Thursday, December 23, 2010
Joseph Haydn, the father of the string quartet and the man credited with creating chamber music as we know it, probably didn’t foresee his compositions performed in a loungey coffeehouse.
He would have been pleased.
The form of classical music is performed with a small number of instruments, one to each part, historically in a small room with an intimate atmosphere – a palace chamber, a private salon or a musician’s living room. The (now defunct) Ol’ Factory Café in Sand City fits right in.
Last year, Chamber Music Monterey Bay put on a concert at Ol’ Factory because of a grant the nonprofit received from a national chamber music organization, granting the San Francisco-based Cypress String Quartet was in-residence for a year.
“One of the commitments was to bring chamber music to alternative venues,” explains John Newkirk, CMMB’s executive director (and only paid employee). “The Sunset Center is a beautiful place to put on a formal, classic concert, but it lacks the personal touch that we think is essential to the health and the longevity of this art form.”
Generally, CMMB, now in its 44th season, presents five annual concerts at the Sunset Center in Carmel. But in an effort to present chamber music to a new audience, Newkirk contacted Morgan Christopher about hosting a recital at Ol’ Factory and in January 2009, the four musicians performed for a youngish-crowd that dined on American-style comfort food and drank California wines and microbrews.
“That was part of the plan: Get chamber music to people who come to coffee shops,” Newkirk says. “Our average age at our concerts is over 55. The average at this event was 35.”
And they wore more piercings and denim than those at the Sunset Center. “The hipster crowd,” Newkirk says. “It was a success.”
Such a success, in fact, that it was standing-room only. “That’s one of the best parts of the story,” Newkirk says. “We literally could not fit everyone in. We didn’t charge admission; we passed the basket. We asked people to put in $5. I think people put in $10.”
The performers carried the audience through high-energy, upbeat movements and powerful, contemplative periods. The musicians responded well to the alternative setting, Newkirk says: “What a difference it makes! You generally go to a concert of this music and it seems very staid. You politely clap and then walk out the door. This was laughing and joking and talking with the performers about the fact that this fiddle is 400 years old.”
CMMB would like to present one concert like this a year. But it needs the right venue: one that can accommodate about 100 people and serve food and drinks and draw a new audience.
“Chamber music has a connotation of dusty, old fashioned, square – and it ain’t. And we know this and we’re trying to have people see the light. We know that if they experience it once, they’re going to get turned on by it.”