The challenge haunts classical music: how do orchestras rejuvenate aging audiences? Pondering the question, conductor David Bernard asked something related — how did he himself become enthralled by the music?
His answer — it was when he first sat inside an orchestra. And so, he wondered, why not bring that experience to everyone?
Bernard, who leads the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in New York, has launched a bid to re-envision the traditional orchestra by bringing the audience directly onto stage. Adding dozens of chairs, the orchestra lets ticket-holders sit among the musicians, following underneath Bernard’s baton instead of staring at his back.
“There’s a lot of talk about how classical music is stuffy and there are a lot of rules. And that’s kind of a deterrent to enjoying classical music,” Bernard said in his Manhattan apartment before a recent performance.
“The question is — how do you turn classical music performance into more of an experience?” he said.
“Today there is the notion that the audience must be rigorously educated in the work, the composer and the musical language in order to enjoy it,” Bernard said.
“Yet in history, audiences enjoyed works viscerally. They enjoyed works just by being there and enjoying them.”