When David Bernard, who leads New York’s Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, recently took the podium, he confronted an orchestra space filled with almost 300 people, only a fraction of whom were musicians. InsideOut, Bernard’s effort to rejuvenate concert-going for classical music lovers, embeds audience members on stage among the musicians.

Rather than rely on visuals or famous pop stars as audience bait, he strips the performance down to its musical essentials, creating an experiential event. He even encourages listeners to change seats between works.

While acknowledging that his approach is not without its awkward moments, Bernard believes the response has been positive. Audience member Leana Johnson told The Global Times, “I think this was definitely a more immersive experience, more intimate, and really made it easier to connect with the musicians.” While violinist Gabrielle Miskovitz said the guests’ shuffling around is distracting on occasion, she judged the experiment “really cool,” adding that “it’s really exciting and you get to make eye contact with members of the audience and kind of share that experience.”

Bernard is betting such enthusiasm grows, because he has devoted the orchestra’s full season to the format. “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,” he says. “Yet in history, audiences enjoyed works viscerally. They enjoyed works just by being there.”

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