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Can classical music in Toronto benefit from rise of pop-up culture?

By John Terauds on April 12, 2012

San Francisco's Pop-Up Magazine started off at the intimate Herbst Theatre, and now sells out Davis Symphony Hall.

Social media make it easy to organize spur-of-the-moment communal experiences. I suppose the original Internet-enabled event was the rave. Now, thanks to instant messaging of all sorts, we have food trucks, fashion sales, parties, flash mobs, suprise club gigs and, in big cities, large-audience events at major venues.

Pop-Up Magazine in San Francisco is getting a lot of buzz. Designed to flow and “read” like a typical magazine, with shorts at the front and longer features in the middle, Pop-Up Magazine started as a wouldn’t it be fun assemblage of writers and arts types at the elegantly intimate Herbst Theater in 2009.

Issue No. 6, scheduled for Apr. 25, sold out Davis Symphony Hall’s 3,000-plus seats in half an hour.

Here is how “editor” Douglas McGray describes it on the Pop-Up Magazine website:

Pop-Up Magazine is the world’s first live magazine, created for a stage, a screen, and a live audience. Nothing will arrive in your mailbox; no content will go online. An issue exists for one night, in one place.

Pop-Up showcases the country’s most interesting writers, documentary filmmakers, photographers, and radio producers, together, on stage, sharing short moments of unseen, unheard work. Books, films, journalism, photography, and radio documentaries in progress. Obsessions and digressions. Outtakes, arguments, and live interviews.

Each evening of Pop-Up unfolds like a magazine. Short reviews, dispatches, and provocations anchor the front, longer features follow in the back. Our theme is no theme. Pop-Up seeks to explore the varied world around us, through stories and ideas. Science, music, politics, art, business, food, literature, design, nature–all in a 90 minute show.

Then we move to the lobby bar, and invite audience and contributors to stick around late. A Q&A is more fun with drinks in hand.

The feel of the typical evening is, I gather, a fascinating mixture of earnest and irreverent. At one “issue” in 2010, four editorial writers from Mother Jones magazine brought the typical infographic to life by measuring political stats with actual tape measures, and involving the audience.

To show the strength and intractability of political lifers in public office, they asked two rows of audience members to raise their hands, to illustrate the 5 per cent of Congress seats that typically turn over in electrions.

It’s the sort of “aha” experience that makes for a great night out.

There is little about the way classical musicians work, and concert presenters plan, that fits this sort of  “pop-up” mould.

But all of the major venues have nights when they’re dark. The majority of professional musicians have a free night or two every month in which they would gladly trade face time with their children and/or partners for a paying gig.

Toronto is also widely known as a city with such a high calibre of musicians that a typical pickup orchestra here can do a professional job in fewer rehearsals than is the case in most other cities (a fact I only recently learned).

Plus, many younger classical musicians are already doing well at organizing audiences through social media.

I think the pop-up format could work to get the attention of people who may not be part of the city’s core classical music audience. I’m guessing that the format and programming would be the key to happiness here.

What would a pop-up “concert” look and sound like, do you think?

John Terauds

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