Rockin’ Orchestra Series returns in a ‘wonderful, loud and boisterous way’

The DPO will present A Night of Symphonic Rock on Saturday

It’s been a long time since the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s last Rockin’ Orchestra concert. Even artistic director and conductor Neal Gittleman was surprised when he looked back at his calendar and saw the upcoming concert on Saturday, April 17 was the first in the series in 14 months.

“Oh, wow, is that true?” Gittleman said in disbelief. “According to my records, the last Rockin’ Orchestra show we did before the shutdown was with Wyclef Jean.”

A Night of Symphonic Rock at the Schuster Center in Dayton, part of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance (DPAA) 2020–2021 Reimagined Season, is indeed the first Rockin’ Orchestra performance since Jean performed with the DPO in February 2020.

“That concert with Wyclef was, maybe, the best show ever,” Gittleman said. “It was so much fun. It was a great audience and the music was great. He was wonderful and the musicians in his band were just amazing. It showed you what this thing can be. You wouldn’t think a symphony orchestra and hip-hop would intersect and, yet, they do and when they intersect, it’s just amazing. It’s sad we’ve had 13 months with none of these shows, but it’s great the last one we did before the shutdown was this big pinnacle.”

Rockin’ Orchestra returns

“Our original plan was for this Rockin’ Orchestra show on April 17 to be our tribute to the Dayton Funk Scene,” Gittleman said. “We ended up moving that since that’s a bigger project than just a concert. It involves a symposium that is planned at the University of Dayton and induction into the Funk Hall of Fame. And also, the safety protocols we’re working under now, we’re only doing one-hour concerts with the orchestra and doing them twice in a single night in order to serve more audience. We wanted the funk thing to be something big.

“We looked at some of the options of groups that are already back touring and doing shows like this and this Night of Symphonic Rock seemed like a really fun show,” Gittleman continued. “It’s big and has great songs. It’s a wonderful, loud and boisterous way to mark the return of the Rockin’ Orchestra Series in this hybrid format, with a live performance for a safely distant audience and live streaming and on-demand streaming afterwards too.”

A Night of Symphonic Rock features popular songs by a variety of well-known artists such as Led Zeppelin, Journey, KISS, Starship, Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. It’s a full-hour of classic rock with orchestral backing.

“Everybody will be spaced out in their own little ‘bubble’ but I’m sure the crowd will just be pumped to be back and hearing live music again,” Gittleman said. “It’s a lot of ’70s songs and it really is one great one after another. It’s going to be really fun so I think it’ll get people excited.”

The shutdowns

“The Music of the Rolling Stones,” scheduled for March 21, 2020, was one of the DPAA’s first events canceled by the then recent COVID shutdowns in Ohio.

“It’s been an interesting year, let’s put it that way,” Gittleman said. “When I think how many ensembles there are around the world that have been doing nothing, I’m very happy we at the Dayton Philharmonic and Dayton Performing Arts Alliance have been able to keep our performers performing and keep them working and keep getting music, art and dancing out to our audience.

“It has been a strange year,” he continued. “It has been a year of learning new skills we never thought we’d have to learn, but it’s been very rewarding to do what we can to keep things going and keep the connections with our audience going.”

Part of that approach has been livestream performances, which the DPAA launched last year.

“When we first came back in the late summer and into fall and started performing again, it was wonderful to be back together,” Gittleman said. “It was purely for streaming, in an empty hall, but it was wonderful to be performing. We started with small groups and gradually expanded the size of the ensemble we were working with but it was strange to be performing just for the microphones and the cameras.

“Even now that we’ve started doing live performances again, we realize many people in our audience aren’t ready yet to come out and be around other people,” he continued. “Our main focus in the streaming activity we’ve been doing is all about keeping that connection with our audience but in doing so there are people who have discovered us. It’s been an interesting way to get the word out about what we do at the DPAA to a slightly broader audience and hopefully when things are back to being more like normal, some of those people will come to see what we look and sound like in three dimensions too.”

Live again

The DPO did a small private performance on Dec. 31 and then had its first official in-person performance in 11 months with the Masterworks Series concert, “Beethoven 8 and Florence Price,” at the Schuster Center on Jan. 23.

“We had our very first performance with anybody in the hall on New Year’s Eve when we had some family and staff with us for a shakedown and livestream performance,” Gittleman said. “And, then, a couple of weeks later, we did our first performance with an actual audience in the theater. It was really interesting how much the excitement level and the energy level of the orchestra came up from the streaming to the tiny audience to the bigger audience.”

Even after 40 years as a conductor, and 27 with the DPO, Gittleman has learned a few other musical lessons over the 14 months.

“I have an unusual relationship with the audience because my back is to them all the time,” he said. “What I perceive most is the musicians because that’s who I’m facing, and it’s just so interesting to see the difference in the energy level of the musicians with an audience and without an audience. After years and years of doing this, the psychology of this thing that we do is endlessly fascinating. It was interesting to learn another detail about how the magic works.

“It’s really inspiring to play for people again but as a person who is watching the musicians and working with them, it’s fascinating to see how their emotion and feeling changes with the audience,” Gittleman added. “It’s not just about making the music, it’s not just about the music; the audience gives us something that’s hard to quantify and that’s very special.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at


What: The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra presents A Night of Symphonic Rock

Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton

When: 6 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 17

Cost: $50 in-person, $25 live stream

More info: 937-228-3630 or visit

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