You Say You Want a Revolution?

Regional Classical musicians converge monthly for relaxed bar sessions

Sep 30, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Once a month, crowds gather at Northside Tavern for a hot session of trio sonatas and brass quintets. Or wind ensembles and string quartets. Or operatic arias.

On a recent Sunday evening, an audience decked out in jeans, multiple tattoos and piercings ambled past the Cincinnati Wind Quintet warming up to perform a Viktor Ewald piece. Also on the play list: Beethoven’s “String Quartet Opus 18 No. 6,” Ibert wind quintets and the Mendelssohn Octet, featuring musicians from the Indianapolis, Springfield and West Virginia Symphonies, the Dayton Philharmonic and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

It’s another evening of Classical Revolution, Cincinnati’s branch of a growing national network that bypasses the concert hall for bars and nightclubs. And the audience’s ages skew well under 40, precisely the elusive demographic that symphony marketing directors have been slavering for. Advantage: Classical Revolution. It’s free, the audience comes and goes and the bar keeps serving.

Violist Vince Scacchetti is the evening’s emcee; he’s also talent wrangler, scheduler, logistician and visionary. And Charith Premawardhana, Classical Revolution’s founder in San Francisco, just happens to be a buddy of his from their college days at Ohio State.

Scacchetti moved to Cincinnati three years ago after scraping by with freelance and teaching gigs. He landed a job as a sales rep for Amati Strings and a place in Pop/ Rock band The Newbies’ string section. But Chamber music never lost its attraction, and his widening circle of friends included young musicians from across the region who were eager to play.

“The Classical music scene here is on a par with any other large city,” Scacchetti says. “There are a lot of good players in town, and they’re friends of mine. It just needed a point person and I’m good at organizing things. We’d been looking to do something here and Charith said he’d do what he could.”

Locking in Northside Tavern was easy, according to Scacchetti: “I just talked to (owner) Ed Rush, told him about articles in The New York Times and a string publication, and he agreed. We’ve been packing them in since July.”

The first Classical Revolution program featured Ravel string quartets, tango arrangements and read-throughs of Bach’s “Brandenberg Concertos” Nos. 3 and 6. In the audience that evening was John Spencer, board chairman of Concert Nova, an organization that promotes performances of new and rarely performed Chamber works. He’s now one of CR’s biggest boosters and sees it as a natural tie-in with his Concert Nova work.

“I have the same concerns about audiences that people who run orchestras do,” Spencer says. “When I saw what was going on at Northside Tavern, I felt like this was of a piece with what Concert Nova is doing.”

The brass quintet settles into the Ewald piece and the audience immediately quiets down — conversation doesn’t compete well with brass, but the Trillium Quartet isn’t as lucky. Loud yakking and more than occasional glass breakage nearly drown out their lovely reading of Beethoven’s “Opus 18 No. 6.” Despite the seemingly raucous crowd, the four women get a huge ovation.

Afterwards, cellist Christina Coletta shrugs it off.

“You go into a zone,” she says of the clamor. “You can be as distracted by the silence in a concert hall as in a noisy room. It’s about communicating with the other three people.”

Violinist Amelia Chan, concertmaster of the West Virginia Symphony, points out that “Mozart himself had his pieces performed … where audiences would eat, drink and talk.” He loved audience spontaneity, and Chan garnered some unique responses when she performed Mozart’s violin concerto: “That was the first time I had audience members get up and spon taneouslydance.”

CR draws a crowd of neighborhood regulars, including Lisa Hilton, her husband and her infant son, Larry.

“We were sitting outside the bar, and we couldn’t believe what we were hearing” she says. “It was the ‘Ode to Joy.’ We sing it to Larry all the time.”

The atmosphere takes on the spontaneous energy of a Rock concert. As musicians sail through a difficult passage in the final movement of Mendelssohn’s Octet, three string players at the bar hoot their approval and slap high fives. Air cellos and violins are out in force, and the crowd roars its approval at the movement’s conclusion.

“Just being around other enthusiastic performers is inspiring,” says Edna Nettleton, who played the first CR concert. “When we get too bogged down with our own lives we forget how much fun it is to simply make music together.”

Classical Revolution has a regular gig the first Sunday night of the month, and musicians are clamoring to perform in spite of not getting paid. Scacchetti is all for changing people’s perceptions of Classical music. He’s emphatic that Classical Revolution isn’t out to undermine the established Classical music programs, and he hopes that one or two CR listeners will want to check out Chamber music at the Taft Museum of Art, the Linton Series or the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

The silence, though, might be deafening.

“It’s what you think it is, and it isn’t,” Scacchetti says. “You hear the same music but at a Classical Revolution performance, you can chat, you can have a drink, you can go outside, you can yell if you really like it — and I encourage you to.”

Emilia Chan agrees: “Serious music or not, heartfelt reaction to any music is always the right reaction.”

And the audience is up close in more than the usual way.

“At a Rock concert, you have people who want to hang out with the band,” Scacchetti says. “Well, here the band’s hanging out with you.”

Classical Revolution occurs the first Sunday of each month at Northside Tavern. Get event and venue details here.