A year and a half ago, the Rapidan Orchestra came together here in Orange, and this past weekend we just had our third pair of concerts, one in the neighboring county of Madison and one here in Orange. Since I grew up here, I know a lot of people coming to the concerts, and besides speaking with some there, also see people around town in the days after and have more conversations.
I have been amazed by the response we're getting. I came very late to classical music and can't sight read at all well, but after many years being a psychiatric attendant, group therapist, and music therapist, reading the facial expressions and body language of people is second nature to me. In nearly all the conversations I've had about the Rapidan performances, people's eyes are wider than usual, and their body language is more fluid and expressive of positive emotions than usual - to a degree I find surprising and exceptional.
Two things come to mind to explain this effect we're having. One is the music itself - Beethoven, Brahms, Bizet, Fauré, Haydn, Sibelius - with a few newer (tonal) works in the mix. For some aficionados, the pieces we're doing are passé warhorses, but for a lot of our audience, it may well be the first time they've heard these pieces live, which is a totally different experience from recordings, which in this day and age are the norm. And there's a reason these pieces have stood the test of time. In a Jungian sense they must somehow express archetypes floating around in the collective unconscious. My read is that we're not just entertaining people, but that the music is touching them deeply.
The other thing is the intimate settings - usually churches - one of which has superb acoustics and very comfortable pews. We rarely have more than 100 people at the concerts, so everything is up close and personal. A lot of us musicians go out and say hello to people we know during intermission and after the performances, giving things a personalized feeling. My sense is that these small venues help the audience really feel they are a vital part of the triangle Britten talked so much about - the composer - the performer(s) - the audience; that all three are vital parts of the musical experience.