The Surprising Joy of the Sunday Matinee

The weekend before last, I recorded performances of a small but incredible orchestra — an orchestra that I work with a lot. In connection with these concerts I also give a series of pre-concert talks about the music on the program; these talks are something I really enjoy, and I get lots of positive feedback from audience members about them.

The orchestra in question is unique in many ways, but in most essential aspects it is just like every other orchestra. Though it has doubled and redoubled its outreach and educational programs (sometimes there are up to seventeen such services delivered in a single five-day period around concert weekends), concerns about audience development remain high, even though its flagship Saturday-night concerts sell very well.

The next logical step was to add a Sunday matinee.

As the first season with these added matinees comes to a close, it is interesting to note some of the artistic ramifications. What I've found is that in Saturday evening performances, which are typically performed to full or very nearly full houses, there is a lot of energy coming off the stage. Fortes are stronger; tempos are jumpier. More risks are taken.

By contrast, the Sunday matinees, typically performed to a much smaller audience, and therefore a in much quieter and slightly more resonant environment, are more poised. The pulse is more stable, yet breathes more naturally; tone quality is more pliable and nuanced; there's more air around the sound of the whole orchestra. And accuracy is typically much higher. (This latter fact is partly just due to the musicians having that much more time to really smooth out the rough edges in their parts.)

I have no doubt that for many audience members, the near-manic energy of the Saturday night performances is exciting. But I prefer the more centered, graceful, and self-assured Sunday matinees. If you're a concertgoer, you might consider checking out the matinee instead of the Saturday night show sometime; the tickets are often cheaper and the orchestra may well actually give you a better performance than they did for pearls-and-tuxes crowd.

From that weekend of concerts I headed to Denver where I am assisting with the world premiere recording of The Scarlet Letter. There's so much to love about recording opera; the sheer complexity is a technical challenge that keeps the adrenaline pumping, and few pleasures compare to being part of the process of bringing a new work into the world. More than anything though, it's the affective power of the human voice that reminds me why someone might take the fantastic leap of faith to pursue a career in the performing arts. I can't wait to get started.