A New York-based concert series offers an unusual way to listen to classical music: from inside the orchestra.
Audience members file into a concert hall at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Manhattan. They take their seats – not in orderly rows, but among orchestra members.
Tonight’s program is called “Sounds of America,” music that draws from American history. Conductor David Bernard raises his baton, and Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” begins.
Bernard is also the musical director of the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. He started the InsideOut series in 2015. He realized lots of people fell in love with classical music because at some point in their lives, they got to hear it from the inside.
“Whether they played in a band or orchestra, sang in a chorus...And when you do that, it’s an amazing experience because you’re able to see, feel, hear and participate in the music all around you.”
And where you sit changes your experience. Audience members who sit by a violinist, for instance, can hear that violinist bright and clear.
“One comment was it was as though you were going to a museum, and you were walking up close to a painting, and you could see the brushstrokes and how that was a different experience than viewing the painting from a distance.”
Bernard says musicians can see the audience’s joy and fascination.
“Normally musicians are far away from the audience. They don’t even get to see them. In a concert hall, the way the lighting works, it’s just this black void you’re playing for.”
Michael Sussino, who is part of the viola section, says it was jarring to be so close to the audience at first. But he came to love watching their reactions.
“They can feel the vibrations, they can feel the colors. They see how the interplay exists between certain sections, and the relationships we have with one another and with the conductor.”
Dan Goldberger, an audience member, sits between the strings and the reeds.
“You’re inside an orchestra, living, breathing. You hear the breathing. You feel like you’ve come to be part of the orchestra, you just forgot your instrument.”
Michael Rovecchio sits across the hall, just in front of the bass section. He said the experience was emotional.
“It was so inspiring, it just lifts you. With everything that’s going on in the world, to listen to this music is just touching.”
Daniel Leon brought his 12-year-old daughter, Ella. She loves classical music, even though she says her friends don’t. But she thinks even they would love this.
“It’s so much more than just one person and the piece they’re playing and the instrument. It’s one whole thing together, and it’s so amazing, the way they can all come together and form this one unity of music.”
Her father, Daniel, thinks the InsideOut series may have hit on a formula to draw in younger fans.
“I think that if we want to find a way to attract more of that generation to classical music, we gotta experiment with more ways of feeling and experiencing the music like we heard here tonight.”
David Bernard, the conductor, says the concerts show you don’t have to approach classical music from a distance, armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of composers and musical terms.
“That’s completely wrong. In Beethoven’s time, when Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was played for the first time, did the audience have an encyclopedic knowledge of Beethoven? Absolutely not. The experience was visceral.”
And the next performance from the InsideOut series with the Greenwich Symphony Orchestra is appropriately Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It’s set for Saturday, January 11, in Greenwich, Connecticut.