Anne Midgette riffs on the propriety of performing the National Anthem at concerts:
Does it have a place? It can seem slightly odd. The concert hall is aglitter with expensive evening gowns and tails; the audience is seated; the lights go down; the conductor comes out; and suddenly the lights come up and everyone stands up, as if in school, and sings along. Then the “real” music starts. I love the National Anthem, but in this context it always feels like an abrupt change of mood.
Part of the issue is the slight uncertainty about whether this music is part of the performance, or a ritual observed before the performance. … one of the most memorable performances of the anthem I’ve ever heard in my life was by Zdenek Macal and the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra in the weeks following 9-11. It was stirring and powerful and extremely moving: there was a sense, usually so easy to forget, of what this piece was actually about.
I remember a similar experience when we opened our season after 9/11. Andreas conducted it a little slower than is traditional and it became quite Nimrod-like; very moving.
On the other hand, I remember that, right after the US invaded Iraq in March 2003, we did a runout and management decided that the National Anthem would be a suitable opener for that concert as well. One member of the orchestra simply refused to play it (I quite envied him his courage) and there was sufficient blowback from others appalled at celebrating such an event that we did no more National Anthems that season.
We used to do Beethoven 9 at GermanFest, one of our long-time lakefront ethnic festivals, every summer. For that concert, we played both the National Anthem and Deutschland über alles. But of course Haydn wrote that one (or at least the tune), and it only became the German national anthem during the Weimar Republic.