Schubert Club Mix – fine tuning the experience

By Barry Kempton

I said in last week’s post that I would come back to Brooklyn Rider’s performance with drummer Greg Saunier in our Schubert Club Mix series last Sunday.  This is our second season of Mix and it is proving to be a popular series.  The members of string quartet Brooklyn Rider bring a genuine love of music-making and the music they play which came across very well to us in the audience.  They played music commissioned from various non-classical musicians (including Greg Saunier) on the program.  The sound worlds they visited were varied and fascinating to listen to – and the sensitive percussion layers produced by Greg added to it greatly.  Greg, I should point out, played his drum kit with fingers and hands the whole evening.  I don’t remember seeing a drum stick at any point.  It was a wonderful evening.

Our tag line for Mix is “a new generation of classical music.”  It’s not a contemporary music series – though new music is welcome and featured regularly.  Rather, it is an attempt to present classical music and musicians (in their many guises) in venues with a different ambiance to the traditional classical music concert hall.  Not that there is anything wrong with traditional concert halls, but surely that shouldn’t be the only kind of space to encounter classical music.  The Schubert Club is not alone in this kind of venture – indeed I wrote about SubCulture in New York last week.  At my former job running the City of London Sinfonia, we started a series at a converted warehouse called Village Underground in London’s now trendy Shoreditch which remains a popular alternative space to encounter the orchestra. 

We continue to make adjustments to format elements of Mix in the hope that we are improving the audience experience.  Last Sunday, we closed the bar during the music performance.  Originally, I confess, it was my vision that audience members would feel comfortable getting up, moving around and collecting drinks during the music-making.  But in fact, though the bar was open all evening at last year’s performances, people rarely moved from their seats during the actual performance; and so the unavoidable clinks and bangs made by bar staff at their stations seemed clearly avoidable if they weren’t serving anyone.

The other variable we continue to tinker with is the seating format.  My original hope was to have the majority of seating be at small round tables, encouraging the kind of atmosphere you get at the wonderful Dakota Jazz Club or other similar live music venues.  However, we have found ourselves constantly juggling this with meeting the demand for tickets.  So, we have provided both tables and more formal seat rows at both venues we’ve used so far: Aria (Minneapolis) and Bedlam Lowertown (St Paul).  We continue to tinker, but I think we’re finding the right balance.  The only thing I hope to improve is to set up seat rows which feel more informal (though still neat and efficient). 

Our next Mix program is back at Aria on Tuesday March 10.  The amazing, inventive Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto is joined by an equally creative juggler, Jay Gilligan.  It will be one of our more unusual presentations of the season without a doubt.  Exactly what Schubert Club Mix should be.  


View photos from the January 18 Schubert Club Mix performance with Brooklyn Rider and Greg Saunier on Facebook. Photo above by Zach Forstrom.