Miller Theatre Lets Audience Choose: Sit Close to the Stage or on It?

by Nick Obourn

Feb. 2, 2012Bookmark and Share

Filling seats is always a concern at concert venues. Now, in a twist, Miller Theatre wants to fill the stage with listeners.

In an effort to create what Melissa Smey, director of the theater, refers to as a “living room atmosphere,” Miller is launching a free performance series called Pop-Up Concerts that uses the theater space in an unusually intimate way. Concertgoers will be invited to leave their seats and venture onto the stage with the musicians.

The JACK Quartet, from left: John Pickford Richards, Christopher Otto, Ari Streisfeld, Kevin McFarland
The JACK Quartet, from left: John Pickford Richards, Christopher Otto, Ari Streisfeld, Kevin McFarland

“The interaction between the performers and the audience—and between audience members themselves—is really intrinsic to these concerts,” says Smey. “Doors open early, so that attendees can enjoy a chance to mingle with fellow concertgoers before the performance begins. During the show, the artists will introduce the music they’re about to play. And afterward they’ll be on hand to answer questions and chat with attendees. So, it’s a very participatory format.”

Miller, which has a history of testing the boundaries of music performance, is trying to create an atmosphere where musicians can take more risks and the audience can feel a closer connection to the music. “We were looking for a way to create an even more personal and informal setting, a smaller space where we could test out some new ideas,” says Smey.

The new series was inspired by Miller’s popular Lunchtime Concerts series, which is on hold while Philosophy Hall is renovated. Those concerts offered the Columbia community and the public a chance to take a quick break during the day by listening to classical music in a relaxed setting. Pop-Up Concerts are also presented at an unorthodox time—right after work—and rather than lasting two hours, as Miller’s concerts often do, they will be only an hour. The informal format of the Pop-Ups will give the theater a greater opportunity to spontaneously schedule concerts while the season is in progress.

The inaugural Pop-Up Concert is Feb. 7 and will feature the work of Romanian-born, avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis. JACK Quartet, who last played at Miller in October 2011 when they hosted the nine-hour marathon concert Extended Play for the Sonic Festival, will be joined by members of Ensemble Signal for a performance featuring works by Xenakis and other composers. Subsequent concerts will feature pianist Jacob Greenberg performing music by composer György Kurtág, the electronic music of Jean-Baptiste Barriére and Curtis Institute of Music’s Ensemble 39.

And while audience members enjoy their moment on stage, they can sip free beer compliments of Miller’s new partner, Harlem Brewing Company.

Pop-Up Concert seating is general admission, and no tickets are necessary. The doors open at 5:30 p.m. and music begins at 6:00 p.m. For complete details on performances in the series, visit

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