An organization like the South Carolina Philharmonic will always find its natural home in an ample concert hall the size of the Koger Center, which is why the core of the group’s programming each year, the Masterworks series, is set there.
But in a culture and arts world that increasingly looks to emphasize unique experiences and fleeting intimacy, there’s something about the traditional concert architecture that feels inadequate. So the Philharmonic, like orchestras all across the country, constantly contends with the question of how to modernize its approach while staying true to the orchestral tradition that is its raison d’être.
And the orchestra continues to look for new ways to engage its audience in these confines, such as the Star Wars with the S.C. Phil concert it will present at the Koger Center on May 22, complete with an on-theme afterparty at The Whig.
It’s clear, however, from new programming like the Thursday debut of the Untuxed series at The Pastor’s Study at Lula Drake and the upcoming free, outdoor Boyd Plaza Sonatas on June 4 and 11 that the orchestra is taking the challenge seriously.
The concept behind Untuxed is to draw out one or a mere handful of the Philharmonic’s members and have them select some meaningful pieces to perform and tell stories about in an intimate, less formal setting than a typical concert or recital hall. Drinks and complimentary cheese and charcuterie enhance the pre-concert reception, lending a different atmosphere and leaning into the coziness of the concept.
As with Boyd Plaza Sonatas, which will feature a mixed-strings ensemble performing classical favorites while patrons chomp down on barbecue and craft beer, the goal is simply to widen access to the organization while giving the musicians more chances to work and perform.
“I think one of the things that we’ve noticed is that the heart of our programming will always be the Masterworks series at the Koger Center, and that there are people who feel really comfortable and familiar going to that space, but that a lot of the other performance and community engagement is in other places that aren’t necessarily open to the public,” offers Kristin Morris, the Philharmonic’s marketing communications director.
“A concert in the Koger Center is wonderful and impressive,” she continues, “but there’s obviously a huge separation between the audience and the orchestra. So the idea of doing a musician-curated program existed first just with the intention of trying to put more of our musicians out there.”
Centering programming around the musicians, rather than its charismatic conductor and music director Morihiko Nakahara, is a particularly strategic choice by the Philharmonic.
“One of the things that we are noticing as an organization is that, since Morihiko joined us as the director, 11, almost 12 years ago, is that he’s always been the most visible personality in the organization, but that just through tracking our social media and website activity, that people are really interested in finding out more about the musicians,” Morris notes.
“We’re a per-service orchestra, so all of our musicians have other jobs as well,” she adds. “A lot of them are teachers, some of them also perform professionally for other regional orchestras, so they have their own pretty broad social networks. People really want to get to know the musicians that they see performing.”
The plan is to do two to four more Untuxed performances across the next season through a sponsorship from Lula Drake, but Morris says the Philharmonic is open to trying other spaces and approaches with the series.
For the inaugural performance, the Philharmonic has tapped concertmaster Mary Lee Taylor Kinosian and principal cellist Dusan Vukajlovic as the featured artists and left the storytelling and curation approach relatively open-ended for the musicians to explore.
“They’re each going to choose pieces that mean something to them personally so they can talk about them,” Morris offers, noting that the emphasis is on personal connection rather than providing a deep dive on the piece itself.
For instance, Kinosian mentioned playing a piece of wedding music simply because of how often that type of thing is part of a working musician’s career, and Morris suggested they talk about their craziest wedding gig experience.
“They started to go right into it, they knew exactly which wedding it was,” Morris recalls. “It was in the middle of a field in South Carolina, pouring rain, they thought they were going to get electrocuted. It’s something like, where I definitely would not think about, not being a professional musician, the hustle and realities of working all these different jobs in all of these different environments.”
What: The SC Phil Untuxed
Where: The Pastor’s Study at Lula Drake, 1635 Main St.
When: Thursday, May 16, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Price: $30 (group discount available)
What: Star Wars with the S.C. Phil
Where: Koger Center, 1051 Greene St.
When: Wednesday, May 22, 7 p.m.