- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2015

D.C. charities have found creative ways to bring food to the city’s hungry and homeless, but one enterprising partnership has an inspired plan to bolster the souls of Washington’s neediest.

The “Gourmet Symphony: Taste Your Music Benefit Concert,” happening Thursday at The Hamilton restaurant in Northwest, offers attendees a delicious meal and a soul-enriching concert.

“Gourmet Symphony was kind of envisioned as an alternative to the traditional concert-going experience that isolates the music and keeps the audience at a distance,” said John Devlin, the symphony’s co-founder and artistic director. “We want it to be inclusive, and we always said the food and drink were equal to the music that we’re presenting.”

Mr. Devlin will conduct a program that includes works by Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler. To pair with the music performed by the Gourmet Symphony and members of the Capital City Symphony, attendees will partake in food favored by the composers themselves.

“We found out that Mozart was a huge fan of smoked fish, so we’ve got a really kind of modern take on a smoked fish dish,” Mr. Devlin said. “And Beethoven liked nothing better than macaroni and cheese and bratwurst, so we’re doing gourmet smoked sausage and gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese.”

The event’s menu was crafted by Hamilton executive chef Anthony Lombardo in conjunction with Beuchert’s Saloon owner/chef Andrew Markert.

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Beneficiaries of the evening’s proceeds include Bread for the City, Miriam’s Kitchen and So Others Might Eat (SOME). On Aug. 7, Miriam’s hosted Capital City Symphony musicians as a way to bridge the gap between professional musicians and the District’s homeless, who are not the “typical” audience for classical music.

“It’s about making sure that even the most vulnerable members of our community are able to access this same culture that we’ve all enjoyed about this city,” said Tom Murphy, director of communications for Miriam’s.

In addition to serving nutritious meals, Miriam’s Kitchen provides case management to Washington’s chronically homeless population while advocating for permanent support, Mr. Murphy said.

Mr. Murphy said the Gourmet Symphony program gives the District’s needy not only a hot meal but a chance to sample some of the city’s best cuisine.

“There’s been this tremendous food explosion here in Washington, and not everyone gets to experience that,” he said, “and I think that by bringing the musicians into our dining room, it’s very much an extension of that.”

Mr. Devlin agreed that the divide between classical music’s performers and its audiences is often a chasm. His Thursday performance at The Hamilton will have concertgoers seated around the orchestra for a more interactive experience, he said.

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“The audience is going to be seated 360 degrees around the orchestra,” Mr. Devlin said. “In fact, the orchestra moves to where the audience usually sits, and we have the audience members sitting on stage. So it provides you with a unique audience experience — all while eating and drinking things that somehow relate to the music.”

As with the homeless “patrons” who hear the classical music at the District’s food banks, Mr. Devlin said the audience for Gourmet Symphony performances typically comprise capital-area residents who would not otherwise engage in such arts.

“We polled people, and 70 percent of them had never seen a symphony concert. You don’t need to know anything about the music ahead of time, because we try to explain to you in such a way as to make you feel included in the process,” Mr. Devlin said. “We cultivate an atmosphere of relaxed audience-going, but the music is at the highest level as we pull from the very best musicians in D.C.”

During a three-hour event, the musicians will play for one hour, and spend the remainder of their time dining and interacting with audience members, “breaking down that barrier between the orchesta and the audience,” Mr. Devlin said.

He feels that the summer months are typically a dead time for orchestral music in the District, but Thursday’s event will offer a jump-start to the traditional September beginning of the arts season.

“Right as people are coming back from their vacations, before they head out for Labor Day, we wanted to give them a big event to kind of put on their calendars,” Mr. Devlin said, “and get back into the artistic flow of things.”

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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