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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: May 3, 2010 Archive

The Parker Quartet Step Outside of the Concert Hall

Posted at 2:37 PM on May 3, 2010 by Laura Ciotti
Filed under: Concerts, Parker Quartet

The Parker Quartet performed at the "non-traditional" (at least for classical musicians) Varsity Theater in Minneapolis on April 15. Read the quartet's previous entry



Karen Kim, violin


Karen KimOf all of the events we have had for MPR, my favorite was our performance at the Varsity Theater. The Varsity Theater is a music club in Dinkytown that's known for presenting an eclectic mix of high-quality music and events. Every season, our quartet likes to perform at a few non-traditional venues, such as the Varsity, in an effort to bring our music to an audience that doesn't normally set foot in a concert hall. Conversely, these events are also a great opportunity for the regular concert-goer to step out of the hall and experience classical music in a new environment.

These performances are also just so much fun for us. I always feel like we're celebrating what I love most about playing in a string quartet: the incredible scope, depth, and variety of the repertoire. We played selections from works by Haydn, Beethoven, Dvorak, Ravel, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky. It's simply amazing to me how different the sound world of each of these composers is, and I love being able to experience them all in one program.

After the performance, we had the opportunity to hang out with the audience and capitalize on one of the great perks of playing in a club: the transition to the post-concert celebration is absolutely effortless. One audience member told me that this was his first classical music concert in a very long time. Would he have made the leap back to classical music if it had been in a concert hall and not at the Varsity? I wish that it would have crossed my mind at the time to ask him. Regardless, I'm pretty sure he had a great time, as did we. Many thanks to everyone at MPR who made this event happen.

Jessica Bodner, viola

Jessica BodnerWhen we play on "normal" concerts series, we can usually expect what is going to happen. Not to say that each concert does not feel different - on the contrary, the acoustics of the venue, the vibe of the audience, how full the hall is, the type of repertoire we're playing, etc., will make each concert feel unique and special. No two concerts are the same. However, we generally can expect some things: we will enter from offstage, come out to applause, bow, play the first piece, hope the audience claps, bow, leave the stage, tune, rinse and repeat.

However, since we have embarked on the journey of playing in non-traditional venues, such as the Varsity Theatre in Minneapolis, we have learned that there is a good chance that we will not ever fully know what to expect beforehand. Actually, the same conditions are present: acoustics of the venue, vibe of audience, all of the things I listed before, but somehow, the margin of what can happen seems so much greater. This is what makes it such an adventure and potentially so exciting.

I'll give you an example from a few years ago. It was the fist club show for our residency at Barbés, in Brooklyn, and since we were about to record the complete string quartets of Ligeti, and we knew the audience there could handle it, we decided to play all of Ligeti's quartets. It was so exciting. The tiny room was packed as if people were sardines, and at one point, it got so warm that someone actually fainted. Luckily, I think that person was totally ok. The thing I was struck with, however, was the sense of community - while we were playing and explaining a little about the pieces, it felt like everyone there was really part of one community with us to take this adventure into Ligeti's quartets, and then when this person fainted, the same sense of community was present. Everyone around this person made sure everything was ok and that the person was taken care of, and then when they were sure that everything was ok, the Ligeti continued. Of course, there's also the story of the drunk guy who knocked over Dan's stand, but I won't go into that one....

Fortunately, the Varsity is not nearly as small as Barbés, I don't think anyone fainted, and our stands were out of reach, but I still felt that there was a real sense of community for the exploration of what we were doing, and for that, I'm very thankful.

Daniel Chong, violin

Daniel ChongThe moment I walked into Varsity Theater I was struck by how beautiful the space is. It is a space that amazingly blends an urban music venue with old world charm. If you haven't checked it out I highly recommend it. As beautiful as the place was it was not the most ideal setting for an acoustic performance. There is a lot material soaking up sound - carpet, curtains, velvet . . . This of course is the point at which we decide as a group whether or not we want to use mics and their sound system during our performance so that we wouldn't sound muffled. The space is quite large too which made it even harder for us to fill it with sound. I really am not of fan of having our sound amplified. Somehow it takes away from the purity of what we are doing sonically. The nuances, resonance, and color of these incredible instruments somehow get lost when filtered through amps. On the other hand, you want to be heard and you don't want the audience struggling to hear you so we decided to find a way to be projected in a way that was not too obvious. I don't know for sure how it sounded out there, but I think the night was still successful and the technician was very helpful and patient. As I am always adapting the way I listen according to each space, I am sure the audience did the same. We got to play an eclectic mix of really great chamber music so I hope that those who attended walked away realizing how different music can be even within the same genre. I really enjoyed the experience and it's a great feeling to be playing in some alternative venues as nice as the Varsity Theater in the Twin Cities.

Kee-Hyun Kim, cello

Kee Hyun KimA lot of time has passed since the last time I wrote something for MPR. A lot of things have happened in a period spanning only about a month and a half - we are now definitely in the thick of spring!

The quartet has been busy as well. We've been traveling a lot since the beginning of March - we've been to Blacksburg, VA, Helena, MT, Logan, UT, La Crosse, WI, and most recently to Chicago.

A lot of the work we've done at these places have involved some sort of outreach work. We were at the above-mentioned places for about a week each (with the exception of VA and Chicago), each week culminating in a concert. The rest of the time was spent doing outreach activities in the public schools.

I call this past month the 'Month of Outreach.' Even when we were home, we were doing outreach around the Twin Cities as part of our residency with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as going up to St Cloud a couple of times.

Outreach can be a very difficult and all-consuming activity, especially if you're doing 3-4 of these in one day! In this situation, not only are we performers, but we must act as educators, disciplinarians, and public speakers! This is not really something that is taught at Conservatory... However, we've been around the block long enough to know what to expect.

In order to have a successful outreach, you must present it in a way that will make it accessible, entertaining, and 'cool' to the children (as well as being educational). This means curtailing and adjusting programs based on musical experience, education, age/grade, number of children, etc. But, even with this knowledge, you never really know what to expect until you're actually there - you must go in prepared to be flexible.

This blog posting was supposed to center around our performance at the Varsity Theater, which happened last week. I mention our experiences with outreach in public schools above, because our approach to these is actually quite similar to the way we prepare for a performance at an 'alternative' venue, such as the Varsity. My approach to this, is to basically think of our audience as grown-up children. Attention spans, usually longer in grown-ups, will be shorter in those not accustomed to listening to classical music. And the whole point of playing in 'alternative' venues is to target an audience demographic that normally wouldn't come to a concert in a more traditional setting - so we have to tailor our program so that it will leave a lasting impression on someone who might not ever listen to classical music.

If we left the Varsity that evening having turned even just 2 or 3 people on to classical music, I would be happy.

Oh yes, and one of the perks of playing at a place like this? Drinking on the job! And, there's something very cool about being called a 'band member,' and getting wristbands that say 'VIP.'