VIVO: Columbus Gets a Summer Classical Music Festival

Apr 16, 2015

Ecstatic collaboration, community, passion. These are the key ingredients of the VIVO Music Festival, which is scheduled in August to become the newest addition to Columbus' classical music scene.

"We're looking to figure out what are unique ways of interfacing classical music with our community, with central Ohio," said violist John Stulz, 26, who with violinist Siwoo Kim, 25, serves as the VIVO Music Festival's co-artistic director.

The festival will unfold Aug. 17-23 in a series of performances with a casual feel at venues around Columbus. Festival guest artists - musicians who grew up in Columbus, trained at America's top conservatories and are embarking on international professional careers  - will return to Columbus to perform three core concerts Aug. 21-23 at the Garden Theater in the Short North, the final concert featuring all of the artists together in a conductorless chamber orchestra. Pop-up performances are being planned to take place at businesses and other non-traditional performance venues around Columbus throughout the festival week, and to feature Columbus music students still in the early years of their training.

All of the festival musicians wanted to give back to the community that nurtured their early artistic growth.

"What's wonderful is that (the musicians) were actually the first people I contacted, before we even started looking into the business side of things," Kim said. "And all of them, before anything was even secure, when I even mentioned the idea of this, they were like, 'Okay, we're going to clear our calendars. We want to be a part of this.'" 

Community Spirit and a "Casual Vibe"

The drive behind the creation of the VIVO Music Festival is Kim's and Stulz's desire to engage Columbus' vibrant community spirit around meaningful shared experiences with classical music.

Kim, who while a child moved around a lot with his family and eventually grew up in the Columbus area, now lives in New York City and wants to contribute to the community he still loves.

"Columbus definitely I adopted as my true hometown because I was so moved by its sense of community," Kim said. "And that's something I believe this festival can try to achieve, is really bank on that amazing quality of Columbus, that sense of community."

Their plans for the VIVO Music Festival are only Kim's and Stulz's most recent joint efforts to galvanize the Columbus community in support of classical music. In 2013, Kim and Stulz organized and performed a summer chamber music concert at a Columbus-area church. Last year they organized and performed a music-for-food concert at The Ohio State University, at which audience members were encouraged to make donations to a local food bank.

Kim says he and Stulz were overwhelmed by the community's eagerness to give to those in need while enjoying live classical music. So they conceived of an annual series of chamber music performances in Columbus that would bring the community together - and, for some, serve as a fun entry point into classical music - for more shared experiences during the summer.

"Concerts should be an experience, whether it be philanthropic, whether it be social," Kim said. "We've got to think about the whole package. We're hoping that these core (festival) concerts can offer a slightly more casual and social vibe."

"Ecstatic Collaboration"

Kim and Stulz view community participation in the VIVO Music Festival's concerts as a key ingredient of one of the festival's guiding principles - "Ecstatic collaboration."

"It’s about bringing people together," Stulz said. "That's what music is about, that's what the arts are about, that's what we're trying to do, is just bring people together, create experiences that people are going to remember, that they're going to enjoy, and that are going to, ideally, change people's lives and make a difference in their lives."

The festival's three core concerts will bring musicians and audience members together for performances of traditional and contemporary chamber music. The first concert, on Aug. 21, will feature Dvorak's Terzetto for two violin and viola and Mendelssohn's Octet for Strings alongside the cartoon-inspired string quartet Cat O' Nine Tails by contemporary composer John Zorn.

The Aug. 22 concert will take place in the Garden Theater's Green Room, an intimate gathering space with the feel of a cabaret room. That concert will showcase contemporary Austrian composer George Friedrich Haas' String Quartet No. 3, to be performed in total darkness with the audience seated in the center of the room and one quartet musician playing in each corner.

"It's an experience in which one cuts off one of their most vital senses – their sight – and all the other senses become heightened. I'm really excited to bring it to Columbus," Kim said.

The festival's final concert, Aug. 23, will feature a conductorless chamber orchestra of professional musicians originally from the Columbus-area performing, among other works, Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto and Astor Piazolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

"We're bringing together a whole generation of young professional musicians who grew up together in Columbus. For the first time for maybe ten years since we started graduating from high school, we're coming back together," Stulz said. 

Before and after the concerts the Garden Theater's bar will become the locus for socializing and community dialogue with a casual feel.

"Our audience and our musicians and everybody can get together and talk about the experience and really have a social evening for each concert," Stulz said. "One kind of silly image is, every presidential election they always do a poll of which candidate would you want to have a beer with. And basically, this is the festival that you would have a beer with. We want to have a lot of artistic integrity, but we want to present it in a way that is relatable to 21st-century lives."

"Looking Big-Picture"

Even as Kim and Stulz finalize plans for the VIVO Music Festival's inaugural season this summer, they say they're looking ahead to future seasons and aiming to make the festival an annual event that will help inspire the community to support Columbus' classical music scene year round. 

"Our long-term goal is that this can be a launch pad for audiences to engage in the arts scene in Columbus, so that it can be this big event that happens annually and draws people in because of its status as an event and then can be used to help inspire people to attend more concerts during the year with the other wonderful institutions that are in Columbus right now," Stulz said.

Kim and Stulz say they hope in future years to expand upon this year's week-long festival format. But as Kim and Stulz both juggle increasingly busy performance schedules, they say they'd be happy this year just to make a difference for Columbus.

"Someone asked me, 'Isn't it a little early for you to try to start a music organization or a festival?' But I feel so passionate about it – since I was like 13 years old I was like, It would be wonderful to start a music organization of my own, where I could really try to make a difference and try different ways of introducing classical music," Kim said. " I feel like now's the time, and I just hope that it keeps growing over many, many years. We're looking big-picture."