Improvisation and classical music are not usually considered in the same sentence, much less on the same stage. But that’s just where The Musical Art Quintet feels at home. At 7 p.m. Wednesday they bring their genre-bending version of new American chamber music to the Nevada Theater. Local Euro café troubadours Beaucoup Chapeaux open the evening.
The Musical Art Quintet is formed by classically trained musicians who are also accomplished improvisers. The ensemble breaks the quartet mold by featuring five musicians who have backgrounds in salsa, Klezmer and jazz. The quintet is led by bass player Sascha Jacobsen, who composes most of the material. The rest of the group includes Anthony Blea on violin, Jory Fankuchen on violin, Charith Premawardhana on viola and Lewis Patzner on cello.
New classical music is sometimes pigeon-holed as atonal or unapproachable. Not so with this ensemble.
“My mission in life is to write classical music that people actually like and enjoy in the first hearing,” said Jacobsen. “Hard-core classical crowds dislike most new music, and frankly with good reason. It is completely academic and has no meaning to most people. This is one of the things I am trying to change.”
Wednesday evening’s program will feature a creative mix of original work and new interpretations of American classics. Jacobsen has reworked songs of Duke Ellington and Gershwin for the quintet. The result is a globe-hopping, joyous fusion of classical, jazz and world music.
“We are designing a new series of classical music concerts and our calling it our Musical Chairs Project,” said Music in the Mountains Executive Director Cristine Kelly. “These concerts are about creating warm and inviting access points to a wider variety of classical music. So they might be a little bit different, a little more casual and maybe even unexpected but always with an aim to delight.”
The new series will also partner with local musicians, such as Beaucoup Chapeaux.
“We are excited and honored to be sharing the stage with The Musical Arts Quintet,” said Maggie McKaig, the quartet’s founder and accordionist. “It will be a great mix of music.” Since its first experimental days performing locally at the Nevada City Classic Café, the band’s popularity has grown. In four years, Beaucoup Chapeaux has performed more than 350 times together, including two Pacific Northwest tours. The other members are Luke Wilson on tenor guitar and plectrum banjo, Murray Campbell on violin, oboe, and English horn, and Randy McKean on clarinet, bass clarinet and piccolo. They all sing as well.
“Our name, Beaucoup Chapeaux, means, roughly, many hats,” said McKaig. “We’ve always pushed the boundaries on any genre of music we’ve delved into. Whereas Musical Arts Quintet is bending the genres of American classics, we bend, cajole and blend traditional European folk classics or what many people identify as ‘Gypsy’ music with European classical, American jazz and other ethnic influences. Randy and I both write for the group, and our compositions rise up from this rich brew of cultures and traditions and our own unique inspirations. You might say we are authentically inauthentic. We find the connections, thread them together, and what we present achieves our goal of both informing and exciting our audiences.”
The Musical Arts Quintet was born out of the Classical Revolution movement in San Francisco, where weekly gatherings in a San Francisco coffee house aimed to create a more approachable face to classical music. The movement has spread like wildfire across the nation and across the world with 30 chapters throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.
“Our idea is to reclaim classical music and bring it to the people,” Premawardhana, the group’s violinist says. “The goal I have with Classical Revolution is to connect musicians with venues and audiences and make some really good music happen.”
Tickets for Wednesday’s concert are available at the BriarPatch Co-op, and the MIM Box office. For information and a complete list of concerts, visit MIM at http://musicinthemountains.org.