Ascending Darkness: Soundtrack to a Dream

What happens in a concert when the lights go out? What does the audience hear when it can’t see? What becomes of the concert experience when stripped of visual stimulation and concomitant distractions? What happens when audience members are surrounded by music in the dark? Sympho, the ever-innovative New York-based orchestra, plans to find out.

Sympho and its Artistic Director, Paul Haas, present “Ascending Darkness,” a concert experience in the dark, in New York City’s famed Church of the Ascension. “Ascending Darkness” invites its listeners to immerse themselves in a dream. Upon entering the sanctuary, audience members are swept into a half-lighted, quietly conscious state. The opening notes of Rameau’s “Scène Funèbre” from Castor et Pollux then pull the audience into the darkness of slumber. From there, using the music of Pärt, Grieg, Messiaen, Rameau, and new works by Paul Haas, Sympho weaves a dream sequence whose continuous narrative evokes struggle, death, and reconciliation. Musicians move around the space and music envelops the audience from all sides. Sympho’s lighting designer Grant Wilcoxen occasionally breaks the monochrome of darkness with various degrees of light, but only as it assists the flow of the narrative. Joining Sympho for cameo appearances are guitarist David Leisner, theorbist Hank Heijink, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer Bora Yoon, and the vocal group Trio Eos.

Here at Sympho, we’ve often sat through parts of a concert with our eyes closed, to focus on the music and to avoid the usual distractions – the patron reading the program here, or the glow of the iPhone there. And that led us to wonder if Sympho might create a concert with that built-in cocoon of darkness. Given Sympho’s mission to present classical music in new, thoughtful, and thought-provoking ways, it was only natural that we should experiment with the idea.

But to be clear, the goal of this concert is not just to turn off the lights. Rather, it’s to allow the darkness, in conjunction with a carefully-curated and commissioned program of musical offerings, to allow the audience to enter an altered state of awareness. The result should be a one-of-a-kind evening of glorious music.


Paul Haas, Artistic Director

Rameau: “Scène funèbre” from Castor et Pollux
Haas: Slam (Part I)
Rameau: “Musette en rondeau” from Les Fêtes d’Hébé
Haas: Land
Pärt: Pari intervallo
Haas: Wonder
Rameau: “Prélude” from Les Boréades
Pärt: Solfeggio
Rameau: “Orage” from Platée
Grieg: “Ase’s Death” from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1
Rameau: “L’entrée de Polymnie” from Les Boréades
Haas: Slam (Part II)
Messiaen: O sacrum convivium
Pärt: Fratres for String Orchestra and Percussion
Haas: Final (Maru bihag)

Premiered May 8, 2013 at 8:00 P.M.
Church of the Ascension
Fifth Avenue at Tenth Street
New York City