The Massapequa Philharmonic Orchestra’s performances of “The Nutcracker” this weekend with a Bethpage ballet company are the latest efforts by the 34-year-old orchestra to strengthen its community focus and expand its audience.
The orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic at Tilles Center in Brookville will be the first time in two decades that the annual Eglevsky Nutcracker show will be accompanied by live instead of recorded music.
The orchestra’s conductor, David Bernard, who also conducts the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in Manhattan, said the collaboration with the ballet will expose the orchestra to more families who may not typically attend classical music concerts.
Since Bernard last year became the orchestra’s music director, he has developed a close relationship with Massapequa public schools. One initiative brings soloists for orchestra performances into schools to give “master classes” to small groups of student musicians.
Bernard is aware of classical music’s reputation as stuffy. But when on a Sunday in March about 85 third-graders sat next to orchestra members and watched them “play entire movements of symphonies, they were engaged,” he said. That program will be an annual event.
“Making this part of students’ experience, it becomes mainstream,” Bernard said. “There’s nothing intrinsically in classical music that makes it stuffy, that makes it intimidating.”
Bernard also worked to coordinate the schools’ music curriculum with the orchestra’s performances. Kids in music classes in all grades learn about the composers and works the orchestra will feature. Then the students are invited to performances of the pieces at the orchestra’s home concert venue, the Berner Middle School auditorium.
David Gaines, who oversees music programs for the school district, said the concerts are an “enjoyable and manageable way of getting kids to classical music,” without traveling to New York City. And parents who themselves are intimidated by classical music become interested in exploring the genre after seeing their children excited by it, he said.
Attendance at orchestra concerts has roughly doubled in the past two years, to 400 to 500 per free performance, Bernard said.
Bernard hasn’t changed the orchestra’s repertoire to specifically cater to children or to adult newcomers to live classical music. But sometimes it’s presented differently. Opera can be especially daunting for some audience members, so before a performance of selections from three operas last year, Bernard interviewed characters from the works on stage.
The collaboration with the Eglevsky Ballet began last year with a few ballet dancers performing selections from The Nutcracker with the orchestra at Berner.
Maurice Brandon Curry, the executive artistic director of Eglevsky, said a live orchestra will enhance The Nutcracker for audiences.
“It’s a sensory experience, because you are hearing, seeing and feeling — you’re enveloped in one sound and atmosphere,” he said.
For tickets to the Dec. 16-17 Nutcracker performances, go to tillescenter.org or call 516-299-3100.
1983 Massapequa Philharmonic Orchestra founded by Robert Ackerberg and Don McCalmont
1986 Orchestra begins featuring up-and-coming soloists who, in some cases, later become top-tier artists
1994 Orchestra completes first multiyear cycle of all nine Beethoven’s symphonies
2016 Orchestra appoints David Bernard as its first music director
2016 Orchestra soloists begin teaching “master classes” to Massapequa High School students
2017 Orchestra scheduled to play for Eglevsky Ballet’s Nutcracker performance