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A 'classical revolution' is spreading in Baltimore

Local ensembles are taking traditional music into non-traditional spaces

October 19, 2012|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Over the course of a Classical Revolution night at Joe Squared — the gigs typically run three hours or more — surprises can happen. Shodekeh, Baltimore's celebrated beatboxer, often stops by; when he adds his percussive vocalism to a rhythmically kinetic piece by Bach, interesting sparks fly.

The first Sunday gig in October for Classical Revolution coincided with the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's death. The musicians seized on that timing and offered readings from Poe's works as interludes between the music.

"A couple from the bar asked if they could read poetry with us," Dreisin said. "That was cool."

Federal Hill Parlor Series

Interaction with patrons is a given when the Federal Hill Parlor Series has an event, especially one held in a house.

"The Parlor Series started because I was walking my dog around Federal Hill, seeing pianos in windows, but never seeing anyone playing them," Ihnen said. "I thought: 'What if we performed in these houses?' "

One program Ihnen devised matches a reading of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" with vocal music from his era to complement a dinner party. Hosts are invited to collaborate with Ihnen on devising musical programs built around particular themes or culinary choices.

Typically, the musicians will perform three or four sets — "Nothing so long that girls in heels can't stand through it," Ihnen said — and the selections will be woven throughout a sit-down dinner or a buffet. There might be as few as eight guests, as many as 40.

"When you perform in a home, people are not sitting that far away from you," Ihnen said. "Musicians find it very different when you can see their faces. People can see you thinking, so you need to be telling a great story through the music. I want to curate programming that is interesting enough on Friday night that you're still talking about on Monday morning."

Ihnen is now working on a plan to present concerts later this year at the Sobo Cafe in Federal Hill.

"There are live-entertainment issues in Federal Hill," she said. "The new owners had to petition for a license so we could perform there. If they get it, we will probably perform on an off-night, when it is not too busy and people can listen and eat easily."

Vivre Musicale

Art galleries have also proved to be a good fit for the Parlor Series and other groups in the area, such as Vivre Musicale, which received an award from Chamber Music America and ASCAP last year for its adventurous programming.

In addition to performing in a more traditional setting, a church in Mount Vernon, this organization of young vocalists and instrumentalists (Ihnen sometimes sings with them) has held events at the gallery called 834 On The Avenue in Hampden, as well as the bar Jay's on Read Street and branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"We appreciate performing on a stage in a beautiful concert hall, but times have changed," said Jorge Toro, a tenor who co-founded Vivre Musicale. "We want to make the classical music world more interesting. We try to be very open and very liberal with what we do in terms of programming, our attire and where we perform."


Departing from convention comes naturally to the musicians involved in these sorts of ensembles. James Young, a composer and grad student at Peabody, is artistic director of new music group called outerspaces. Performances are held at the Mount Vernon Music Space, which has studios for rehearsal and recording, as well as a room for performances.

"There is no stage," Young said. "During our last concert, I could have reached out with my right hand from where I was performing to grab the audience. A raised stage has a chance of immediately alienating the audience, by literally placing the music on a higher level. We want to bring 'art music' down off its pedestal."

Like a lot musicians in town, Young collaborates with more than one ensemble. He has written music that will be premiered this month by the newly formed Occasional Symphony, which counts Dreisin among its board members.

"It's incredibly ballsy to do something alt-classical with a full orchestra," Young said.

Occasional Symphony

Founded by Norman Huynh and Stephen Mulligan, two conductors working on their master's degrees at Peabody, the Occasional Symphony is made up of conservatory students chosen by audition. The orchestra plans to perform on select holidays and other significant dates — with music to match the occasion — and in nontraditional venues.

The inaugural concert will be a multimedia event on Halloween. The roughly 50-piece orchestra will accompany the spooky silent film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," playing new music by Young and fellow Peabody composer Scott Lee, as well as excerpts from standard repertoire. The performance will be at the 2640 Space, a DIY performance spot used by many arts groups.

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