Some years ago, violinist Charles Weatherbee made a simple, but profound statement during an interview. Carpe Diem String Quartet was to perform at the Elevator Brewery & Draught Haus downtown.
When I asked him what had sparked the quartet's interest in the venue and in their adventurous programming, he said, "If we want people to step into our (classical music) world, we must be willing to step into theirs."
Adventurous programming and unusual venues are the norm for the musicians performing in this year's VIVO Music Festival, Aug. 30 through Sept. 3.
In 2015, founding directors Siwoo Kim, Ted Ou-Yang and John Stulz wanted to share music in our community in a way that can be difficult in traditional venues. That first year, all performances took place at the Garden Theater in the Short North. The nearly 100-year-old theater is home to an intimate main stage with 150 seats, as well as a second, even more intimate stage with 65 seats.
Needless to say, you don't just listen to music in that type of setting—you are immersed in it. Contemporary composer John Zorn's music was featured on that opening program, along with that of Antonin Dvorak and Felix Mendelssohn.
On the second night, contemporary Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas' String Quartet No. 3, "In iij. Noct." was performed in complete darkness. Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed once described the setup in this way:
"Haas calls for his score, which was written 2001, to be played blind. The quartet members sit in the four corners of the room surrounding the audience. The players memorize strategies for indeterminate interactions and sonic structures. "
You get the idea. Our most revered composers were sometimes looked at like they were nuts because some of what they wrote challenged conventional musical boundaries. At VIVO Music Festival performances, the conventional and the unconventional co-exist, producing some amazing results.
Season 2 last year expanded both venue and musical content. Along with the Garden Theater, performances were held at the Columbus Museum of Art, Hot Chicken Takeover at the North Market, the Southern Theatre and various locations during the Short North Gallery Hop.
Where do they go from here, you ask?
Co-artistic director John Stulz told Classical 101 that, along with the four scheduled performances, "This year we’re working with an organization out of Akron called Tuesday Musical Association, and we will be presenting with them—and with the support of the Ohio Arts Council—outreach concerts throughout southeastern Ohio. So we'll perform at elementary schools, and possibly retirement centers, community centers, as well as a free outreach concert in Nelsonville."
Stulz also told us next month's Gallery Hop on Sept. 2 will feature an opportunity for other musicians to join VIVO Music Festival performers. The festival organizers put an open callout on their website for both individuals and ensembles, and then matched up the musicians with galleries and other venues.
"The idea is just to have this wonderful, kind of spontaneous showing of the classical music community in Columbus, Ohio," he says.
Performances this season will be held at the Short North Stage (Aug. 30), the Columbus Museum of Art (Aug. 31 and Sept. 3) and returns to Hot Chicken Takeover at the North Market (Sept. 1). Complete details are available on the VIVO Music Festival website.
In the meantime, enjoy a performance at the Columbus Museum of Art from last year's festival, featuring Gyorgi Ligeti's Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet: