More mavericks

from readers blogMore suggestions from the many I’ve gotten, after I asked who in classical music is doing things in new ways. I’ll post all the suggestions I get, though not all at once.

The suggestion I posted: Ad Hoc, a chamber ensemble in Rochester. (I’ll have more)

One thought, before going further. Many people mention performances in clubs. Nothing wrong with that. Classical musicians have been playing in clubs for more than a decade, and clearly they’re bringing classical music closer to everyday life.

But because this has been going on for so long, it might be helpful to ask a few questions. We’ve had years of experiments, new departures, striking innovations. Now we need to learn from what we’ve done, and develop sustainable change.

So when you play in a club, what do you get from it? And what happens next? Did you attract a new audience — maybe an audience new to classical music — or did your existing audience come to the club to hear you?

Do you keep on playing in clubs? If the answer is yes, how often will you do it? Will this be an adjunct to your normal performances — maybe a way to get people to come to them — or are you building something new, that will stand on its own?

And if you’re building something to stand on its own, how will you make it sustainable? Which more bluntly means: How will you earn income from it? The only way to do that, I think, would be to build your fan base, so you can move from small clubs to large ones, and then into small theaters. But is anyone doing that? If anyone is — or even is thinking about it, or would like help in doing it — please let me know! I think a big part of our future might lie in that direction.

On to the suggestions:

From Rick Robinson, in a blog comment:

I’m really inspired by San Francisco violist Charith Premawardhana who immediately recognized the potential for a concert at the Revolution Cafe in the Mission district to reach an audience resistent to the establishment culture. Six years later Classical Revolution has at least 35 established, volunteer chapters worldwide in bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants, which has allowed each of us to experiment with what I call New Classical, presentation formats that make the difference for curious music lovers. Now if we can only secure funding to professionalize the movement.

(So there’s another road to sustainability: get funding. Though I’d think that without an earned income component, a project can’t really support itself. Or do we see playing in clubs — which is what Classical Revolution does — as essentially a charitable endeavor, something we’re giving to the community, which has to be paid for by big-hearted donors?)

From Brent Straughan, in an email:

Dear Greg,

I wish I did know some classical music mavericks, alas, besides myself, I can think of no one.

I achieve this “status”, in my own mind, by writing lyrically and melodically – a skill which has long been thought lost, and is thoroughly beneath the contempt and intellectual rigour of those in charge of music schools and orchestras today.

I have sent students to such people who were told that if they continued to write “like that” they would not be admitted to the composition programme, and would have to leave music school.

Audience, however, is quite opposite minded, and clutches desperately at melody and recognizable pattern, whenever it can find it, in order to make sense of its world.

From Kira Grunenberg, on Twitter:

I never chimed in this morning on your prompt for “mold breaking” classical artists: Do you know @breakofreality?

(Break of Reality, on its website, describes itself as “a cello rock band”:  “Their sound is cinematic, subdued and heavy all at once, and their live audiences are equally diverse; fans of Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, and Yo-Yo Ma are finally getting acquainted.”)

From Rosebrook Classical, via Twitter:

@jadesimmons should definitely be on that list.

(To which Jade responded: “I totally concur :)” She’ll certainly be one of my own choices, when I get to posting more of them.)

And from Marc van der Heijde on Twitter:

Pianist Daria van den Bercken certainly applies. She recently gave a talk @TEDxAms It went online

(Daria, whom I met briefly in Amsterdam, does striking things, like having her piano pulled by a truck while she plays for delighted people on the street.)

That’s all for now. More to come! And so many thanks to everyone who sent these thoughts to me.

Other posts in this series:

Looking for mavericks

Breaking the mold” (about Ad Hoc, a chamber ensemble that describes its performances as jams)

Mavericks nominations” (the first group of readers’ suggestions)

Path-breaking piano curriculum“(about a truly astounding program at a Canadian university)

Mavericks — continuing” (still more from readers)

We personalize what music is” (about the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, which is breaking 

A lot of mavericks” (final nominations from readers — who suggested more than 50 people and groups)

Final mavericks — Jade Simmons and a Go-Go symphony” (final only for 2012, because we’ll resume this in 2013)

Still more mavericks (resuming in 2013, with marvelous things from two major institutions, the Toronto Symphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment)

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  1. says

    Hi Greg and thanks for the shoutout Rick!
    The fact is that the majority of the over 800 “concerts” we’ve presented through Classical Rev in San Francisco over the past 6 years are weekly (ad-hoc) chamber music reading sessions / classical open mic sessions at our home venue, Revolution Cafe, where we have now presented over 300 such “jam” events.

    The musicians we draw are well seasoned chamber musicians who are conservatory trained or “home-schooled” high level amateur players, as well as professional symphony musicians and international concert soloists.
    The common thread between these musicians is that they are passionate about chamber music and see the merit involved with making music in an atmosphere that is fun, casual, and welcoming to the uninitiated listener.
    They are happy to play in this kind of environment for usually no more than a travel stipend and free drinks.
    For the musicians, it feels much more like a social outing than a gig.

    Due to the exposure we gained through public performances in our first year, and thanks to feature write-ups in such publications as the SF Chronicle, Strings Magazine, and the NY Times, we have been able to continue to reach more people to attend our events, play at our events, and start their own Classical Revolution chapters in other cities.
    The other fortunate side effect is that we began receiving invitations to put on programmed (and rehearsed, and paid) concerts at clubs, galleries, museums, and private events.
    What you described, Greg, is pretty much the evolution that took place with our organization.
    We started by presenting reading sessions in a cafe, which led to performance invitations in galleries and small clubs, and now we are presenting in major clubs, museums, and concert series’ in the Bay Area and around Northern California.
    This is pretty similar to how a rock band would approach building a name – start in small clubs, build a fan base, and expand to larger venues and other exciting opportunities.

    This past Tuesday our ensemble in residence, the Musical Art Quintet, performed at Yoshi’s Jazz Club (the most prominent “jazz” venue in SF), where we received about 150 paying audience on a Tuesday night for a chamber music concert, most of which were people we did NOT personally know.
    We were given a respectable $$$$ guarantee from the venue and were able to pay our quintet and the other group who performed, led by Matthew Stewart, a colleague of mine from SF Conservatory whose classical guitar training has led to a successful singer / songwriter career.

    After a successful fundraiser and recent support from some new individual donors, we are now at the point now that we are able to guarantee decent payment for our musicians, supplementing payment from venues, which is typically pretty low, while our organizers are still working mostly as volunteers.
    I am motivated primarily by getting music happening in more places and reaching new audiences as well as supporting the music community, thus the big bulk of our fundraising efforts have gone towards paying artist fees.
    As we build our budget, we will be able to support our staff so that we can continue to do more and better programming, while keeping the spirit of performing for audiences with the unbridled enthusiasm and joy that has become the hallmark of our organization.

    In terms of in-reach, we are not specifically trying to get people to come to concert halls.
    I feel that the club is a suitable alternative that meets the desires of the alternative audience that is out there who has yet to realize, or has recently realized, how much they like classical music!

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concert hall setting, except that the institutions have a tendency to create an alienating effect between musicians and audiences (and management!).
    Were trying to put on concerts of great music with low overhead and high impact, reaching the audience on their own terms / level, and creating new connections that will continue to bear fruit over the years.

    There are many young musicians working in these areas right now.
    I feel that the DIY approach has become necessary because there are so many super-talented young musicians continuing to come out of conservatories with fewer and fewer opportunities to perform in the more traditional institutions.

    I know at least 2 people (who happen to be Classical Revolution directors in their home cities) who are currently working on dissertations focused on the topic of presenting classical music in alternative venues.
    I’d be happy to introduce you to them if you’re interested in talking with them.
    Sarah Robinson (Classical Rev LA)
    Laura Sabo (Classical Rev Cincinnati)

    I’d also recommend you talk to London-based Gabriel Prokofiev (Sergei’s grandson) who besides being a composer himself as well as a club DJ, runs an organization called Nonclassical which serves both as a record label and club concert promotion company. @gprokofiev
    Another good person to talk to is Joshua Kohl, who runs the Degenerate Art Ensemble based in Seattle and conducts chamber orchestra concerts in alternative venues (small theaters and beyond).
    There is a lot of cool stuff happening in Chicago these days, some of which I’ve seen recommended to you on twitter.
    I’d like to mention Dominic Johnson, who besides running the New Millenium Chamber Orchestra, performs frequently in club settings, recently in collaboration with Mason Bates and his Mercury Soul project.
    Finally, I’d like to give a shoutout to Judd Greenstein and New Amsterdam Records who’ve been supporting the new music community by putting out recordings on their label as well presenting their artists in alternative venues in NYC.

    Charith Premawardhana
    Founder, Classical Revlution

    • says

      Terrific, Charith. Thanks so much for this. Very informative. And impressive! I’m grateful to you for taking so much time to educate me, in such great detail.

      And aren’t you and I overdue to meet? We were trying to make that happen a while ago. Time to do that again!

      I met Gabe Prokofiev in London a year and a half ago, at one of his shows. Sponsored by the London Symphony! (WHo are lightyears ahead, in the future of classical music department, of US orchestras.) He’s a pioneer. And of course the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment does a lot in London clubs. And the Roundhouse puts on classical concerts in its important pop-music space. And that’s just the start of what’s going on in London, which I think may be ahead of any US city, future of classical music-wise.

    • says

      Thanks for all your suggestions, Etienne, here and in your other comment. Daria’s been mentioned before, but I love when someone is named by more than one person. That makes for a strong endorsement.

  2. says

    oh, and certainly not to forget: Francesco Tristano, and I would also certainly add Stephen Malinowski, Bjork visualizer and someone whose classical music Youtube channel got over 100 million views and countless enthusiastic and moving comments.

    • Evan says

      And I add Francesco Tristano’s teacher — Bruce Brubaker. The two of them gave a truly remarkable show at Poisson Rouge in New York that overlapped a whole lot of classical music. It managed to be shocking and beautiful. Go figure.

      • says

        I got to know Bruce when he was at Juilliard, and he’s a wonderful spirit. He heads the piano department at New England Conservatory, where he certainly was an unconventional choice. Imagine a major music school picking a piano department head who’s a new music specialist. And also unconventional in so many ways. Glad you suggested him!

  3. says

    Greg, many great ones mentioned here already: Judd Greenstein, Gabriel Prokofiev, Daria Van den Bercken, Charith of course, Mason Bates – I’d add Francesco Tristano who mixes things up as a pianist, composer and DJ. And Uffe Savery over at the Copenhagen Phil, a true rock star (as member of the Safri Duo) who did maybe my favorite flash mob of all times:
    Plus, I’d add Stephen Malinowski, whose classical music Youtube channel got over 100 million views and countless enthusiastic and moving comments. Many more in the years to come, it’s an exciting time!