Music

Can ‘Conversations’ Get Audiences To Classical Concerts? Arsht Hopes So

Written By Samuel Loetscher
March 1, 2024 at 2:22 PM

The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra with chief conductor Lahav Shani performs as part of the Knight Masterworks Classical Music series at the Adrienne Arsht Center, Miami, on Thursday, March 7. The Arsht Center is hosting a “Classical Conversations” pre-talk before each concert in its classical series for free. (Photo courtesy of Guido Pijper)

In today’s world, where the allure of classical music sometimes struggles to resonate with modern audiences, the Adrienne Arsht Center is attempting to help ignite a new passion for the timeless art form. As it prepares for its second concert in its Knight Masterworks Classical Music series, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra on Thursday, March 7, the Arsht faces the daunting task like most producers of classical music working hard to get new generations interested in what many consider to be a dying genre.

Recognizing the need to bridge the gap between the classical repertoire and contemporary listeners, the Arsht Center is hosting “Classical Conversations.” Scheduled one hour before each performance inside the Peacock Foundation Education Center inside the Knight Concert Hall, the speaker sessions are designed to offer insights into the music, composers, and historical context behind the pieces to be performed. Lakeisha Frith, director of education at the Adrienne Arsht Center, says maybe even a little bit of gossip.

Scott Flavin, resident conductor for The Henry Mancini Institute at The Frost School of Music, will lead two Classical Conversations, including the Thursday, March 7 pre-talk before the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance. (Photo courtesy of Scott Flavin)

Scott Flavin, lecturer in violin performance and chamber music and resident conductor for the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music’s Henry Mancini Institute will lead the conversation before the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance. Flavin has an optimistic perspective on the current state of classical music.

“I think that the notion that the audience is getting older and older and dying off — I just don’t see that. I think there are more orchestras than there have ever been, but that is not to say that we shouldn’t be engaging younger people. Historically it does attract an older audience but that’s not to say that there isn’t room to welcome a younger audience,” says Flavin.

Pamela Smitter, DMA, who was principal trumpet with the West Michigan Symphony for two decades and now performs with the Miami Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra, was the first speaker in the series when the Detroit Symphony Orchestra played the Knight on Thursday, Feb. 15.

Pamela Smitter, DMA, hosted the first “Classical Conversations” prior to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert in February. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

She was particularly excited about Elgar’s Cello Concerto and told audiences in her pre-concert conversation that the piece was an “expressive, soulful piece of music,” and gave insight that Elgar composed the piece in the wake of World War writing the composition near the end of his life.

Frith says that’s precisely the idea behind the “Conversations” series.

“When the guests come, they will learn a little bit about what’s being performed, the ensemble that’s performing, and then a little bit of the gossip — who the composers were, was there an affair, was there something steamy that happened?”

The “Classical Conversations” series is free and open to the public and it isn’t necessary to have a purchased ticket to attend the pre-show talks, according to the Arsht.

The Arsht Center’s “Classic Conversations” includes a pre-show talk on Thursday, March 21, before the performance by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell, music director and violinist. (Photo courtesy by Benjamin Ealovega)

Flavin, who works closely with a younger demographic at University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, highlighted new and innovative ways in which orchestras have been using to engage audiences.

“It’s an amazing time for classical music,” says Flavin, citing the success of the popular “Candlelight” concert series. In 2020, Flavin began performing as a musician in intimate events that are held in various venues illuminated by seas of candlelight and produced by a commercial company, Fever, that puts on shows around the United States. They typically feature a string quartet or a small jazz band performing the hit songs of popular musicians like Nirvana, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran as well as some concerts that feature classical composers such as Vivaldi or contemporary film score composers like Hans Zimmer. Venues range from Pinecrest Gardens to the Coral Gables Congregational Church.

Smitter says younger audiences are looking for something else and has hopes the Arsht conversations can help bring people in.

Pianist Lang Lang returns to the Arsht Center for a one-night-only solo recital on Tuesday, April 16.

“The thing that’s saving (the orchestra) right now is Harry Potter movie screens. People are going to the symphony to watch a movie with live music and are realizing the power of it,” says Smitter.

Flavin says it’s the perception that needs to change.

“I think it’s important that we break the stereotype that this is old music, this is dead music, and it’s boring. I love these conversations because I talk a bit about the music and the composer that wrote it but then (I talk) also about the performers because they are the ones that make this music come alive,” says Flavin, who adds that includes time for a question-and-answer session at the end of his talk to further the conversation.

Jorge Mejia, president and CEO for Sony Music Publishing Latin America, and a pianist himself, will be on hand on Tuesday, April 16 prior to the performance of pianist Lang Lang to discuss insights into the craft of performance. (Photo courtesy of Laura Coppelman)

Flavin will host the Arsht Center’s “Classic Conversations” on Thursday, March 21, before the performance by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. He says he spent time previously with the orchestra and Bell when they came to Miami to work with his students at the Frost School of Music. (“It is) one of the great orchestras.”

Jorge Mejia, president and CEO for Sony Music Publishing Latin America, will be on hand on Tuesday, April 16 before the performance of pianist Lang Lang in a recital that features selected works from Chopin, Schumann, and Fauré. A pianist himself, Mejia says he’ll concentrate on the craft of performance when he speaks to the before-show audience to give them an understanding of the person behind the performance and, in this case, Lang Lang’s years of dedication.

Mejia believes that the key to inspiring a love of classical music is simply exposure.

“When young people are exposed to this music, for the most part, I think they can’t help but at least be intrigued, if not fall in love with this music. I think the key is to have people exposed to the music and then the music does what it needs to do.”

WHAT:  Knight Masterworks Classical Conversations

WHERE: Peacock Foundation Education Center inside the Knight Concert Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7 prior to the performances by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra; Thursday, March 21, Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell, and on Tuesday, April 16 pre-show before Lang Lang

COST:  Free admission to Classical Conversations (ticket for performance not a requirement)

INFORMATION: 305-949-6722 or arshtcenter.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Dont miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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