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DIY concerts part 2: Classical Social introduces classical music to the pub jam in Toronto

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Simon Capet conducting the now-defunct Toronto Philharmonia last season.
Simon Capet conducting the now-defunct Toronto Philharmonia last season.

Art music and spilled beer have about as much in common as Christopher Hitchens and Don Cherry — or so we think. Since Hitchens is busy promoting his latest collection of essays from the Great Beyond and Cherry will be recovering from tonight’s return of Hockey Night in Canada, the experiment comes down to classical music in a pub on Sunday evening.

The idea, named Classical Social by conductor Simon Capet, is to get a couple-dozen professional musicians into a pub for drinks, camaraderie — and some impromptu musicmaking.

The inaugural event is Sunday at 8 p.m. at Fionn MacCoull’s, 181 University Ave — right behind the Hilton hotel, a block south of the Four Seasons Centre. Capet already has 20 confirmations from musicians, has picked out some pieces he would love to hear them perform, and is looking forward to getting an audience of music fans in the room, too.

There is no cover charge. Capet says the pub’s operator is keen to get people in to this business-district location on weekends, and has also shown himself to be an enthusiastic supporter of the nearby Canadian Opera Company. The profits from Wednesday night’s Robbie Burns Day bash at the pub are going straight to the COC’s children’s outreach programmes, for example.

There are interesting challenges in Capet’s experiment, including lending art music an air of informality.

Classical musicians are bred into being sticklers for detail as they read and practice and learn. Throwing them into an informal jam with people they may have never played before is so rare as to potentially induce terror in a situation where there may be an audience present.

Classical audiences, on the other hand, have been conditioned to perfection through recorded music — as well as the high level of quality in a big city’s concert halls. Even the finest musicians sight-reading a piece of music for the first time are going to make mistakes.

The idea is for everyone to just roll with it. For Capet, it’s more about the community aspect than the music making.

“No matter where I go, I’ll be spending time with musicians,” says Capet. “The most interesting people are musicians.” For the conductor, Classical Social is about “human emotional communication” — facilitated by a libation or two.

The idea of good music in an informal setting is even older than the coffee houses of J.S. Bach’s day. It’s something that’s being tried in many cities, most famously in North America at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City, and in Berlin in the itinerant Yellow Lounge concert series.

It’s high time someone tried it in Toronto, so we can leave traditional concert etiquette and all the other art music baggage of the last 100 years at the door.

Capet’s plan is to have Classical Social become a weekly event, with a weekly roster of volunteer musicians that would combine into “pick-and-mix ensembles” that would distribute music to each other a week ahead of time — just so the musicmaking isn’t totally raw.

“I’m hoping we might have themed nights, such a opera,” Capet adds.

Sunday’s first try will, with luck, include wind and string quartets and, if a double-bass shows up, a Septet by Franz Berwald.

Classical Social is, for Capet, the first step in a community-building process that is essential to keeping art music alive and relevant in our society. “Hopefully other ideas can grow out of community involvement that needs to happen,” says the conductor.

Capet’s idea comes from the same open spirit as Classical Revolution, an informal and growing global network of professional musicians committed to bringing art music to new audiences in non-traditional venues.

The idea was born in San Francisco’s Revolution Café nearly seven years ago, and there are now more than 30 “chapters” operating on this continent and in Europe.

Thanks to social media, an impromptu concert is only a Facebook post and a few tweets away from reality these days.

Capet has no shortage of ideas — among his current projects is to secure a performance of Terry Riley’s In C at the Music Gallery as part of the next NXNE music festival.

“One should not be afraid to throw out the net with an idea and see what happens,” he says.

Cheers to that.


For a bit more information on Classical Social, check out the Facebook page here. The Toronto chapter of Classical Revolution keeps a Facebook page here — their next event is on Jan. 26.

To find out more about Capet an his many ideas and projects, click here.

John Terauds


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