a soccer writer in Europe for a few years now and I’ve been fortunate enough to see Cristiano Ronaldo play on a couple occasions, Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou and Leicester City win the Premier League. Yet one of the most invigorating experiences in the sport came at a dark concert hall on the outskirts of Paris.

Tuesday was France’s Fete de la Musique, a national recognition of music and culture that sent hundreds of college-aged kids to the streets until past three in the morning on a work night. They drank and danced to impromptu DJ sessions from balconies and bands of street musicians on flatbeds driving throughout Paris. Gothic churches held EDM concerts, jazz bands camped out in parks across the city and there was even an aboriginal didgeridoo gathering along the Canal St Martin.

For the first time since the start of the tournament, beer was flying and chairs toppled without the presence of riot police and Russian hitmen, although the lack of vuvuzelas was of great concern. The city literally hummed while “Will Grigg’s on Fire” rang throughout Irish pubs.

As part of the celebration, the Paris philharmonic (albeit the U-23 side) performed a free show in concordance with the Spain-Croatia match broadcasted on a giant movie screen above the orchestra pit. The idea was to score the match by reacting to the pace of play, action and goals. And it was everything you’d expect from a symphony of 20 violins and cellos, a horns section and a four-piece rock band with a lead singer. ESPN ran a feature last week comparing Spain’s play to a symphony, rising to crescendos of passing feats with each part in full harmony; here, it was put to the test.

The philharmonic set the epic tone of the evening with the Game of Thrones theme as its opener — even someone who doesn’t watch GoT could feel the gravity of the situation — before slowly transitioning into the Spain and Croatia national anthems without pause. “Eye of the Tiger” and Pink Floyd’s “Money” (it would have perfectly suited a FIFA commercial) were first up as La Furia Roja put on their usual tiki-taka display. And with our match feed on a one-minute delay, the conductor ended the song prematurely to transition into Van Halen’s “Jump” as the screaming synth opening turned heads and generated cheers like a packed nightclub playing a Drake song.

But we soon found out why as Alvaro Morata tapped in the first goal of the night in the seventh minute. The crowd applauded, Spanish fans jumped to the music and the conductor kept whisking his furious hands at the upbeat tune.

There were more soccer jerseys than tuxedos and concert goers drank beer from plastic cups with their feet perched on chairs in front of them. Even the band wore a collection of full kit World Cup jerseys ranging from Belgium to Netherlands. In the most formal of settings, fans whooped and cheered and booed throughout the night while the orchestra casually played along.

Meanwhile, the orchestra also accompanied the band to different pop anthems: Sia’s “Chandelier,” “Turn Down for What” (yes, it was as weird as you think) and Eminem’s Oscar-winning “Lose Yourself” as a French DJ in an Ireland jersey rapped “Zap back too reality, oh zer goes grah-vee-tee,” as well as soccer favourites “Seven Nation Army” and “Waka Waka.”

Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” served as a fitting partner to Croatia’s equalizer just before the half-time whistle when Parisians left the concert hall for their long-anticipated smoke-break intermission. But the orchestra got right back into things with Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” to restart the action.

But without a set-list to start the half, the philharmonic reacted to the action, playing slow, soft melodies as Spain’s mesmerizing build up continued, adding staccatos and violent outbursts when Croatia cleared away dangerous chances. Then, when David Silva went to ground (of course it was David Silva), the orchestra added a lullaby to accompany his short-lived sorrow. Only a super-imposed Crying Jordan could have made the moment more meme-worthy.

During Sergio Ramos’ missed penalty in the 72nd minute, the escalating strings framed the lead-up to the penalty as Ramos readied himself while intermittent crowd noise mixed with the growing tension before peaking with the penalty save. My heart raced with anticipation and suspense as the crowd roared following the save — I can’t imagine a penalty shootout there, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Then, in the 88th minute, Ivan Perisic’s shocking match-winner for Croatia saw the mostly Croatia-backing crowd break out into a wild dance across the standing room section to Pharrell’s “Happy” in a heart-warming moment of exuberance.

But the real highlight of the night came with an orchestral version of the Liverpool-famous “You’ll Never Walk Alone” accompanied by a lone singer, which induced spine-chilling tingles and an glint of awe to watery eyes. Apart from 45,000 singing fans at Anfield, it is the way YNWA is meant to be heard.

A stunning arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” finished a close second as the strings cascaded in the build-up to Croatia’s winning goal. Fans could sense there was one sliver of drama left in the game and it surprised us all.

Europe’s “Final Countdown” as the game entered stoppage time was an apt choice for the moment, as was Queen’s “We Are The Champions” at the final whistle. The audience stood and locked in each others’ arms, swaying side-to-side as though it was their own national anthem, ending the night on a perfect note.

Maybe it was the fact that the match between 2016’s dark horse and 2008’s champion turned out to be arguably the best of the Euros so far — surely it would have been different for Monday’s England-Slovakia snoozer. Or maybe it was the child-like wonder I felt with every minute as I watched a game of soccer unfold in magnificent sonic beauty.

But it was the very essence of magic. The conductor waved his wand and voila, there was the beautiful game.


Follow Andrew Gastelum on Twitter @gastelumEPL.