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CLASSICAL  December 2006

CLASSICAL December 2006

Subject:

Boston Globe Article on Alternative CM Spaces

From:

Stephen Bacher <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 7 Dec 2006 07:51:34 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (142 lines)

   CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

   Change of venue is music to their ears
   By Jeremy Eichler, Globe Staff  |  December 7, 2006

   On Tuesday night, I attended two richly satisfying concerts
   without stepping foot in a concert hall. The first was a new
   music program presented by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project
   at the Moonshine Room of the popular Club Cafe in the South End;
   the second was a performance by the up-and-coming Parker String
   Quartet in the Lizard Lounge, a low-slung basement club space
   in Cambridge. Next month, the Firebird Ensemble will perform in
   a local barbecue joint.

   What is classical music doing in these spaces? It may sound
   quirky or even perverse, but it is in fact an excellent idea and
   a growing trend.  Of course Symphony Hall and Jordan Hall are
   in no risk of losing their core constituencies, but they may
   well stand to gain some listeners if this practice continues.

   The logic is clear. In recent years, it has been dawning on
   classical music presenters that the eternal quest for new audiences
   is being stymied by an image problem. Especially for young or
   otherwise uninitiated listeners, a major barrier to entry is not
   the music itself but the packaging. Concert halls are too often
   seen as solemn temples of high art governed by a formal, rigid,
   and altogether foreign code of etiquette. For many it is more
   than just a fear of clapping in the wrong place; it is a larger
   sense that a new subculture must be learned before they will be
   able to enjoy a live performance.

   What would h appen if you simply brought the music to the places
   where these listeners were already comfortable and familiar? The
   cellist Matt Haimovitz was the first player I know of to put
   this question to a sustained and rigorous test. In the age-old
   folk-tradition, he packed up his cello and drove around the
   country playing Bach Suites as well as bracing contemporary music
   in cafes, bars, and clubs.

   I once heard him play in a country music venue in Nashville
   and in a pizza parlor in Jackson, Miss. It was surreal to watch
   baseball-capped frat boys, innocently out for a slice of pizza,
   wander into a passionate performance of microtonal music. But
   by and large, audiences seemed to love it and responded viscerally
   to such direct contact with a top-flight performer. It was not
   about finding a new performance gimmick, but about stripping
   away the packaging to unleash the music's natural expressive
   power.

   Tapping into some of the same logic, the Boston Modern Orchestra
   Project (or BMOP) is in its third season of presenting concerts
   at Club Cafe. On Tuesday night, the space was packed with a
   lively audience. The atmosphere was bustling, with waitresses
   taking orders for beer and chardonnay as the players were setting
   up onstage.

   This year, the Club Concerts are being curated and hosted by
   Lisa Bielawa, BMOP's new composer in residence. This is good
   news for fans of the series, as Bielawa not only has an inviting
   stage presence as emcee but also a rich network of composer
   connections through her experience as artistic director of the
   MATA Festival of contemporary music in New York City.

   Tuesday's program was packed with music written in the last
   decade by Keeril Makan, Gordon Beeferman, Jocelyn Morlock,
   Roshanne Etezady, Daniel Felsenfeld, and Aaron Trant. The styles
   ran the gamut from the rippling, post-impressionist textures of
   Morlock's "QUOI???" to the highly structured freedom of Trant's
   "Dictit," which combined elements of 12-tone music with
   improvisation.

   One highlight of the program was the introduction of Bielawa's
   own "Synopsis Project" in which she will write short studies for
   about 20 BMOP players over the course of her residency. The first
   two in the series were highly engaging, and it will be interesting
   to see how this project unfolds . Bielawa herself is also a
   vocalist, and she performed an alluring excerpt from Beeferman's
   "West of Winter," singing in a vocal quartet for which she had
   pre-recorded the other three parts.  Pianist Sarah Bob, violinist
   Gabriela Diaz, and percussionist Aaron Trant were the other brave
   performers of the evening .

   Programs like this one seem to breathe more comfortably in
   unconventional spaces, where the freshly minted music can stand
   free of the mammoth shadow cast by the standard repertoire. The
   presentation format also seemed just about right. In a small but
   telling detail, the two Bielawa pieces on the program were being
   given their first performances but there was no mention anywhere
   of that weighty phrase: "world premiere." The concert was more
   akin to dropping by a gallery where one could casually sample
   an invigorating swath of music from our time.

   At 10 p.m., about an hour after the BMOP program ended, I was
   being handed a wristband at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, and
   the Parker Quartet, an ensemble of graduate students at New
   England Conservatory who have already gained impressive notice,
   were setting up beneath a pink disco ball suspended from the
   ceiling. First violinist Daniel Chong grabbed a mike and welcomed
   the crowd, admitting this was the largest young audience they
   had ever had at a concert.

   Indeed, the players in this impressively talented quartet are
   in their early to mid-20s. It is a sad fact that students choosing
   a career in classical music today by and large do not get to
   perform for members of their own generation. Friends might show
   up to support you at a concert, but they are generally more
   likely to be found at places, well, like the Lizard Lounge.

   It was refreshing to see the Parkers play through some of their
   repertoire -- movements of works by Schumann, Mozart, Ligeti,
   Shostakovich, Ravel -- in this setting. After the quartet blazed
   through a Scherzo from Schumann's A-minor quartet, a guy in the
   corner with a beer offered a spontaneous shout of "Awesome!" The
   cellist Kee-Hyun Kim later drew some laughs from the crowd when
   he introduced the final Haydn work by announcing they were going
   to "kick it old school."

   But beyond the alternative space and the banter with the audience,
   what distinguished the Parkers' set was their fiercely committed
   performances. They conveyed an appealing sense of urgency in
   Ravel's Quartet, and brought out the rugged extraterrestrial
   beauty of Ligeti's First Quartet. These qualities come through
   all the more strongly in such an intimate venue. If you had
   closed your eyes during many parts of the set, the biggest
   difference from what you might hear in a concert hall was the
   rapt silence. There were no coughs, no cellphones.

   Alternative spaces are not a panacea -- there can be obvious
   logistical problems, bad PA systems, obnoxious or indifferent
   crowds, and myriad other challenges -- but they are spicing up
   the scene while allowing, at times, for a rare directness of
   connection with both new audiences and traditional ones. Ultimately,
   the battle for the next generation of listeners should be won
   or lost based on the quality of the music being offered and the
   persuasiveness of the performances. Sometimes this requires
   slicing through the traditional packaging that, when viewed from
   the outside, can too often be mistaken for the concert experience
   itself.

   Jeremy Eichler can be reached at [log in to unmask]

"Stephen Bacher" <[log in to unmask]>

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