The Writing of “The Way North” by Reinaldo Moya

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Reinaldo Moya is Schubert Clubs Composer in Residence.  The Way North is included in a new recording by Matthew McCright, piano called What is Left Behind.  The recording and Moyas new work is featured in a recent article in the Star Tribune here.

In 2016, I was approached by pianist Matthew McCright to write a substantial piece for solo piano. I knew that I wanted to write a kind of narrative work; a cycle that would cover a story in a series of short interconnected sections. Matthew and I had initially discussed the idea of writing about immigration in this cycle. It is a topic that I keep coming back to as a composer. As an immigrant myself, I am inspired by the stories of those who have had to find a new home away from their country and culture of birth. I also suspect that through my musical works, I am working out some of the conflicting emotions I have about being an immigrant: how after a certain period of time, no place truly feels like home anymore. This feeling of emotional “homelessness” has fueled a lot of my compositional work in the recent years.

When I started composing The Way North in earnest, I wanted to tell the story of Latin American migration to Minnesota, especially through the I-35 Corridor. I did some research, and I kept reading that in some ways, the most difficult part of these migrants’ journeys happens before they arrive in the United States. My gaze shifted southward and I decided to tell the story of an unnamed migrant from Central America, through Mexico, and finally arriving in the United States.

The journey is flanked by two crossings, the first one is into Mexico, on its Southern border. The second is into the United States, near Laredo, Texas. The first crossing is easier, simpler as though unaware of the perils to come. The second crossing is treacherous, as the migrant makes their way across the dangerously strong waters of the Rio Grande.

Shortly after getting to Mexico, our migrant boards La Bestia (The Beast) one of the trains that migrants take to make the journey across Mexico. Many people fall off, are pushed off, or get dismembered trying to climb on or off the train. Our fictional migrant rides this train, falls asleep (which is when we hear the Nocturne) and is then awoken and has to run to avoid getting caught by immigration officials.

Fuga is a kind of play on words, in Latin fuga means to flee, which is what our migrant does in this whole piece. Also, Fugue is of course one of the main musical metaphors for struggle and conflict, so I liked playing with that idea. However, the fugue keeps getting interrupted. My thinking here is that the fugue metaphor breaks, because the reality of this situation is darker and grimmer than what an “academic” fugue can portray, hence why the fugue eventually runs out of steam and kind of evaporates. Metaphors (even musical ones) can’t properly grasp this reality.

Other movements along the way refer to a quiet stop at a sanctuary church. Las Chepas: Ghost Town refers to one of many such towns along the US/Mexico boarder that have become deserted because the migrants no longer choose to cross into the US at those points, usually because the US or the drug cartels have closed off that spot. This movement quotes from the song José Pérez León by a Mexican norteño group Los Tigres del Norte. This song is a ballad about the story of a migrant making his way across Mexico. He dies aboard La Bestia as he runs out of oxygen inside one of the containers on the train. I had a vision of our migrant walking around the deserted town, and hearing this song echoing on an old distant radio. As he gets closer, the song comes into view before it disappears again. An interesting aspect of the José Pérez León song is that it shares a motive from the opening song of  Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrender Gesellen. Mahler’s elegiac song cycle also refers to a wanderer seeking meaning amid a convoluted world. The movement brings together three converging stories of journeymen, and the pathos associated with their difficult travels.

The Elegy for the Nameless refers to a passage from one of the books that I read in my research, “The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail” by Óscar Martínez; which describes the tracks along the Beast train as a “cemetery for the nameless” because of all the people who have perished along the way whose names we will never know. I thought that honoring these nameless victims would be a suitable ending for the cycle. Dreams of Flight, finds the elegy aloft. I wanted the ending to provide a ray of hope. To be able to fly away like a bird and be free and not have to worry about borders.


Listen to the piece on Spotify here:

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Nicola Benedetti:  Featured Artist for the 2018-19 Season

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Schubert Club has been a concert presenter for 125 years!  Our first recital in 1893 featured the German pianist Adele Aus der Ohe.  For each of those 125 years, our recital series has included 4 or 5 artists. 

We have 5 International Artist Series recitals again this coming season – no surprises there!  But for the first time in our history, we have a Featured Artist for the year.  Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, a beloved musician in Europe since 2004 when she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition at the age of 16, will be in residence at Schubert Club in early October and again in January. 

Nicola will perform works by Johannes Brahms (with pianist Alexei Grynyuk) in Schubert Club Mix on October 2nd – and talk about her special love for Brahms’ music.  She also presents a recital program in two January performances at the Ordway, a program which includes the American premiere of a piece written for her by Wynton Marsalis.

A big reason why I’m excited to have her be our inaugural Featured Artist is that she’s not only an amazing musician on the stage, but that she is one of the most committed musicians to the importance of music in the lives of young people.  Indeed her musical prowess together with her fervor for music education and the inclusion of music in the lives of young people have earned her an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) and the Queen’s Medal for Music.

Interspersed with Nicola’s various concert appearances in October and January, Nicola will be teaching violin masterclasses, working with student string players at the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, and bringing young musicians into classrooms to perform for students who have had little – or maybe no – exposure to live music and musicians.

In partnership with Minnesota Public Radio, we’ll be broadcasting live, recording some of her concerts and making video footage of her musical interactions with young people. 

As I look ahead to future years and the kinds of artists and ensembles whom I’d like Schubert Club to invite as Featured Artists, I see a wide variety of possibilities in terms of programming, commissioning new works, community engagement and recording.  The purpose will always be to encourage visiting musicians to show us what makes them interesting and special, both as artists and as human beings.  Nicola’s array of musical pursuits during the coming season here in the Twin Cities will certainly give us an insight into Nicola Benedetti the musician and the person.

Thank you, Julie Himmelstrup

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After 39 wonderful years of leading the Music in the Park Series, founder Julie Himmelstrup is retiring. We asked former Schubert Club Board Member and long time devotee to the series, Lynne Beck, to share some of Julie’s accolades with us. 

A 55-year resident of the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, Music in the Park Series Founder and Artistic Director Julie Himmelstrup had a vision of creating a chamber music series in the acoustically and architecturally superb St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ. Working with a committee of neighborhood residents, she launched the series in 1979 with a budget of $5,000. The first season, featuring the 25-member Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, flutist Julia Bogorad, Grammy award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin, and pianist Thelma Hunter, was a success.

To make the gatherings educational and accessible, the Series also includes pre-concert talks about the music and meet-the-artist receptions after the performance. From its beginnings as a small neighborhood treasure, Julie developed Music in the Park Series into a nationally recognized chamber music series.

Julie Himmelstrup is a beloved figure in local music circles and beyond. A much-lauded impresaria, she has a unique intuitive ability to select and present the best chamber musicians. Prominent artists from Scandinavia, France, Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, Austria, Mexico, England, United States; and the Twin Cities such as pianist Lydia Artymiw; violinists Steven Copes, Erin Keefe, and Jorja Fleezanis; Minnesota Orchestra conductor and clarinetist Osmo Vanska, and jazz pianist Butch Thompson, to name of few, have graced the Music in the Park Series stage.

Several times a year, musicians perform for students in St. Anthony Park Schools and residents of the St. Anthony Park Home for seniors. These free outreach activities give school audiences, who represent the full diversity of St. Paul School students, and seniors, who are unable to attend concerts outside their facility, a rare opportunity to experience a live performance by world-class musicians.

Early on, Julie developed a hands-on approach which included ticket sales, marketing, budget development (the series has never had a deficit), fundraising, program planning, communication with artists and management, as well as forming partnerships with local businesses, churches and other non-profits in the community.

The three-concert Family Concert Series, established almost 30 years ago, first took place at the St. Anthony Park Library and later at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St. Anthony Park. These family-friendly events feature prominent Twin Cities musicians along with world-class ensembles from the chamber music series. The artists present programs of folk, ethnic and classical music that include storytelling, dance and audience participation for children of all ages and their families. 

“No arts administrator in my 35 year career as a musician has been more supportive of my work than Julie Himmelstrup. I loved to bring ideas for new programs to Julie and she would say, “What do you need?” She encouraged me to dream big and to think big and her support made it possible to develop new shows that had a life well beyond the Music in the Park Family Concert Series.” Ross Sutter (acclaimed local artist who has appeared on the Family Concert Series numerous times.)

Julie believed in presenting emerging as well as prominent established musicians. Young artists like Alisa Weilerstein (sought-after solo artist and 2011 recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant”),” Mark Kosower (Principal Cello of the Cleveland Orchestra and avid soloist), and Christopher O’Riley (acclaimed pianist and host of MPR’s From the Top) performed on Music in the Park Series at very young ages. Mark Kosower was only 9! Other musicians first played on the series before presenting their recitals at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  

Julie has introduced new music to audiences by commissioning works and regularly presenting contemporary classical music. She has a passionate dedication to new music and the promotion of Minnesota composers. Music in the Park Series has commissioned and/or premiered works by local composers Randall Davidson, Carol Barnett, Stephen Paulus, Libby Larsen and David Evan Thomas as well as national composers like Pulitzer Prize-winner Aaron Jay Kernis; Pulitzer prize and MacArthur “genius grant”-winner Julia Wolfe; MPR’s Piano Puzzler and writer Bruce Adolphe; and prolific piano soloist and visual artist Lera Auerbach.  

“No community is truly great without art as its core.” “She loved the music, she loved art, she loved community. It takes a rare person to be able to provide the kind of atmosphere, accommodations, travel planning and love that has brought the absolute top international musical performers to our little neighborhood for almost 40 years. Julie has been able to do it with an indefatigable combination of intellect, charm, hard work and heart,” said Jon Schumacher, Executive Director of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation. 

After 39 years of leading the series, Julie is stepping down as artistic director at end of the 2017-2018 season. The season finale on April 15, 2018 brought the series full circle with a performance by both the current and the original members of the Lark Quartet who played on the series in their early years. Park Bugle stated that it was truly a “standing ovation for Julie.”  

Julie Himmelstrup, 81, has spent almost four decades advocating for musicians and their audiences in the Twin Cities community. By presenting quality chamber music in a variety of settings, she has had an extraordinary impact on thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds. Julie has dedicated her life to creating and nurturing a distinctive chamber music series that reaches well beyond the boundaries of the St. Anthony Park neighborhood. Fortunately for all who love her and Music in the Park Series, her legacy will continue in the capable hands of Barry Kempton and the Schubert Club, the area’s oldest music organization.

A Steinway with a Story

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Schubert Club is thrilled to welcome a new instrument to our modern pianos collection which will live in the Thelma Hunter Recital Room of our Museum in Landmark Center. The instrument has quite a story behind it which I am excited to share with you.

The piano, a 7-foot Steinway B grand piano built in Hamburg around 1980 is a gift to us by Sita Ohanessian, a close friend of the Schubert Club. Sita has lovingly cared for the piano since her beloved sister Beatrice passed away in 2008.

I have had the good fortune to get to know Sita in my six years with Schubert Club and, through Sita, I have learned much about Beatrice, an outstanding piano soloist and composer. Born in Baghdad, Beatrice studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Juilliard School in New York. Because she missed her homeland – and contrary to the advice of many who wanted her to stay in the States to pursue a performing career –she returned to Iraq to “teach my fellow countrymen to love music”.

Thanks to a book about Beatrice Ohanessian written by former Schubert Club staff member Holly Windle in 2008 entitled “Baghdad Barcarolle”, I am happy to retell the fascinating story of the Ohanessian Steinway piano.

Beatrice was primarily a concert pianist and held the position of principal concert pianist for the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. She also composed a number of musical works and received praise for them. She learned that colleagues had brought her music to the attention of the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. On receiving recommendations and hearing a recording of her music, Saddam offered to reward Beatrice with a gift from the Iraqi government in honor of her cultural services. She ignored suggestions from her friends of a gold watch or a car, and decided instead to ask for a new piano to replace her ailing Bechstein grand.  

Beatrice was invited to the palace and went apprehensively. She waited to be received by Saddam. She waited a long time. She was eventually told that Saddam was busy in an emergency meeting with his cabinet due to an event in the Iran-Iraq war. He was in the room right next door, but he was not going to be available to see her in person. Instead the offer of a gift from the State was made to her by a palace official. Beatrice told him that she would like a piano, to which the official said they would arrange for her to pick one from the local department store. Emboldened by the fact that this proposal came from an official and not from President Saddam Hussein himself, Beatrice responded that she would like it to be a Steinway and that it would have to be purchased in Germany. To help the official understand, she explained the difference as choosing a Mercedes over a bicycle. To her surprise, the official agreed and she left the palace with a certificate authorizing her to purchase a Yamaha or a Steinway and to have the bill paid by the government of Iraq. On her next concert tour in Europe, Beatrice visited a Steinway showroom and selected a beautiful Steinway B.   

Beatrice was separated from it for a while when she herself moved to the States and the piano remained in Iraq, but eventually it was shipped to the States, and piano and pianist were reunited. How lucky we are that they were! We have been fortunate to count sisters Beatrice and Sita in our Schubert Club family for many years. Taking possession of the Steinway piano, we will treasure it as a dear member of our family of musical instruments.        

Please come visit our free Museum soon to see it!

Gilmore Artist Award winner, Igor Levit Returns Next Season

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Many International Artist Series regulars will remember Igor Levit’s debut recital at the Ordway two years ago.  For those who heard him play then, it is maybe no great surprise that last week, it was announced that he won a major piano prize: the Gilmore Artist Award worth $300,000.  There’s an in-depth, fascinating article about him in Sunday’s New York Times here.

I have two fun revelations relating to Igor Levit and the Gilmore Award. 

First, Igor will return to the International Artist Series next season.  I know that sharing this news breaks with our usual practice of announcing new seasons (International Artist Series and Music in the Park Series) in February.  But given the news of the award and the fact that several Schubert Club friends immediately got in touch to urge us to bring Igor back, I am happy to “leak” Igor Levit’s return recital in October – in advance of publishing the rest of the series.  I’m excited, and I know many Twin Cities recital fans will be too.

The other thing I’m pleased to reveal after the secrecy of the past two years is that I was a member of the 5-person Gilmore selection committee.  It was both a privilege and a fascinating process.  The selection procedure for the Gilmore Artist award winner is different to the way that most prize money is awarded in the classical music world; this is expressly not a competition.  Serving on the Gilmore jury involves hearing nominated pianists performing in public performances without the artists knowing that they are under consideration.  Sometimes alone and sometimes together with other committee members, I attended recitals and concerto performances in various parts of the United States and Europe.  Our brief was to attend “under the radar”, listen and report back to the rest of the committee with observations and recommendations.  Over the course of many months, I listened to dozens of recordings and made some 20 or so trips to hear pianists perform.  It made for a busy couple of years.  Increased frequent flyer miles aside, it was a remarkable opportunity to hear many of the leading emerging pianists of our time.  And while it is true that you can learn a lot about a performer from a recording (both audio and video), you learn a whole lot more when you hear them live.  So, I feel as if it was not only a great experience for me personally, but that it should serve Schubert Club too, as we do our very best to present outstanding artists in concert for our audience.

I’m not in a position to compare the pool of candidates with pools of previous rounds, but I can say that the quality – both technical and musical – of the short list of pianists I got to hear was unbelievably high.  As a committee, we’ve agreed not to identify the broader list of names we were considering, but it is fair to say that Igor Levit stood out as an pianist who not only shone musically and technically, but as an artist who takes risks with his programming choices and always has something interesting to communicate to his audience.  We’re in for a treat with his October recital featuring music by Bach, Busoni, Schumann, Wagner and Liszt.  As for the rest of the artists and ensembles we will present next season, I’m afraid you will have to wait a few more weeks until our announcement next month.

Happy Holidays from the Schubert Club staff!

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Today’s post is a short blog wishing you all a very Happy Holidays from all of us in the Schubert Club staff. 

Our small but mighty staff team produces some 60 concerts annually, runs a museum, administers a scholarship competition and several other music education programs, not to mention the associated marketing, box office, fundraising and accounting functions that organizations of our kind count on every single day.  I am grateful for my colleagues and how they go about their work from day to day with commitment to Schubert Club and respect for their fellow team members.

By the way, there’s one more program we’re looking forward to in our December Celebration of the Human Voice which has featured so far:

  • vocal ensemble Calmus in the Music in the Park Series
  • Schubert song recitals by Eric Owens and Clara Osowski
  • Clarice Assad with father Sergio in Schubert Club Mix
  • and David Evan Thomas’s set of songs “Joy” for vocal quartet and piano four-hands

On Thursday (December 21), the annual Songs of the Season program featuring carols by Minnesota composers and curated by popular Courtroom Concerts host Abbie Betinis will have two performances:

Thursday at noon, Landmark Center (downtown St Paul), Courtroom 317:  Courtroom Concert series

Thursday at 5:00pm, Dunsmore Room of Crooners Lounge and Supper Club, 6161 Highway 65 NE, Fridley, MN 55432

Both performances are free.  We hope to see you there, at noon or 5:00, to wish you the very best for the festive season.

If not on Thursday, we will see you in the New Year!


(Photo, from top to bottom, left to right:
David Morrison, Barry Kempton, Janet Peterson, Paul Olson, Kate Cooper, Kelsey Norton, Tessa Retterath Jones, Emma Figgins, Aly Fulton, Max Carlson, Summer Freed)

Guest Blog Post: Concert Etiquette and Clapping Between Movements by Katie Heilman

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Today’s blog post is written by guest, Katie Heilman. Katie is a regular attendee at Schubert Club concerts, a member of Schubert Club’s Theoroi program, program assistant at GTCYS (Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony), composer, and oboist. Learn more about Katie here.

Have you ever been to another country and found yourself confused by the customs of everyday life surrounding you? Or have you gone to a wedding of a different culture from your own and saw people saying certain things at certain times or dressing a certain way, and you felt out of place?

I’ve had several conversations recently with friends and colleagues about the state of classical music and diversity. One thing I’ve been thinking about in particular lately is concert etiquette. Concert etiquette is what I suspect turns many people off from attending classical music concerts (besides cost). There’s this idea that classical music is really stuffy, and when you think about it… it kind of is. Most concerts in other musical genres expect noisy audiences, clapping when you like something, and coming and going as you need to. Not so with classical concerts. The vast majority of classical concerts expect audiences to be quiet, only clap at the very end of the piece, and you better not leave during the middle of a piece!

I grew up in a musical family and didn’t learn that you weren’t supposed to clap in between movements until I was at a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert, probably in late middle school (a few years after I’d started playing an instrument), and I started clapping after the first movement of whatever symphony they were playing, because it just made sense. It wasn’t until I got a weird look from my mom that I realized that wasn’t “okay.” When people start clapping between movements of a piece, I see that same weird look get passed along through the “regulars” at the concert. I’ve seen this happen twice in the last few months. The first was during the Sphinx Virtuosi concert at the Ordway, where the vast majority of the audience was people of color (especially younger people of color). The second was just this past weekend, when the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra performed Mozart’s third violin concerto to an audience with several students (they all certainly looked younger than me). The common thread between these two audiences, besides clapping between movements? They weren’t your stereotypical classical music demographic!

Here’s my philosophy on clapping between movements (or other “breaches” of classical etiquette): if people are clapping between each movement, they aren’t necessarily being rude. It’s probably because they don’t know about this weird tradition we have that really only dates back to the end of the 19th century or so. That means there’s a good chance they’re probably first-timers at an orchestra concert, which is awesome! And yes, there are some pieces where’s it’s nice to have that silence in between movements (slow Mahler for sure), but Mozart or Haydn? Clapping in between movements was standard back in their day – sometimes, if the audience really liked something, they’d demand a second run-through of a movement or section. I’ve attended a bunch of more “informal” chamber concerts at coffee shops and art museums where you’ll even have people chatting in the background. For a first-timer at a classical concert, going to the orchestra probably feels the same as being a foreigner in another country. There are so many customs that we’ve been doing for years that a newbie isn’t going to automatically know, and they might feel lost and alienated when people stare at them for not doing the “correct” procedures.

It’s great when the administrative side of an organization is working to bring in new audiences, but in order for this to be successful, we as current audience members need to be more welcoming and patient when new audiences don’t automatically know the culture. Administrators, if you really want to make sure that your program is quiet and that audiences wait until the end to clap, then just make an announcement before the concert. They do this sometimes at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra when they have a program that interweaves other pieces throughout a larger piece, and it doesn’t feel out of place at all. Imagine how much more welcomed new audience members would feel if we let them know when it’s appropriate to clap, instead of assuming? It’s like when you have someone over to your house for a party, and you let them know where the restroom is, where to leave their coat, and where to put the food they brought. On the other hand, maybe it’s time to take a lesson from the newcomers and bring back clapping between movements of certain pieces. Trust me, Haydn is a lot more fun when you let yourself get a little rowdy.

Video Blog: Schubert Club’s Bruce P. Carlson Student Scholarship Competition

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At our Bruce P. Carlson Student Scholarship competition earlier in 2017, Schubert Club board member and media professional Peter Myers roved the corridors and practice rooms of Augsburg University’s music department with a video camera, talking to students about the competition, about what it means to be a competitor and what they get out of participating.  

November is here and applications for the 2018 Student Scholarship Competition are now being accepted!   The competition will take place in February/March 2018.  We award scholarships totaling over $50,000 annually to young musicians to be used for further musical education.  Check out the new video which shines a light on what makes the competition so special, from the mouths of our competitors themselves. Take a look, and whether you’re a music student yourself or know a budding young musician, be sure to tell everyone to get their applications in by January 19, 2018


What Makes a Great Place For a Concert?

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One reason (of many) why I find my position at the Schubert Club so interesting is that we present concerts and recitals in so many venues. It means that I am always happy to hear from people about performance spaces they’ve enjoyed. Though I’ve lived in the Twin Cities since 1995 (with a 5-year hiatus in London), and I’ve been lucky to attend many live arts events all over the place, I am still learning about new spaces where Schubert Club might present live music. This curiosity for new venues is especially relevant for our Schubert Club Mix series which got underway for its fifth season last week at Aria in Minneapolis.

Mix (as it is inevitably shortened to) is our concert series designed to appeal to music lovers who prefer live performances with less formality and concert ritual. We’re intentionally informal; artists interact with the audience more; and we go to extra efforts to make the ambiance in the venue more relaxed than it is likely to be in a more traditional concert hall like our wonderful Ordway (home of the International Artist Series) or a church like St Anthony Park UCC (home of Music in the Park Series). 

As we plan future years of Schubert Club Mix, I will always be on the look out for new and interesting spaces. There are three primary criteria in a space which factor in assessing a space’s suitability for presenting concerts: Acoustic, location, & ambiance.

Acoustic: kind of obvious, but not all big rooms with large volumes sound the same. We’re blessed in the Twin Cities with several venues which have truly world-class acoustics for unamplified music – the Ordway and Orchestra Hall are at the top of that list. The recent removal of carpet and other changes at St Anthony Park’s United Church of Christ have made an extraordinary difference, making this church a wonderful place to listen to chamber music. Not all venues can have superlative acoustics though. What I always look for is a balance of resonance and clarity, and the confidence that the sound produced by musicians and their instruments really fills the space.

Location: it’s not only important to present concerts in locations which are convenient for an audience to get to, but also that they have amenities close by like parking, restaurants and bars and that the whole experience of going out for the evening feels safe and enjoyable. 

Ambiance:  slightly more difficult to put one’s finger on, ambiance is, I believe, hugely significant to an audience member’s enjoyment of an event – and thus an important factor in the decision whether to return another time. Ambiance can be created by the look or architecture of a space, its history, the welcome of our staff and ushers, lighting, even an aroma or some kind of association that is personal to an individual. A great example of this is the comment I hear regularly at Aria when audience members nostalgically remember performances by Theater de la Jeune Lune ten or more years ago.

Since Schubert Club has no primary performance space, we will always be on the look out for new possible venues. This nomadic approach to presenting concerts is, I think, a strength and opportunity for Schubert Club.  We can seek out spaces which suit different performers and meet the needs of different audience members. As our new strategic plan calls for the organization to make connections with new communities, we need to pursue our curiosity to find gathering spaces which we haven’t yet come across.  I’ll be pleased to hear from anyone who has venues or community connections they would like to recommend.