Thinking beyond the traditional concert hall seems to be one of classical music’s principal challenges if it is to draw in new, particularly younger listeners. Alternative venues such as clubs, pubs, wine bars and the like come to mind as places where classically trained musicians could potentially reach a much wider spectrum of people to create new audiences.
It’s not a new idea of course. In the 1700s coffee-drinkers in Leipzig’s Café Zimmermann were treated to performances of concertos, secular cantatas and opera arias. However, just recently the first classical music pub in the Netherlands opened its doors – and what’s more, it was crowdfunded. The brainchild of two women proprietors Sanne van Buuren and Talitha Verheij, Utrecht’s Muzieklokaal claims to be “the first place where hospitality and classical music come together permanently”. The pair say their pub’s live performances are “short, surprising living room concerts which always start with a short introduction and are often carried out in collaboration with local musicians”.
Meanwhile a similarly fascinating business that has been in operation since 2003 in London is Nonclassical. Founded by Sergei Prokofiev’s grandson Gabriel Prokofiev, it presents amplified concerts of new classical music in pubs, rock venues and nightclubs around the city. DJs supply a contemporary ambience to the performances. This YouTube clip describes the concept in detail. Nonclassical has its own record label and has released albums by English composer Tansy Davies, Juice Vocal Ensemble, percussionist Joby Burgess and other artists.
One classical musician who has devoted his career to performing in clubs and pubs is US cellist and viola da gamba player Steuart Pincombe. He runs a website called Music in Familiar Spaces and travels across America giving solo recitals of Bach and other Baroque composers. He says traditional concert giving simply didn’t interest him: “I don’t like the lack of connection with an audience. I don’t want to just fill up a bunch of seats. I want to play for people, where they already are. That’s my whole approach in general”.
With its proud pub rock tradition, perhaps Australia could breed a whole new generation of classical pub musicians.