Casual Fridays, About Town eye new breed of listeners

While the three Disney Concert Hall galas promise nights to get dressed to the nines, the L.A. Philharmonic sees the future in more everyday clothing.

To attract Generations X,Y and Z while still keeping the faithful, Philharmonic Assn. president and CEO Deborah Borda says the answer lies in two particular programs: Casual Fridays and About Town.

Casual Fridays, which will return in January for a soph sesh, boasts a string of concerts designed for first-timers. And in what might be considered heresy among the old guard, the casual dress code applies to both the audience and the orchestra.

Dressed in khakis L.A. Philharmonic conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen simplifies the experience by focusing on only one or two pieces.

“We want to attract an audience that might usually be daunted,” Borda says. “Here is a chance for attendees to dress down, clap when they want to clap, hold dialogue with the orchestra and most of all learn.”

Casual Friday attendees are also invited to join Salonen and the gang post show for drinks and conversation.

Borda says she dreamed up the idea for Casual Fridays years ago, when she was at the New York Philharmonic. “The idea was that we are always in a rush, especially in New York, so I decided to create an outlet where people could slow down for an hour or two. There the series was called the Rush Hour Concerts, and they took place at 6 p.m., so people could come by on their way home from work. The same idea applies here, only the time has been pushed back to 8.”

Salonen says he knew the series was a hit last year by “the bellybutton quotient,” when the orchestra saw exposed midriffs as the audience jumped up to applaud.

While the four-part series does not officially kick off until December, this year’s sked is already set.

Guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas leads the lineup Dec. 12 with Mahler’s Sixth Symphony; on Jan. 23, Salonen leads Berlioz’s “Royal Hunt and Storm” and “Harold in Italy,” and on March 19 Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7. Miguel Harth-Bedoya will conduct Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” on the final night, May 7, with violinist Joshua Bell performing Corigliano’s “Red Violin Concerto.”

Meanwhile, Sounds About Town affords L.A.’s up-and-coming ensembles the opportunity to perform in the Concert Hall. Five of the featured ensembles will be traditional orchestras — the core of the series — while others offer an example of new directions that classical music is taking. One such example is the daKAH hip-hop orchestra. The 40-piece group, combines free-form jazz with a symphonic sound, beats from aroudn the globe and urban undercurrents.

Sounds About Town will commence Jan. 11 with a Salonen-conducted perf by the Crossroads School Chamber Orchestra. Other dates include Feb. 15, the Colburn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Ronald Leonard; Feb. 22, the American Youth Symphony conducted by Alexander Treger; March 14, daKAH conducted by Geoff Double G Gallegos; April 18, USC Thornton Symphony; and May 2, Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra conducted by Joana Carneiro.

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