Classical Music Reinvented
Classical Revolution brings revered works of music to a new audience.
On November 12th, 2006, a revolution began in San Francisco, California. Propelled by violins and violas rather than politics or religion, this movement sparked from a simple source: one musician’s desire to share beautiful music in a raw, new way.
Named for the charming and quirky Revolution Café in which it began, Classical Revolution brings expertly played chamber music to bars, coffee shops, and other casual venues. On any given Monday night, visitors to the Café in San Francisco can be seen sipping drinks, reading books, chatting with friends, or simply relaxing while taking in the works of Bach and Mozart played by an ensemble of highly-trained musicians. It’s an intimate and untraditional setting, one where live classical music was almost never heard before Classical Revolution began its work.
And that’s the point, says the organization’s founder, Charith Premawardhana, a professional violist who graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. “The goal was to find ways to have fun playing music and for audiences to have fun listening,” he says. Prior to Classical Revolution becoming a fixture in San Francisco and many other cities around the world, audience members who wanted to hear classical music performed live would most often have to buy pricey tickets and attend orchestral performances in a formal concert hall setting. “Many people are turned off [by that],” says Premawardhana. “The sense of elitism and stuffiness, the fact that you have to dress up and can’t move around during the performance. I feel that music doesn’t need all that, the razzmatazz of it all,” he continues. “Music can exist on its own merit.”
Music for the people
Premawardhana describes an average Classical Revolution event as “casual and fun. People can feel free to enjoy a beverage and speak in low voices. They can go use the bathroom or get up and leave whenever they want.”
Musicians performing on any given night tend to be virtuosic professionals who have recently graduated from some of the world’s best music schools, says Premawardhana. “They’re highly trained musicians who don’t hold one of the few full-time music jobs available,” he describes. “We have a core group of players for each session, but we keep it open for others to spontaneously sit in and play. Each night is a mix of performance, jam session, and open mic.”
Though much of the music comes from famous composers such as Beethoven and Brahms, Classical Revolution ensembles play a wide and adventurous array of pieces beyond that standard repertoire. “We’ve had everything from Mozart piano concertos with 18-piece orchestra to Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time to Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question,” says Premawardhana. “There have also been belly dancers performing with solo piano accompaniment and even an electric violinist who accompanies himself with a modified skateboard that he stomps on for percussion.”
“Each session is different,” he continues. “The repertoire is based on who’s around and what they want to play. It’s open to whatever music people want to present.”
Spreading the revolution
Since its inception, the revolution has spread internationally, with thirty Classical Revolution chapters currently operating in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The global expansion wasn’t exactly planned, though. “It started when one of our violists, Mattie Kaiser, said, ‘I want to do this in Portland, Oregon,’ and then others started saying, ‘I want to do this where I live,’” Premawardhana describes.
For Premawardhana, the movement to redefine classical music that began in a small San Francisco café has tremendous global potential. “The general goal moving forward is to keep finding ways to get performance opportunities for musicians, and to help them earn a sustainable living playing music,” he says. “We want to get live music in the public arena and raise public awareness of the art form.”
How can entrepreneurial musicians in India get in on the action and create a Classical Revolution chapter in their own communities? “The two most important things you need are musicians who want to play and a venue who wants to host,” says Premawardhana. From there, it’s simple: “Much of the organization happens on Facebook. Anyone interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org to make contact.”
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.blog comments powered by Disqus