Director of Orchestral Studies Gerardo Edelstein stood baton at the ready, prepared to launch the Penn State Philharmonic Orchestra into its first piece of the evening — but there was just one problem.
His musicians were already busy busting a gut.
They weren’t the only ones. The audience that filled the seats spread out in front of the steps of Old Main let out hardy laughs at the persistent wailing of passing sirens, which arrived, as if on cue, as soon as Edelstein raised his baton to begin.
Nobody on the makeshift stage seemed to mind the riotous chorus of chuckles — after all, these were the perils of performing outdoors.
The orchestra was the opening act to Friday’s evening of art and culture on the lawn of Old Main, the thematic and melodic lead-in to Penn State Centre Stage’s production of “Julius Caesar.”
“It’s always been a thought of mine to have an orchestra out here,” Travis DeCastro, associate director for production at the Penn State School of Theatre, said.
In the fall of 2013, DeCastro had the idea to stage a production of “Julius Caesar” in front of Old Main. In 2009, the School of Theatre collaborated with their counterparts in the School of Music on a production of “Romeo and Juliet” and when the time came to tackle another Shakespearean drama, DeCastro extended the invitation to come out and play.
“I’ve got a bar, you’ve got some actors, let’s do a show,” DeCastro said.
Russell Bloom, assistant to the director at the School of Music, believes that the event offered the orchestra a chance to provide a sampling to casual passers-by who have never attended any of their indoor performances.
“We’re fortunate that the muses have smiled on us this evening because it’s a beautiful night in State College,” Bloom said.
There were 400 seats set up in front of the steps of Old Main, each one of them occupied by the time the first note was struck at 6:30 p.m. The leftover crowd spilled out across the lawn, like a dress rehearsal for an upcoming summer picnic.
Students sat in groups spread out across the grass while parents pushing strollers and adults walking dogs weaved around them. A lone cyclist, clad in blue and yellow spandex, leaned against his bike while he listened to the music.
Tim Walter, a first-year graduate student studying materials science, was waiting for his bus when he overheard the orchestra performing the “1812 Overture.” He wandered closer to Old Main and ended up missing his ride — not that he’s complaining.
“I think it’s cool. I mean, I wouldn’t have seen it if it weren’t outside,” Walter said.
The orchestra concluded its performance with a rendition of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” in honor of the 150th anniversary of the president’s assassination. They were joined on stage by seven students from the School of Theatre, who read excerpts from some of Lincoln’s most famous speeches, including the Gettysburg Address.
Bloom said that Lincoln and “Julius Caesar” fit together thematically.
“Tonight is kind of a reflection of the great leaders and their message in times of struggle,” Bloom said.