In a continuation of an earlier post, listed below are five incredible ensembles that are changing the way classical music is performed and perceived. Note that these aren’t replacements for traditional soloists, chamber groups, and orchestras — rather, they’re fantastic additions to the classical music experience, providing unique options for an audience newly developing an interest in classical music.
- Arabesque Winds (MI, NY, PA, & TX) >> These lovely ladies, alums of my school, are an extremely accomplished chamber group. As a quintet, they’ve racked up some of the world’s top chamber music prizes; as individuals, they each hold esteemed orchestral, solo, and teaching positions. They play almost exclusively from memory, which makes their performances absolutely mesmerizing by way of their deep and instant connection with each other and with the audience. The Arabesque Winds are dedicated to community outreach, collaborating with and presenting at various schools and educational programs, including the Kennedy Center‘s Performing Arts for Everyone initiative. Plus, they’re all super nice people — the perfect advocates for classical music as an important facet of every community.
- Break of Reality (MI, NJ, & NY) >> This cello rock band is too cool. Incidentally, they also went to my school — yay! — but that’s not why I chose to include them in this post. Rather, I chose Break of Reality because they epitomize the classical music Game Changer. They’re classically trained and classically talented, and they harness that training and talent to bridge the gap between genres by creating original music and popular covers with a distinct, cello-y twist — a sound they call “cinematic.” Their music reaches an enormous and enthusiastic audience via YouTube and Pandora; their original music has been featured on national television; they’ve performed at SXSW… as their website says, their music is where “fans of Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, and Yo-Yo Ma are finally getting acquainted.” Break of Reality is committed to music education, performing in hundreds of public schools across the country, and they’ve also developed a program to guide young classical musicians through the increasingly necessary world of music entrepreneurship. All-around awesome.
- Genghis Barbie (New York City, NY) >> This quartet of French horn superstars describes itself as “the leading post post-feminist feminist all-female horn experience.” The group’s members — whose names, in the Spice Girls tradition, are Velvet Barbie, Freedom Barbie, Cosmic Barbie, and Attila the Horn — are each extremely accomplished New York City performers and freelancers. One of them even plays with the New York Philharmonic. But together, they abandon all the seriousness of their classical jobs and join forces to present fun, bizarre, creative performances of pop arrangements and classical standards (Schumann‘s Konzertstück, anyone?) — all while singing, dancing, laughing, and wearing some very strange clothes. The successful, talented ladies of Genghis Barbie are truly inspiring to women who play brass instruments (a historically male-dominated section), and to women in classical music in general (a historically male-dominated art form). Rock on!
- Mr McFall’s Chamber (Edinburgh, UK) >> Thanks to Jess Wyatt for telling me about these guys! The mission of Mr McFall’s Chamber is “to create new audiences, new music and new directions in music” — and they are definitely succeeding. Their repertoire is vast and diverse, incorporating folk and classical and jazz and even rock into a fun, versatile chamber music setting. The founding musicians are all talented members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Scottish Ballet, and the group is very active in collaborating with various performers, incorporating multimedia (as below), and commissioning brand new pieces to fulfill their goal of “offering concert-goers a genuinely different and exciting live experience.” These guys are true Game Changers, innovative and incomparable and accessible, dedicated to redefining the classical music experience without losing the artistry at its core.
- Sissoko & Ségal (Paris, FR) >> Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Ségal are an unlikely pair. The former is a virtuosic player of the kora, a traditional Malian lute. The latter is a French conservatory-trained cellist who has worked with musicians ranging from Elvis Costello to Alexandre Desplat. The two joined forces to release an album (Chamber Music) in 2009, and their collaboration is a phenomenal example of the cross-cultural, cross-generic landscape classical music has become. This is world music, but it’s also indie, and folk, and chamber music to the utmost degree. Sissoko and Ségal perform with so much skill and charisma, just two friends having fun and making music — some of the most beautiful, engaging, and unexpected music you’ll ever hear. Game-changing for sure.
Do you know of any other game-changing groups? Let me know in the comments!