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The Classical Revolution is Coming…to Pubs, Cafes and Art Galleries Near You

By Louise Burton on Nov 19, 2013 12:00 AM EST

The founders of Classical Revolution wanted to present classical music in a much more relaxed, informal environment than is usually encountered in traditional concert halls, where the audience sits in neat rows to listen to a group of tuxedo-clad musicians on the stage.

In the moments before a traditional performance, the murmur in the hall dies away. The conductor raises his hands and pauses. It gets ominously quiet in the hall. The conductor glares at the orchestra. The solemnity of the moment is such that no one dares make a sound. Moments like this make me want to yell something, to stand up and crack a joke about super-conductors and semi-conductors, anything to break the ice a little.

And then there's the audience. If you clap at the wrong time, you might get glared at. And forget cheering in the middle of a piece for a solo you particularly like--it just isn't done.

Of course, there are times when silence before and during a performance is exactly what the music needs.

But for the other times, there is Classical Revolution. Started by Charith Premawardhana in San Francisco, the idea was for musicians to gather in non-traditional venues like pubs, coffehouses, and art galleries to play chamber music. Audience members are encouraged to get comfortable, have a cup of coffee and a scone, clap between movements if the spirit moves them, and chat with the musicians onstage.

Breaking through the invisible fourth wall between the performers and the audience is what Classical Revolution is all about. Since its origins in 2006, the movement has spread throughout the U.S. and even has several chapters in Europe. To locate a chapter near you, visit classicalrevolution.org.

I recently spoke with the executive director of the Chicago chapter, Allie Deaver-Petchenik. She said that the popularity of rock and pop music means that people are becoming used to concerts with more informality and back-and-forth between performers and audience members. "It's entered the collective consciousness and many other classical groups are moving toward that," she said. "We're presenting the same wonderful music--for those who need or prefer the different format."

However, Deaver-Petchenik does not see the Chicago group as abolishing any traditional music performance practices, except for that imaginary fourth wall.

"I don't necessarily share the revolutionary zeal to bring anything down," she said. Rather, the revolution is in presenting a different option for listening to classical music, for those who desire it. "We think this option can coexist peacefully with traditional performances," she said.

A typical concert given by Classcial Revolution: Chicago starts with a couple of 45-minute sets performed by established chamber groups. The second half is devoted to a chamber jam. Musicians are encouraged to sign up in advance on the Classcial Revolution: Chicago website for the jam sessions.

Most of the musicians who participate in the chamber jams are students at local music conservatories or young professional musicians, but the age and skill level varies. "We have had members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform with us," Deaver-Petchenik said.

The next Classical Revolution: Chicago event will be held at Jerry's in Wicker Park on December 8. The group will hold "Bach-xing Day," their version of the British holiday Boxing Day, on December 26. This all-Bach chamber music jam session happens at Cole's Bar in Chicago's Logan Square.

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TagsClassical Revolution, Classical Revolution: Chicago, Charith Premawardhana, Allie Deaver-Petchenik, Jerry's, Cole's Bar

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