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Tallahassee Symphony Going After Non-Traditional Audiences

Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra

The Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra is reaching out to new audiences.  Officials say that effort will include some different music and uniquely staged concerts. 

TSO Executive Director Mandy Stringer says, on one hand, the orchestra is wildly successful.  Its regular season concerts are consistently sold out.  The only problem is the audiences for those concerts definitely lean towards the upper end of the demographic curve.  So Stringer says there is now a concerted effort if you will to build a younger and broader fan base.

“Next year we’re going to have two family concerts,” she said.  “One will be in Cascades Park on Oct. 30 and it’s a Halloween concert.  The orchestra will be dressed in costume and it’ll be great fun.  And then we’ll have one in the spring – in May – and it’s called ‘Never Fear; Fortissimo is Here’.  This is a script written by our conductor Darko Butorac where he, ‘Fortissimo the Super Hero’, goes head-to-head with ‘Dr. Dissonance’.”

What about people whose musical taste runs more to modern music, like jazz?  Stringer says the TSO did team up with a jazz ensemble back during Tallahassee Music Week.

“We were originally scheduled to have it at Cascades Park, but we got rained out and moved it to The Moon, which was really a blessing in disguise because it really picked up this old Cotton Club feeling and it was almost like a speakeasy and it was really fun.”

That experiment, Stringer said, was a huge hit with the audience and not just because of the venue.

“Leon Anderson and his trio led the orchestra and if you’ve not seen him do this thing it’s pretty amazing because he talks and he tells you a little of the history of the jazz that you’re hearing,” she said.

Stringer said that jazz-symphonic collaboration will definitely continue.  As well as a new experiment in making the TSO and its music more accessible to people who wouldn't usually go to a more formal kind of concert.

“We are also next year launching something, the working title now is ‘Symphony Lab,’” Stringer said.  “That is going to be a 9-10 concert on a Friday night, so it’s an hour and not too long.  And it’s going to draw from the classical music we play, but we’re going to throw in some other non-classical pieces.  There’s a trend right now in the orchestra world to do something called ‘mashup’ where you bring together popular music and classical music and kind of mash it up into the same performance.”

And that goes beyond the music itself.

“We believe and research tells us that the thing that’s keeping Millennials and Gen-Xers out of the concert hall is not the music,” Stringer said.  “The music is great.  What’s keeping them out of the concert hall is the way it’s presented; they want to see things presented in ways that are interactive and that stimulate them visually and that they can participate in.”

For instance, Stringer said, one performance might feature a 19-year old keyboard phenomenon and include a lot of juicy back story about the musical selections.

“So let’s say Conrad Tao comes out in his hi-tops and his jeans and he plays a movement of Schumann and we somehow tie that into Schumann and Clara’s affair (with Johannes Brahms) and how torrid it was and how deep their relationship was and we tie that to the ‘Immortal Beloved’ theme and not knowing who Beethoven wrote all these letters to and playing part of that symphony, which is called the ‘Immortal Beloved Symphony’ because he wrote it at the same time he was writing these anonymous letters and we still don’t know who the recipient was.”  

After all, Stringer smiled, so much of what we call "classical music" today was written for everybody to enjoy.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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