An Unusual Program Tries To Bring Newness To Classical Music At The New World Symphony

Sep 29, 2017

New World Symphony fellows are playing a section of George Crumb’s Dream Sequence. A pianist reaches inside the piano and picks strings. He then switches over to play crystal glasses tuned with water, and another plays a cymbal with a violin bow.

While the program focuses on music written for percussion instruments, it is the stuff surrounding the musicians that sets Sunday's upcoming performance apart as the New World Symphony kicks off its 30th anniversary season.

Looking around the concert hall, the risers of seats have been removed, blowup beanbag-looking and other funk chairs surround the musicians and there’s no stage. The audio sits at the same level as the musicians.

Michael Linville, dean of chamber music for the symphony, says the idea is they’re “immersing the audience in [and] surrounding these ensembles so that they can actually feel like they’re part of the acoustic and have that extra relationship with the musicians.”

The traditional riser seating has been replaced with stage-level beanbag-like blow-up chairs.
Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN

The performance comes out of a partnership with the Iovine and Young Academy at the University of Southern California. Students in this experimental arts, technology and innovation program spent the past year working with the symphony to figure out how to deconstruct the traditional classical music concert.

“They’re re-imagining what it means to go to a concert,” said Brian Shepard, associate dean of the USC academy.

The goal was to compress the gap between audience and performer. And as  traditional classical music-goers are aging out, that task is especially important.

“If the people that you appeal to are only the ones that understand all the rules, that’s a dwindling number of people, and so we’re trying to find ways that music, not just classical, but all types really have a much broader appeal,” said Shepard.

The score looks like an art piece itself.
Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN

Some of the student inspiration came from rock concerts, which means Sunday’s concert will contain lots of light production and video projections. People will also have a chance to mess around with some of the percussion instruments before the concert, learning sections of the compositions they will hear in the concert hall.

“I love it,” said Erich Rieppel, a fellow with the New World Symphony. He will be playing one of four marimbas in the Steve Reich piece they’ll perform. “It’s more about the community and the feeling of community and so you can catch eye contact with audience members and musicians much easier. It’s just a better feeling to the flow.”

The program, called Alien Jungle, includes pieces by Steve Reich, George Crumb and István Márta.

Doors for Alien Jungle open at 2:30 Sunday 10/1/2017 at the New World Symphony Hall in Miami Beach