Orlando Philharmonic debuts Principals at the Mezz

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What if you could combine the vibe of a chic, urban happy hour with some of the world's best music?

No, I don't mean the latest Lady Gaga tune (not that there's anything wrong with that).

I'm talking classical sounds — specifically chamber music.

With its new Principals at the Mezz series, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra hopes patrons will find a cooler side to the symphony — and forge new connections with the musicians.

The Mezz is the stylish cabaret-like room above The Abbey nightclub in downtown Orlando. For the Principals series, the seating has a definite lounge-like vibe, says David Schillhammer, the Phil's executive director. Along with some auditorium-style seating, patrons will find couches and high-top tables. Seating is limited to 150 and is first-come, first-served.

"It's a little more casual," than a typical concert, Schillhammer says.

How casual? Well, Schillhammer explains, the bar remains open while the musicians are playing.

Hold your French horns, did the executive director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra just say it was OK to seek out a martini during the performance?

"I thought I might be aghast, too," Schillhammer says, "but people are respectful."

In other words, people, fill 'er up if you must — but no talking on the way, please.

And you might need to wet your whistle after enjoying the hors d'oeuvres that are included with the ticket price.

Beyond the socialization aspect, Schillhammer hopes the event helps audience members get to know the Philharmonic's musicians better. While onstage, they talk about the music they will be playing; afterward, they mingle with the audience.

That interaction is a key attraction to principal violist Mauricio Cespedes Rivero, who participated in a pilot concert at the Mezz last year.

"It's usually so hard to relate to the audience," when playing in a large venue like the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, Cespedes says. "At the Mezz, it's such a cozy environment."

At that pilot concert, the musicians found audience members were eager to meet them.

"We talked to so many people, we connected on a different level," Cespedes says. "I liked that I got to tell people I appreciate so much their support."

In such an intimate environment, the audience gets more of a show than usual, he says.

"You can actually see the expressions that we the musicians make while we play — although that might be a little too much sometimes," he says.

Chamber music, which is composed for just a few musicians to play, can be especially emotional for the players, Cespedes says.

"You really get to know a composer by the kind of chamber music they wrote," he says. "It's their most intimate language."

The kickoff concert, Feb. 26, features music by Mozart and Ravel, but also sea shanties by Sir Malcolm Arnold and "Two Joplin Rags" by Scott Joplin.

The eclectic nature of the selections should mirror the diversity in the audience, Schillhammer says. Although, the series is sponsored by Overture, the Philhamonic's young-professionals group, all are welcome.

"We don't discriminate," Schillhammer says. "If you love music, come."

Principals at the Mezz

What: Chamber music performed by musicians of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 (wind instruments); 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 9 (strings instruments); 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16 (brass instruments). Preconcert socials begin at 6 p.m.

Where: The Mezz, above The Abbey nightclub at 100 S. Eola Drive, Orlando

Tickets: $40 per concert; $99 for the series

Call: 407-770-0071

Online: http://www.orlandophil.org/mezz

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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