Trumpeter Aaron Ney was wrapping up his first year as a fellow at the New World Symphony when he first participated in a concert that exemplified the Miami Beach-based organization’s forward-thinking approach to presenting classical music. Dubbed “Beer and Brass,” the event aimed to bring a relaxed festival atmosphere into the concert hall by pairing local brews with classical works.
Following a successful debut in April 2019, the organization planned to move Beer and Brass into a bigger concert hall at the New World Center for its second year and add integrated audiovisual elements. Then came COVID-19, which wiped out most of the organization’s 2020 season. NWS staff and fellows were left to do what all musicians must learn to do at some point in their professional career: improvise.
This year, NWS’ Beer and Brass — like most events these days — will take place inside audience members’ homes. Upon purchasing a ticket, audience members are given access to a concert stream, as well as a six-pack of beer, a tasting sheet, and a pint glass.
The organization is partnering with Veza Sur head brewer Rhett Dougherty for a guided tasting that pairs the brewery’s libations with brass quintet works performed by fellows Rebecca Oliverio and Ney on trumpet, Corbin Castro on French horn, Arno Tri Pramudia on trombone, and Andrew Abel on tuba. While the evening’s performances were pre-recorded with four musicians in Miami Beach and one in Atlanta owing to social-distancing precautions, the event will be hosted live on Saturday, June 6, with commentary from Ney and Dougherty, who'll also lead a Q&A with audience members.
By adding beer to the mix, NWS hopes to create a synesthetic experience. “I hope that you see, hear, and taste that comparison while the music is playing,” Ney says of the music-and-beer combo. Among the evening’s selections are Tylman Susato’s Renaissance Dances, which is paired with Veza’s Mangolandia blond ale; and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” paired with the Mala Yerba session IPA.
Though plans for Beer and Brass preceded the pandemic, Dougherty views Saturday’s virtual event as an extension of the adaptions Veza Sur has made in response to it. After dining-in was temporarily disallowed, the brewery launched delivery and pickup services to sell its growlers, house cocktails, bottled, and draft products.
“It’s been a pivot for us, but we’ve been able to really develop that portion of our business,” Dougherty says, adding that he’s treating the unusual circumstances as an opportunity to develop and expand the Wynwood brewery's reach in creative ways. Veza Sur now hosts virtual happy hours and workout classes on its social feeds, and Dougherty hosts a weekly beer talk show on Instagram.
Maintaining that kind of personal interaction is key in the era of social distancing, so Dougherty and NWS arranged for home delivery of the evening’s featured brews. Participants submitted their home address and preferred delivery times over the weekend, and six-packs are being sent out on Veza Sur’s colorful delivery trucks throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s virtual performance.
That kind of personal interaction is in line with NWS’ continual effort to foster creative interactive experiences with its audiences. The symphony's recurring Pulse concert series, for example, features classical performances in a club-like setting where audiences can walk around onstage with the musicians as they perform.
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Ney says such performances disrupt the traditional classical concert experience, in which “folks enter the front door and find their seats and then just sit down, maybe read the program notes. Then the conductor comes on stage and [the musicians] play a concert and everyone leaves.” By contrast, events like Beer and Brass allow for interactive conversations with musicians “with a beer in hand.”
Though he’s cohosting, Dougherty is mostly looking forward to sharing the experience with 200 audience members during a time when shared experiences are hard to come by.
“I’m certainly going to be drinking the beers while the performance is happening,” he says. “And I can’t wait for participants to ask any questions about how the beers were made or how the pairings were decided on. I’m really excited for the engagement and to have an interesting conversation after the music.”
New World Symphony's Beer and Brass. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 6. Tickets cost $25 via nws.edu.