The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra opens its new season
Sept. 25-27 with a weekend of events centered around Hector Berlioz’s edgy, dreamlike Symphonie Fantastique
. It’s a fitting accompaniment to the organization’s high-profile efforts to experiment on new ways to connect with the community.
The weekend offers a variety of events for different audiences, including a Friday morning performance of the Berlioz Symphonie
along with the Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio
and Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The CSO performs all three works again Saturday evening after its annual Opening Night Gala, culminating with one of the largest after-parties
it’s thrown in years.
“This will be a chance for people to let their hair down a little bit,” CSO Director of Communications Meghan Berneking says. “Symphonie Fantastique
has this lore around it that the composer was on opium when he wrote it, so they’re capitalizing on that for the (party) theme.”
The “5th Movement” after-party will feature psychedelic decorations, dancing and a specially-brewed beer from Taft’s Ale House
. The event will likely appeal to the Young Professionals crowd the Symphony tries to cultivate early in their careers with a variety of CSO Encore events, although Berneking emphasizes that all of the weekend’s events are open to anyone.
Opening weekend wraps up Sunday evening with the first installment of CSO’s new “Stories in Concert” series. The orchestra will again perform Symphonie Fantastique
, this time without the other pieces but with accompanying explanations to tell the story of the music in greater depth.
“If you’re intimidated by classical music, this performance is for you,” Berneking says, adding that the goal of “Stories in Concert” performances is to help audiences better understand and engage with classical music.
The series is just one of many innovative projects CSO is working on to help connect with the community at large.
“The Orchestra prides itself on being a place of experimentation,” Berneking says. “That comes with us not being afraid to try new things.”
Over the past few years, the CSO has been involved in events and collaborations that might seem surprising from a symphony orchestra dedicated to classical music.
The organization has collaborated with Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner and The National
rock band at the annual MusicNOW
festival, which promotes artists experimenting with new music at Memorial Hall, Music Hall and other local venues. The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra just released American Originals
, a live album
honoring the works of Stephen Foster that features collaborations with such artists as Rosanne Cash, Over the Rhine and Comet Bluegrass Allstars. The CSO has also been engaging the city with its One City, One Symphony
series, which will continue this year with a tribute to Maya Angelou focused on the theme of “freedom.”
Of course, the experiment that’s garnered the most attention is Lumenocity
, which had its third annual run in early August. The CSO charged for tickets for the first time this year in order to help fund the $1.4 million event, and the concerts set to light projections drew more than 30,000 people over four nights in Washington Park. It was a smaller turnout than the first two years because of the restricted ticket sales, but the event has quickly become one of Cincinnati’s most popular summer traditions.
Berneking says all of this summer’s Lumenocity performance sold out, proving that patrons valued the event enough to pay for it and boding well for future years.
“When you’re experimenting, there’s always the risk that it won’t work, but even if it flops we see it as our duty to try new things anyway,” she says.
Those risks are paying off in a big way for the CSO. As orchestras around the country struggle and occasionally fail, Cincinnati’s has seen an uptick in attendance over the last few years. Leadership plans to continue experimenting, commissioning new works and finding new ways to share musical stories with the community.
“If Cincinnatians are engaged, we’re happy,” Berneking says.