Graduate student Rogelio Thomas has never heard the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1786, and he hadn’t thought much about it since his move to New Haven two years ago. Neither had his girlfriend, Lauren Attaway, who works at an accounting firm downtown. Neither really had a vested interest in classical music or New Haven. They had the Yale bubble, and spent most of their weekends in New York, from where Thomas hails.
That was, until Attaway saw an ad on Facebook advertising the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s Beers and Beethoven concert at the beginning of April.
She clicked to find out more, “saw beer and Beethoven, and thought: ‘Why not?’”
She’s far from alone in that interest. Thursday night, over 200 first-time symphony-goers and 500 overall attendees flooded Woolsey Hall for the NHSO’s inaugural Beers and Beethoven, which includes a Connecticut craft beer tasting in the ticket price for a concert featuring Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. While many of the symphony’s older and more faithful patrons came for virtuosic violinist Tessa Lark, the younger audience members had a different thread in common: Classical music, several of them said, is a lot more enticing when alcohol and friends are involved.
An event, several first-timers added, that offered a tasting from local breweries — Back East Brewing Co., No Worries Brewing Company, Southport Brewing Company, Thimble Island, and Two Roads Brewing — and several of the city’s food vendors, parked outside Woolsey before the concert seemed too good to pass up.
“There’s a real culture around food and drink and going to the symphony or opera,” said New Haven resident Hilary Kiskaddon, who moved to the city three years ago to work for Connecticut Voices for Children. Getting ready to fill her red plastic cup before the show, she said that the event reminded her of studying abroad in Austria, where drinking before a show was par for the course.
“I think Americans put these kind of events into a box about older culture,” she said. “They think it’s not for them. Beer pulls people in. It adds a bit of sensuality.”
Fellow CVC staffer and self-described “IPA purist” Derek Thomas agreed. Having moved six months ago from Indianapolis, where the symphony hosts a special group for young professionals, he said he was excited to find something similar.
At a moment when nonprofits in the fine and performing arts are working to attract younger audiences without changing the fundamental fabric of what they do or who they perform, the Symphony has jumped on board, looking to bring millennials, young professionals, people of color, and families with their kids to their classical concerts. That audience, NHSO communications director Katie Bonner Russo said, is vital to the future of the organization.
“There’s real interest in this now,” said Russo at the event, sharing an anecdote about a twenty-something who had called to ask about procuring tickets, and admitted with slight sheepishness that his interest in the concert had come from the promise of pre-show beers.
“Beers and Beethoven was a tremendous success,” she added in an email afterward. “All of our beer and food partners were fantastic and their generous support of the NHSO translated into a very happy, well-fed audience, primed for a fantastic musical performance. We are absolutely looking ahead to doing an event like this again, so keep your eyes peeled next season.”
That may be too long to wait for some members of the audience, who left with big grins on their faces. Bobbing ever so slightly in their seats during the show, they drank it all aurally up. Haydn’s obsessive polish hasn’t allowed him to age as gracefully as Beethoven or Mozart, but he still nails those pastoral refrains that give way to frenzied, super male, yet overwhelmingly pleasant climaxes. In Marriage of Figaro, you can almost hear the fact that Mozart had a sense of humor. And Lark had mastered Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major in a way that was both understated and made your head explode. By the time members came to their feet, whooping and hollering at the end of Beethoven’s near-hour of glory, it was clear that it wasn’t just another NHSO concert. It was a night on the town.