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'InsideOut' Concerts to Return with Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

The new initiative's record-breaking debut last season points a way forward for Music Director David Bernard; February 4th concert will also premiere new edition of Stravinsky's 'The Firebird'.

At a time when orchestras around the world are trying to find new ways to attract audiences, New York's Park Avenue Chamber Symphony (PACS) orchestra has a startling philosophy - developed around the idea of doing for audiences what orchestras have always done, only thrillingly more so. Their "InsideOut" concerts, trialed with great success last year, put audiences literally in the center of the music - seating them amongst the musicians, within the fabric of the orchestra itself. Last year's InsideOut debut sold out within days, and competition for places in the next concert in the series - on February 4th 2017 at the DiMenna Center - promises to be intense, as PACS Music Director David Bernard conducts Stravinsky's The Firebird suite and Haydn's Surprise Symphony (two works particularly suited to the InsideOut format).

Why is this important to orchestras and their audiences? It's all to do with the experience, says David Bernard, whose brainchild this is: "Movie producers sought to make the viewer's experience more immersive through new technologies that incorporate 3D and large screen IMAX formats. The reason is clear-to win, or even compete in the game of audience acquisition/retention, you have to be innovative on delivering unforgettable experiences. The result has been a rebirth of the movie-going experience that has successfully staved off competition for consumers' time and dollars-while actually increasing the ticket prices for these enhanced experiences. When thinking about how orchestras can achieve the same kind of success-transforming the audience experience in ways that not only surprise and delight concert goers, but also more solidly monetize the orchestra-I conceived of the InsideOut approach."

"Sitting in the hall, audiences only experience a small part of the overall performance. Don't get me wrong, witnessing the creation of musical art in real time before your very eyes and ears can be breath-taking, especially with a world class orchestra and venue. However, the real experience-I would say the untapped experience for the audience-is on-stage, with the musicians. That's the best seat in the house. And this multi-sensory experience of music-making from inside the orchestra can be a revelation."

"If, as an audience member," says Bernard, "you can be amidst the community of musicians in an orchestra, in that moment, as they breathe and harmonise and imagine in synchronicity, then you can experience that, be truly enveloped by it, in the most intense way - it's the kind of feeling that usually only musicians themselves can experience. In fact, for many of us who were in orchestras, bands or choirs early in our lives, that's what hooked us on classical music for life. So these experiences are essential to develop the next generations of audiences."

More than that, says Bernard, with InsideOut audience members truly become part of the performance. "Audiences always affect live performances, but this is something else. Having your listeners sitting only inches away, between you and your colleagues, somehow that brings them closer into the process. They may not be playing, but they are at the forefront of your consciousness as a musician, and are somehow truly making the music with you."

One orchestra musician offers another perspective, "Prior to last year's InsideOut concert, I had never appreciated that the typical audience set-up not only physically distances audience from performer, but emotionally distances us too. After the InsideOut concert, I chatted with an audience member who happened to be sitting near me. I asked him his thoughts on the performance. I'll never forget his response: 'When we're sitting with the orchestra, we are rooting for you.' InsideOut was a unique relationship-building experience. I think it also gives the audience a chance to experience music on an emotional level that a typical concert does not allow. You live and breathe the music with the performer, which is why you end up rooting for the orchestra."

And the feedback from InsideOut's audience members has been similarly enthusiastic. One email to the orchestra after their last such concert reads, "The InsideOut concert was an experience unlike any other concert I have been to before. Sitting among and in such close proximity to the orchestra provided a different experience, one that was profound and surprising. By being able to see the facial expressions of the musicians, I felt the love and energy they have for the craft. I felt as though I was a part of the orchestra and I could feel the music so much more. This was an engaging and truly unique experience that I look forward to being a part of over and over again!"

The February 4th concert will be especially noteworthy for another reason. Bernard will be conducting the world premiere of a new edition of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. Following the recent success of the new edition of same composer's Rite Of Spring - for which Clinton Neiweg, in consultation with Bernard, drew up his edition in consultation with orchestral librarians around the US - Neiweg and PACS have again followed the same process to create what Bernard asserts is "the truest edition yet to Stravinsky's intentions". As with Rite, which Bernard and PACS recorded ("Committed and forceful traversals...thrilling... a testament to these musician's sheer love of music-making" - Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone), they will take Firebird into the studio for future release on the Recursive Classics label.

So successful has been InsideOut, that this time around Bernard and PACS will present a special matinee for the children of New York City's Public Elementary School PS6. "We saw last time that tickets for the InsideOut experience sold like wildfire," says Bernard, "but this whole thing has proven itself such a revelation that we feel strongly that we'd like young listeners to experience it. So it is a true delight for us to give a performance especially for these children." He pauses to choose his next words carefully. "You know, those of us who spend our lives in music often use the word 'soundworld', and we use it almost casually. But being within an orchestra, that is a world unto itself - really a soundworld. And it is so exciting to us to bring audiences of all ages into that world. Because until you've seen, heard and felt it, you can't truly say that you've been there."

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony's InsideOut concert takes place on Saturday February 4th, 5pm at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music (Mary Cary Flagler Hall). Tickets are available for $75 and can be booked here.


David Bernard has conducted orchestras in more than 20 countries, on four continents. He has served as Music Director of the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony since 1999, and has recently been appointed Music Director of the Massapequa Philharmonic. A multiple winner of the Orchestral Conducting Competition of The American Prize, Bernard was described in the judges' remarks as, "a first-rate conductor...phenomenal performance...masterly in shaping, phrasing, technique and expressivity."

Particularly active throughout the greater New York City area, David Bernard has appeared as a guest conductor with orchestras including the Brooklyn Symphony, the Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Litha Symphony, Manhattan School of Music, the Massapequa Philharmonic, the New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble, the Putnam Symphony and the South Shore Symphony. Devoted to the music of our own time, he has presented world premières of scores by Bruce Adolphe, Chris Caswell, John Mackey, and Ted Rosenthal, and distinguished concert collaborators have included Carter Brey, David Chan, Catherine Cho, Pedro Díaz, Stanley Drucker, Bart Feller, Ryu Goto, Whoopi Goldberg, Sirena Huang, Judith Ingolfsson, Christina Jennings, Yevgeny Kutik, Anna Lee, Jessica Lee, Kristin Lee, Jon Manasse, Anthony McGill, Spencer Myer, Todd Phillips, and James Archie Worley.

David Bernard's complete recorded Beethoven symphony cycle was praised by Fanfare magazine for its "intensity, spontaneity, propulsive rhythm, textural clarity, dynamic control, and well-judged phrasing". His recent premiere recording of a new edition of Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring was praised by Gramophone as "committed and forceful...(with) thrilling moments".

Passionately committed to music education in schools, David Bernard leads significant efforts across New York to develop programs such as the Harmony Program and the Lucy Moses School. He and PACS also established the Parents Association Endowed Scholarship Fund at the Julliard School Pre-College Division. His admired work in community engagement also includes engaging families through schools, and the innovative InsideOut performances.

Photo credit: Matt Dine

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