Attending a recent rehearsal at Manhattan's DiMenna Center as the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony prepares for Sunday's concert at Adelphi University's Performing Arts Center could best be described as the classical music event of SurroundSound.
Sitting amid the string section and a mere 6 feet away from conductor David Bernard, not only was it possible to hear every strain of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, but it was also a chance to get an up close and personal view of every strain, arpeggio and pizzicato that was played.
A select number of audience members will get to share that experience when they attend the orchestra's "Inside Out" event "Ravishing Romantics" featuring the works of Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Rachmaninoff at the Garden City concert hall. It's the brainchild of Bernard, who five years ago came up with the idea of having concertgoers peppered throughout the stage next to the musicians as a way to draw a new audience.
"I thought to myself, why don’t we bring the audience inside rather than keep them 50 seats away. Why don’t we bring them inside to experience what we experience," he said. "We’re really excited about bringing this out to Long Island."
The first time the group's held an "Inside Out" concert, Bernard chose Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a piece known to even the most nonchalant classical music listener. "I wanted them to have some sense of familiarity to hold on to when they come to an event like this because it can be a little scary to sit in the middle of an orchestra of 80 people," he said.
Also helping to put them at ease is the interaction Bernard has with the audience. Amid the banter, he has them share their impressions of the music and descriptions of what they're experiencing as they watch the musicians.
So far, the plan to bring in an audience has been working — the November "Inside Out" concert at the DiMenna Center drew 200 people.
He also doesn't want people to come with the misconception that they need to have a deep understanding of classical music to fully appreciate it. "I make it clear that you have all the knowledge you need to appreciate this music. That is an important concept, because many people say that the problem with classical music is that you have to be educated to understand it," he said. "If classical music requires that you should be educated, then it should die."
MEET THE MUSICIANS
It's not only ticket holders who will be viewing the concert — which will also feature guest pianist Spencer Myer — from a different perspective. For the musicians, performing at their peak becomes extra critical, but also heightens their excitement.
"Usually when you’re playing a concert, you don’t see the audience because you’re in the light and they’re in the dark, so you don't get that energy from them until they applaud," said tuba player Rob Shuster, who lives in Bedford in Westchester County. "But when you’re next to them, you can feel something and you can use that."
Jenn Forese, a flutist from Oceanside, couldn't agree more. "Just knowing that there’s someone next to you who is feeling your energy and watching what you’re doing is amazing, especially if they are a first-time concertgoer" she said. "You feel like they’re part of the group and it’s a really cool feeling to share that with someone."
That's especially true when that someone is a loved one, said bassist Andris Zvargulis, who lives in Harlem. "There is additional pressure when you have someone that close to you who can hear any music you might miss. But at the same time, I feel that pressure anyway," he said. "It’s also fun because my parents and my friends get to actually see what I do."
Ultimately, Bernard said the audience may arrive expecting a performance, but he wants them to leave with something more. "It’s not just a concert, it’s an experience," he said. "You’re not just going to be sitting there happily listening. You're in it, you’re inside the music."