Not a classical music fan? Utah Symphony is ditching the ‘unwritten rules’ to make you feel welcome.

(Photo courtesy of Utah Symphony) The Utah Symphony in rehearsal at Abravanel Hall. The symphony will be going more casual for its first Unwound concert, set for March 23.

Sitting in Abravanel Hall with one’s eyes closed, a classical music fan would scarcely tell the difference between the Utah Symphony’s upcoming Friday night concert and its Saturday night show.

It’s the same musicians, the same conductor — Thierry Fischer, the Utah Symphony’s music director — and mostly the same program, highlighting composer Andrew Norman’s new work, “Play.” Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk will be the featured soloist both nights on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

It’s what the audience sees onstage, and experiences in the lobby, that will be different on Saturday. That night’s show is the first of the Utah Symphony’s new Unwound concert series, an experiment in knocking out some of the stuffiness that comes with listening to classical music.

“We’re trying to deconstruct the concertgoing experience without deconstructing the concert itself,” said Jeff Counts, Utah Symphony’s general manager and the onstage host of Saturday’s performance.

For Saturday’s concert, the audience is encouraged to dress casually. The orchestra’s musicians will follow suit, putting away the traditional tuxedos and evening gowns that they will sport for Friday night’s performance.

“They never mind not wearing the tuxes,” Counts said. “Any chance to dress down a bit, they love it.”

“It will feel nice to match our audience more,” said Kathryn Eberle, violinist and the Utah Symphony’s assistant concertmaster.

Dramatic lighting will be synced to the music, and video screens will help showcase parts of the show, such as a close-up of Gavrylyuk’s hands while he plays the Rachmaninoff concerto.

“You can see how physical he has to be and how fast he has to be,” Counts said.

The main works in the program — the Rachmaninoff and Norman’s piece — “both play into the visual aspect of classical music that we’re trying to highlight,” Counts said. “It’s not just something you listen to, but it’s something you watch.”

Eberle, who lived in the same dorm as Norman during their college days at the University of Southern California, said Norman’s music “is incredibly intelligent, and very, very visual.”

At one point in “Play,” she said, the violinists hold their bows above the strings for three or four bars, heightening the anticipation of what’s to be played. “That is visually very stimulating,” Eberle said.

One visual element that was considered, but has so far been rejected, is a smartphone app to accompany the music with program notes and other features. It’s been done at other orchestras, Counts said, but “it just doesn’t work in this setting. … We want people looking at the orchestra, not looking down at their screens.”

More informal touches are planned in the Abravanel Hall lobby before the concert.

Symphony musicians will mingle with concertgoers near the cash bar, which will for the first time have beer for sale. (Building rules prevent patrons from taking food or beverages into the auditorium, though. Going casual has its limits.)

Before the concert, Jimmy Martin and Shannon Barnson, from the popular “Geek Show” podcast, will host a “trivia night” in the concert hall’s First Tier Room. After the concert, Fischer, Gavrylyuk and Norman will take part in a Q&A session.

Counts said Utah Symphony is hopeful the first Unwound concert will be a success. Programmers are confident enough that they have planned two more next season: For Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on Nov. 16, and for “Carmina Burana” on March 28, 2020.

“One of the barriers to classical music performance is that it can come off as elite, that there are too many rules associated to it,” Counts said. “We want to bring new people in, people who don’t routinely make us part of their cultural and entertainment profile.”

Eberle concurred. “Hopefully,” she said, “this will attract audience members who may feel they can’t come to the symphony because of those unspoken and unwritten rules. … It’s going to be a really fun experience.”


Utah Symphony, traditional or ‘Unwound’

The Utah Symphony will perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 2, with pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk, and Andrew Norman’s “Play.”

Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

When • Friday, March 22, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 23, 7 p.m.

Tickets • $15 to $66, in advance at arttix.artsaltlake.org.

Friday’s concert • Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” is also on the program.

Saturday’s concert • The first of the Utah Symphony’s Unwound concerts, to provide a more casual concertgoing experience. Highlights: A shorter program (only the Rachmaninoff piano concerto and Part 1 of “Play” will be performed), with an onstage host, visual elements on the stage, beer for sale in the lobby before the show, and a trivia night in Abravanel’s First Tier Room from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m.

This coverage of downtown Salt Lake City arts groups is supported by a grant from The Blocks, a cultural initiative of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. The Salt Lake Tribune makes all editorial decisions.