May 22, 2019
Acclaim for innovative orchestral experience InsideOut

For David Bernard, the founder and music director of the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, an avocational orchestra in New York City, the most inspiring place to be is indeed inside the music. Bernard created the InsideOut concert series to nurture new classical music enthusiasts and encourage regular concertgoers to experience music from a different perspective. Bernard leads InsideOut concerts with the Park Avenue orchestra and with Long Island’s Massapequa Philharmonic, where he is music director, but InsideOut is also its own entity. “Most of what is so exciting and thrilling happens on the stage,” he says. “Folks who sit in the audience receive about 5 percent of what’s going on. How can we expect them to be enthusiastic about coming to live concerts if we’re not giving them the full experience?” Bernard conducts Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s InsideOut concerts in the flexible DiMenna Center for Classical Music: audience members rotate between different sections of the orchestra for each movement. He doesn’t provide programs for the InsideOut concerts, which he touts as the way forward for orchestras, because “classical music can be enjoyed viscerally and you don’t need to read about it in order to enjoy the music”.

Before a well-attended InsideOut concert in February at the DiMenna Center, Bernard spoke to the audience about what he hoped they would experience while listening to Holst’s The Planets and Ligeti’s Atmosphères. “When you’re part of a concert audience you are having music delivered to you, and you see what’s happening at a distance,” he said. “Here, you don’t only get to hear: you get to see and feel the music happening all around you. This is what I hope you walk away with from this concert.”
After the orchestra performed an excerpt from ‘Jupiter’, Bernard asked for feedback from listeners: one woman said she could “feel the vibrations in my body and in the soles of my feet”. The event included video footage and images of the solar system and live commentary from Dr. Jacqueline Faherty, senior scientist and astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium...

And what about the musicians? Are the violinists worried about inadvertently elbowing a listener in the face during a virtuosic passage? Is it distracting to have listeners peering over their shoulders and sometimes filming them on cell phones at close proximity? Bernard admits that the InsideOut concept can initially prove uncomfortable for the musicians, and there is more pressure on them... Jordan Lee, a violinist who performed in the InsideOut concert, said it can be challenging to remain focused when pieces are performed with breaks between movements, as they are at the InsideOut events. “I had to retrain my brain,” she says, in order to “get out of concert mode and then back in.” Lee, who enjoys seeing audience reactions up close, adds that as a music student she was often reminded to make classical music more accessible. “I feel like this is a great way to bring people in,” she says. “Otherwise, musicians are tiny dots on stage.”

Violinist Graham Rash describes the InsideOut concerts as “a fantastic outreach and educational tool. You can’t necessarily appreciate the value of playing an instrument until you’ve been up close and felt the power of a tuba or the sweetness of a violin or the wonderful sound of a cello.” He adds that he didn’t find it distracting to perform with audience members in close proximity.

VIVIEN SCHWEITZER is a music journalist, pianist, and author. Her first book, A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera, was published in September by Basic Books.

— Vivien Schweitzer, excerpt from Symphony Magazine

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