How To Open For An Orchestra

NSO In Your Neighborhood at Echostage - Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

DJ Stylus, Wytold, Christylez Bacon, Conductor Steven Reineke & The NSO at Echostage - Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

No matter how deep one gets in the game and how high you climb up the career ladder, every DJ should embrace the craft of the opening set. While executing the perfect opening set doesn’t necessarily lead to stardom, it can mean a steady stream of professional opportunities from those that understand the value of a quality opener. It’s also a discipline that has its own creative reward when you see your contribution as part of the full arc of a successful night.

I’ve had some memorable opening gigs, but one recently came my way that my past experiences didn’t really prepare me for. I opened for the National Symphony Orchestra as the first NSO In Your Neighborhood DJ.

The Kennedy Center’s NSO In Your Neighborhood is a series of creative programming and concerts that aim to make classical musical more accessible. I came in on the Echostage show, which is a room that usually houses massive EDM and pop concerts. Christylez Bacon and Wytold were also on the gig, rocking their unique classical, hip-hop and go-go hybrid compositions accompanied by the NSO.

And then there was the DJ. I was going to be adding some rubs to a couple of Christylez set pieces, but I hadn’t figured out my approach to creating a prelude for an ensemble of musicians that once they start playing, sound like being immersed in an IMAX film.

I kicked around some high concept ideas of fusing classical pieces with beats, live custom edits, etc. but ultimately I party rocked it. Because it was a club. And folks needed to be engaged and prepped for the show. And the energy in the space needed to be unified and brought to the right level for the main event. It’s what an opener does, whether the headliner is a DJ, a band, a rapper, or an orchestra. And despite the fact that a big room requires bigger tracks, I was able to do me and rock a progressive set without pandering.

It turned out to be the fusion experience that NSO In Your Neighborhood aims to create. According to WaPo, it didn’t suck.

Decent first gig for 2015.

NSO at Echostage - Photo: Yassine El Mansouri.

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