And so it was at the Lula Lounge last night when Euphonia – a chamber orchestra assembled by conductor Simon Capet – stepped out for their first public performance.
As some readers may be aware, the Lula Lounge is a funky club in downtown Toronto that’s best known for its adventurous world music programming. Western classical music hasn’t had a large presence in the past – so Capet’s ambitious announcement that his orchestra would play there on a regular basis came as a pleasant surprise.
The program was contemporary – but not the kind of contemporary that would send anyone screaming out the door. Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 3 and an orchestral arrangement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 bookended several numbers from the Song Reader collection of singer-songwriter Beck Hansen. Beck’s songs were nicely arranged by bassist Jordan O’Connor, and featured charming performances by Margot.
I would like to take this moment to thank Capet for not programming Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or Britten’s Simple Symphony. And I’d also like to suggest that he drop by the Canadian Music Centre to see if there’s anything on the shelves that would suit his new band.
As for his orchestra, many of the players are youthful. And although there was a decidedly rough-hewn quality to the performance, it was apparent that Euphonia contains some entirely worthy musicians.
For the last few months, Capet has been organizing Classical Social evenings, where players are invited to show up and sight-read scores. His Euphonia seems positioned between the ready-or-not-here-we-come approach of the Classical Socials and a formally constituted professional ensemble.
At intermission I spoke to a friend in the recording business who noted that Euphonia was part of a growing movement in the classical music world – away from traditional and (to some people) intimidating concerts to events that are more casual in their organization and presentation.
I’ve written about this trend before (see here and here), and I agree that it’s basically a Good Thing. That said, I will also say there are both virtues and limitations to this kind of music making.
On the virtue side of the ledger stands the hope of attracting new audiences to classical music. The idea is that people who are too cool for traditional classical concert halls will feel more at home in a club or bar. (The jury is still out on whether this strategy can achieve any kind of sustained success, but it’s certainly worth a try.) As well, informal concerts often have a vibrancy and immediacy that more formal performances might envy.
On the other hand, when a minimally rehearsed ensemble of freelancers presents a concert, the quality of playing is likely to be a few notches below what a stable, seasoned, salaried orchestra can achieve. Moreover, the repertoire at these informal concerts is usually limited to works that are small in scale and scope. I will be astounded the day I hear a pick-up band give a fine performance of a Mahler symphony.
Is there any way to combine the funkiness and fun-factor of the new approach with the refinement and resource-richness of the old? That’s the million-dollar question.
© Colin Eatock 2013