SF Symphony’s SoundBox Experiments With the Classics
Launched in December 2014 and having wrapped up its second season, SoundBox presented Playing in the SoundBox: The Performance Space as Laboratory as part of San Francisco Design Week. Associate Director of Artistic Planning Richard Lonsdorf and blogger Mark Rudio of A Beast in a Jungle spoke about designing the experience, breaking through conventions, and tackling goals for the future.
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There was a time, Rudio noted, that composers and instrumentalists graced the cover of Time Magazine. "I don’t think it’s about the music," he said of the genre’s declining popularity. "I think it’s the presentation of the music." To draw younger, more diversified crowds back to the fine arts, San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas and the organizers of SoundBox radically changed what it meant to attend a performance. The venue, a rehearsal space behind Davies Symphony Hall, has been transformed to emit a nightclub vibe. Instead of two acts, each program consists of three 20-minute acts to encourage show-goers to mingle, grab a bite, or refresh their drinks at the full bar.
Previously infamous for its dead acoustics, the concrete-and-steel cavern is now an immersive soundscape thanks to the Meyer Sound Constellation System. Twenty-eight suspended microphones span out over four zones, allowing for music ensembles to move throughout the space or play on different stages simultaneously. Thematic videos by SoundBox designer Adam Larsen add dynamism to an eclectic and ever-surprising program.
"We had to fire on all cylinders to do something new," said Lonsdorf. "It was a permissive experiment. The ability to fail was crucial here."
Failure, however, has not been on the horizon. Word of mouth about the show ensures that tickets, at an attainable $35 a pop, sell out within two hours. Said Rudio about what differentiates the show, "They created something adventurous, and it wasn’t the same thing every time. SoundBox felt new and captured the zeitgeist. I don’t think anybody was ready for that first night."
SoundBox returns this December. Learn more about the show on the website.