Lots of Washington establishments carefully pair food and drink.
Gourmet Symphony, a local nonprofit group, was founded last fall to add a third element: classical music.
More recently, the organization expanded into a different sort of food service. Thursday’s concert at the Hamilton restaurant will benefit Gourmet Symphony and three partners that feed low-income Washingtonians: So Others Might Eat, Bread for the City and Miriam’s Kitchen.
“We wanted to bring this project full circle,” said Briana Murray, Gourmet Symphony’s development director. “We’re doing this event not only to celebrate our accomplishments, but really to raise awareness for socially conscious arts programming in D.C.”
The idea for Gourmet Symphony began to germinate when founders John Coco and John Devlin met in 2012. At the time, Coco was food and beverage director for the Kennedy Center. (He now works for a Roanoke-based food and wine importer.) Coco is Gourmet Symphony’s business director, coordinating with chefs and food and wine providers.
“We put our thinking caps on and decided something needed to be done to bring the music out of the halls and into social gathering spots of modern-day Washington, D.C,” Coco said. He described himself as a “borderline millennial” who is trying to reach his generation.
“D.C. is such a foodie town,” Devlin added, “and there are so many culinary artists in the area. We wanted to unite the artisanal community with the artistic community.”
Devlin is the executive director and youth orchestra conductor of the McLean Orchestra, as well as the assistant conductor of New Jersey’s Princeton Symphony Orchestra. He also serves as associate conductor for Capital City Symphony, a nonprofessional community orchestra based at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE.
Gourmet Symphony’s first event was a Kickstarter-funded concert at the Atlas in February. Devlin said he was surprised to learn that “70 percent of the audience had never been to a classical music event before.”
He and Coco plan to change that with events that, Devlin said, “appeal to a younger generation of concertgoer than you might find at the Kennedy Center on a normal basis. But also we’ve found a large amount of support from people who have never come to a symphony orchestra concert before.”
One way to attract those listeners is to banish the formality of the customary classical music performance. “The orchestra never performs on a stage,” Devlin said. “We’re always in the middle of the audience. Eating and drinking, Snapchatting, tweeting and Facebooking are encouraged. The orchestra will come and eat and drink with the audience between pieces.”
At the Hamilton, he noted, musicians whose regular gigs are with the National Symphony and Kennedy Center Opera House orchestras will play pieces by Mozart and Beethoven while those composers’ favorite foods and drinks are served.
The group ventured even further from the Kennedy Center this summer after getting an “Innovate D.C.” grant from the city’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities. That funded the “Taste Your Music” series with Capital City Symphony musicians at SOME and Miriam’s Kitchen. Along with meals, the events included music workshops, an instrument “petting zoo” and music therapy sessions.
To Coco, the events demonstrated that “human interaction with the music transcends whether the walls are draped in marble or with hand-drawn pictures from the people who are there every day.”
Over the summer, Devlin said, “we developed a little following. As we moved from place to place, the word spread that we were delivering food and music combined. At the last event, we served over 500 guests.”
“It’s been humbling. It’s been uplifting,” Murray said.
Gourmet Symphony will continue to perform in a variety of spaces and is scheduling a fall series of “saloon concerts,” designed for 30 to 50 listeners and featuring mostly solo and duet performances. Although not all the shows will benefit charitable groups, the organization’s founders intend to continue those alliances and expand them.
“Our whole mission is to bring the concept of gourmet food and music not only to those who don’t necessarily experience them together, but to those who maybe never have the opportunity to experience either at all,” Murray said. “That’s really where the smiles happen.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.