Experimenting with the Concert Experience: How Orchestras Are Being Creative
The spring issue of Symphony magazine explores how orchestras are varying what they present to concert-goers. Messing with the Model by Senior Editor Chester Lane explores new ideas from several orchestras across the country. I was somewhat surprised and quite pleased to see my own Hartford Symphony Orchestra prominently displayed in this article!
The Chicago Sinfonietta decided to forego their usual repertoire for their annual Martin Luther King concert in favor of a concert with a “destiny” theme. Verdi’s La Forza del Destino was followed by the North American premier of Mountaintop, a multi-media piece by the avant-pop Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis. Lane continues with the Sinfonietta to describe their annual concert celebrating Día de los Muertos, the Mexican “Day of the Dead.” This year, they performed six movements from Mozart’s Requiem with the chorus wearing skeleton costumes, and whipping “hand-held skull masks suddenly onto their faces to accentuate downbeats.
Lane then describes collaborations between symphonies and museums. The Omaha Symphony partners with the Joslyn Art Museum to present a concert based on a specific painting during each concert in a six-concert series. The Hartford Symphony does a similar series, collaborating with the Wadsworth Atheneum, where concertmaster Leonid Sigal designs chamber music programs around the featured exhibit at the museum. In both cities, the museums offer concert-goers a pre-concert talk about the art, followed by the concert.
Two other concerts from Hartford were featured in Lane’s article. The HSO presented a live performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Hartford Stage to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the HSO and the 50th anniversary of the Hartford Stage. The orchestra performed Mendelssohn’s incidental music in its entirety while the play (greatly condensed) was presented. The four concerts sold out and many people who don’t normally come to symphony concerts clamored for tickets, but some long-time subscribers (and some musicians) felt that this should not have been offered on the HSO’s Masterworks series.
Carolyn Kuan, HSO’s Music Director, has also started a very popular Pops concert, “Playing with Food,” where she invites chefs from local restaurants to pair their signature dish with a piece of music, or create a new one based on a piece of music. As we play pieces “inspired” by the dish/restaurant, the HSO staff bring the chefs to the concert hall on a Saturday night (they all come right from the kitchen in their white chef clothing) to discuss how the music inspired their culinary creation, and then whisk them back to their restaurants to be on hand for the busiest night of their week. The audience loves this concert.
Lane goes on to describe the Boulder Symphony’s “Spirit of Boulder” commitment to creating concerts relevant to the community. The world-premiere of Jeffrey Nytch’s Symphony No. 1, Formations, which celebrates “the geology, the natural history, and to some extent the human history of the Rocky Mountains,” was composed in honor of the 125th anniversary of the Geological Society of America, based in Boulder. The composer gave a guided hike into the mountains before the premiere.
Finally, Lane discusses the Florida Orchestra’s experiment with offering $75 tickets to patrons to sit onstage during performances. It’s a lot of work for the staff, and can be annoying to musicians and distracting to the audience in the “regular” seats. But President and CEO Michael Pastreich is hopeful that the “experiment” will become a success.
To read Chester Lane’s article in its entirety, click here and scroll to page 18.