Classical Musicians Performing in Grocery Stores, Bars, and Shopping Malls?

The lagging popularity of classical music has often been blamed on inaccessible, hoity-toity music performed in stuffy concert halls. Today, I came across two articles about classical musicians who have been taking their music to unusual venues in order to reach new audiences – the European orchestra Spira mirabilis and German cellist Alban Gerhardt.

John Terauds wrote an article on TheStar.com about Spira mirabilis, a conductorless ensemble of about 45 musicians who perform surprise “guerrilla concerts” in European malls and public spaces. According to their website, they made a conscious decision to work outside of the mainstream musical circuit so they can present their work to audiences who may be unfamiliar with classical music:

Coming to small towns, lacking a proper theater or concert hall, we often end up playing concerts in places that were not designed to host an event as such; what we also do is performing short “musical intrusions” in places where you would not expect to find classical music and where people had not requested to hear it, like a bar, or the cabin of a travel ship, or a shopping mall… It is not a way to show off or publicise ourselves, but only an attempt to tear down some barriers and offer people – in the most unexpected moments – the opportunity to connect.

Here is a video of Spira mirabilis performing in a public square in Florence, Italy:

On this side of the pond, cellist Alban Gerhardt performed a last-minute concert at Dave’s Market in Ohio City, prior to his performance with the Cleveland Orchestra. Zachary Lewis of The Plain Dealer wrote an article about Gerhardt, who has also played at nontraditional sites in his native Germany. Listeners called in to German radio stations and suggested locations including a pub, school, and maternity ward. The Cleveland Orchestra organized Gerhardt’s grocery store appearance. They will be organizing similar events in the future under the title “Off Stage” concerts. Listeners of Cleveland’s classical music station, WCLV 104.9 FM, will be able to suggest possible venues.

According to the article, Gerhardt enjoyed his unconventional performance. “I actually felt a great presence of an audience… While I was playing, I was thinking I have to do this more often.”

Here is a video of the infamous grocery store performance where Gerhardt performed solo cello music by Bach:

Alban Gerhardt plays his cello at Dave’s Market

In a recent lecture at the Royal Philharmonic Society, renowned music critic Alex Ross asserted that it is important for musicians to step outside of the concert hall in order to expose new listeners to classical music. I know of a few American chamber ensembles, such as the Chicago Q Ensemble, who have been doing just that. They haven’t been playing in shopping malls or public parks, but they have worked to perform in intimate venues which do not normally host classical performances. Here’s hoping that more American classical music groups will follow their lead. I know that the next time I’m picking out produce at the grocery store, I’d much rather hear a live performance of Bach cello music than the Muzak version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”.

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