The Experiential Orchestra was founded by conductor James Blachly as a way to invite audiences more deeply into the sound and powerful experience of the symphony orchestra. As quoted in Symphony Magazine, Blachly says, “We try and keep it fresh for everybody. We are not trying to displace the standard concert experience, but invite people in so that when they next attend a traditional concert they hear things differently.”

EXO's signature event is their singular Rite of Spring Dance Party, which invites the audience to dance to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and which one enthusiastic audience member called “the future of classical music.” Recent concerts have been presented at Roulette and National Sawdust in Brooklyn, Lincoln Center with Young Patrons of Lincoln Center, Americas Society, and in partnership with Musicambia and Groupmuse at the Masonic Temple; concerts have also been presented at Penn State University, American University, and the Phillips Collection in Washington DC.

EXO started in 2009 with what were called "Loft Parties," intimate orchestra concerts that brought the orchestra up close with an audience of 100 jammed into a midtown loft. A wild party always ensued after performances, and soon audience members were invited to sit in and among the orchestra. “I wanted people to feel the music in a new way," Conductor James Blachly says.

This emphasis on the feeling of the sound of an orchestra also forms the basis of their "Listening Concerts," in which audience members surround and are surrounded by the orchestra in different ways. Lincoln Center hosted EXO in 2016 in a sold-out concert called "Listening 101," with responses such as this one, followed the next season by “An Introduction to Beethoven,” in which EXO traced the creative arc of Beethoven’s career through excerpts of all 9 Symphonies (and yes, the audience joined the orchestra for the 9th!)

As a way to go deeper with select audiences, EXO also started offering boutique private concerts incorporating these full-body listening concepts, with James Blachly's inimitable invitation to make the music accessible and impactful. 

All concerts feature some experiential quality. Founder James Blachly says "my sense is that in this age of technology and speed, we crave full-body experiences that sweep us up and where we are invited to hold nothing back. I've always said there is no bigger experience in sound than a live symphony orchestra, and I want to open up that experience for new audiences and have them fall in love with the music on their own terms and through their own joy and wonder and awe."

The orchestra is drawn from top-level New York freelancers, with members of Decoda, Musicians from Marlboro, Canadian Brass and other elite ensembles in principal positions.  

Artistic Advisors

EXO is proud to have three of the most creative minds in New York serve as Artistic Advisors. 

Patrick Castillo leads a multifaceted career as a composer, performer, writer, and educator. His music has been described as “restrained and reflective but brimming with a variety of texture and sound that draws you into its world” (I Care If You Listen) and has been presented at festivals and venues throughout the United States and internationally. He is the founding Composer and Managing Director of Third Sound and Executive Director of Hotel Elefant. He previously served as Artistic Administrator for Music@Menlo and Senior Director of Artistic Planning of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and appears frequently as a guest lecturer for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The Quality of Mercy, an album of Patrick Castillo’s vocal chamber music featuring mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer, has been praised as “affecting and sensitively orchestrated… [a] gorgeous, masterfully crafted canvas” (Cleveland Classical), and is available on innova Recordings. For more information, please visit

New York City-based musician Brad Balliett is in high demand as a composer and bassoonist. Principal bassoon of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra,Brad is an artistic director for the chamber music collective Decoda (Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall), and performs with the leading new music groups in New York, including Signal, Metropolis Ensemble, and Deviant Septet. Brad has performed with the Houston Symphony, Metropolitan Opera Musicians, New York City Ballet, International Contemporary Ensemble, and Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Festival performances include Marlboro, Tanglewood, June in Buffalo, Newport Jazz Festival, Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommen, and the Lucerne Festival. His creative collaboration with Elliot Cole and DougBalliett as the band Oracle Hysterical has yielded a number of operatic works, including a spoken-word opera premiered at the Lucerne Festival as a Spotlight Artist in composition. With his twin brother, Doug, Brad hosts a weekly radio show on WQXR’s Q2 Music (The Brothers Balliett), curates a monthly concert series at Spectrum in the Lower East Side, and is on faculty at The Juilliard School (Evening Division). As a teaching artist, Brad regularly leads composition and song-writing workshops in schools, hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters. Brad graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 2005, and holds an MM from Rice University. His hobbies include writing sonnets, running, and reading Shakespeare.

Doug Balliett is a composer, instrumentalist and poet based in New York City. The New York Times has described his poetry as “brilliant and witty” (Clytie and the Sun), his bass playing as “elegant” (Shawn Jaeger’s In Old Virginny), and his compositions as “vivid, emotive, with contemporary twists” (Actaeon). Popular new music blog I Care if You Listen has critiqued Mr. Balliett’s work as “weird in the best possible way” (A Gnostic Passion) and “light-hearted yet dark…it had the audience laughing one minute and in tears the next…” (Pyramus and Thisbe). With a constant stream of commissions, a weekly show on New York Public Radio, and nearly 200 performances per year, Mr. Balliett has been identified as an emerging voice for his generation.

Raised in central Massachusetts, Mr. Balliett graduated from Harvard with high honors in 2007 and from Juilliard in 2012, with a Master’s in Historical Performance. During this time he received compositional guidance from John Harbison, Elliot Gyger, and Philip Lasser. Primarily a composer of vocal music, Mr. Balliett has written for some of New York’s best singers, including Grammy winners Estelí Gomez and Dashon Burton, members of the Trinity Wall Street Choir, as well as young breakout singers Charlotte Mundy, Davone Tines, and Ariadne Greif. Recent projects include the evening-length A Gnostic Passion, written with his twin brother and commissioned by CANTORI NYC, a cycle of songs based on stories from The Brothers Grimm which premiered at the Lucerne Festival, and a series of rap cantatas based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which have been commissioned from musicians across America. He has held composer-in-residence positions with the Lucerne Festival Academy, the Chelsea Music Festival, New Vintage Baroque, the Millennials, and the Colonials. His works have been performed at many major New York venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Juilliard, the Stone, SubCulture, (le) Poisson Rouge, Galapagos, ShapeshifterLab, and Spectrum. Recent premieres include a double bass concerto for Juilliard faculty member Robert Nairn, and a new cantata for members of Les Arts Florissants and Le Jardin des Voix, to be written specifically for William Christie’s personal gardens. Upcoming premieres include a new work for Ensemble ACJW and a new work for Brigid Kibbey and Tony Arnold, to be present by ICE at the Mostly Mozart Festival.

Mr. Balliett has wide-ranging interests, many of which he shares with his twin brother Brad. The two host The Brothers Balliett on WQXR’s Q2; a weekly show exploring new music. The brothers also curate a monthly series at Spectrum on the Lower East Side, featuring many major NYC new music luminaries. Mr. Balliett has given talks at the International Society of Double Bassists on historical performance, conducted many performances of his own works, and tirelessly composes poetry. Alongside his brother and composer Elliot Cole, Mr. Balliett is a member of The Oracle Hysterical, a half-band-half-book-club that has presented hip-hoperas, art-rock song cycles, rap cantatas, and other genre-bending works all over America and Europe. Their most recent endeavor took them to Chicago, where they performed their album Hecuba with the Chicago Composers Orchestra.

Trained as a classical double bass player by Todd Seeber during his time at Harvard, Mr. Balliett maintains an extremely active career as a performer. He has performed as principal or solo double bass with Ensemble Modern, the San Antonio Symphony, Alarm Will Sound, and many other ensembles. He has collaborated with musicians from all walks, ranging from baroque opera at William Christie’s French estate, to tours with pop band Pink Martini, to appearances with MacArthur fellow Steve Coleman at the Newport Jazz Festival. Deeply committed to period instrument performance, Mr. Balliett is also principal bass of the Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Bach Orchestra, 17th century string band ACRONYM, and has appeared as principal bass of Les Arts Florissants, Boston Baroque, the Handel & Haydn Society, and the Washington Cathedral. He performs regularly on the viola da gamba and the violone.


The Board of the Sheep Island Ensemble consists of brilliant, dedicated Friends of the Ensemble: James Moskin, Treasurer; Larisa Leventon, Bridget Killackey, Katie Rayer, Alexander Goldmark, J. Warfield Price, Emory Edwards, and Miles Chapin.

Logo and design concept by David Frankel. Photography on this site primarily by Allison Stock.

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