Redesigning the Orchestra Experience

Classical music carries with it several stereotypes that may cause people to dismiss it as unapproachable or uninteresting. But these stereotypes are not telling the real story! Several inventive groups like Groupmuse and SoundBox are giving people a true taste of classical music that leaves them hungering for more. And the best part–it doesn’t necessarily require complicated or expensive solutions. It also doesn’t mean we need to play Harry Potter and Pokémon every other week (actually, quite the opposite).  I recently gave a talk about how classical music is constantly evolving to become more approachable and relatable to people of all kinds.

The New World Symphony has discovered a way to inspire audience members to make classical music their own, whether they know anything about it or are completely new. And it starts with putting people at the center of the concert experience.

With the help of New World staff, I recently initiated, planned, and hosted a concert called Dimensions, which was designed with the audience in mind. We started with a question: “How can we inspire new audiences to invite classical music into their lives?” From there, we designed a concert focusing on giving audience members varied entry points into the music and asking them to respond in creative capacities. The orchestra performed mostly standard repertoire by Brahms, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and others in a slightly altered concert format: (1) six musicians picked the program and introduced the pieces to the audience, focusing not on historical context, but on how the music has shaped them as people and (2) the audience members showed us their reactions to the music in real time using interactive program books. The response–from both musicians and audience members–was overwhelmingly positive. Some audience members expressed that this experience would drive them to seek more classical music. Others said that although regular concerts don’t appeal to them, they would attend more concerts like this. And many others said this was one of the best concerts they’d ever been to, including New World subscribers. Read more about Dimensions here.

The success of this experiment introduces a powerful new way of engaging and sustaining audiences who may be curious about classical music but find the traditional concert experience unapproachable. Quite simply, the orchestra played their favorite music and the audience loved it–whether they were new or returning patrons, classical music novices or experts, participants or just listeners. By creatively leveraging resources we underutilize in the concert experience–the passion of individual musicians and the enthusiasm of audiences to feel involved–we can empower audiences of all kinds to discover their own ways of connecting with the music we play.