Classical music strikes a chord in Paris cafés

Audio 07:45
Pak-Ming Wan

The Classical Revolution that started six years ago in San Francisco is now reverberating in Paris. Once a month a group of musicians performs chamber music in Parisian bars and cafés.


"You don’t usually hear classical music in bars. You’ll hear pop music or rock music," says Kyle Collins. But these days, he's trying to change that. An American musician living in France, he is the co-founder of Classical Revolution Paris.

"People can experience music that they might not have heard of or might not have had an opportunity to hear," he says.

At a recent concert, musicians stood on a raised platform at the back of a cafe in Paris' Belleville neighbourhood in front of a black board announcing the weekly DJ set.

And while a flute duo played Bach and a violin-viola duo played Mozart, people stood at the bar drinking a beer, or sat at the café tables, some paying attention to the music, others chatting with their friends.

"You know in real time what the audience feels, and how they’re engaged," says Sarah Niblack, the other American behind the project.

"In this setting, there is no fourth wall. You have to communicate directly with the people who are sitting right in front of you and with you. And sometimes they’re going to talk. So as a musician the challenge is to really grab the audience’s attention."

Classical Revolution is an imported idea from the United States, born in 2006 in San Francisco at the Revolution Cafe. It spread around the US: Collins was involved in the Cincinnati chapter, Niblack in New York. Both living in France now, they decided Paris needed a dose of classical music for the people.

"The guy who started it all, Charith [Premawardhana], from San Francisco... always said that the Classical Revolution ideal was based on what he thought a Parisian café should be and do in the community," says Niblack, who is pleased to be able to realise his vision in her new home.

Since February 2012, Classical Revolution Paris has presented about a concert a month. Collins and Niblack, both professional violists, participate, along with musicians they recruit through their professional and online networks. The repertoire is divided between
the classical favourites - Bach, Mozart - to lesser-known contemporary music.

He and Niblack are committed to continuing classical music into the 21st century, by giving a platform for living composers to present their work. This is partly because as violists, a lot of the music for their instruments was written in the later part of the 20th century and beyond.

Plus, as Collins points out, it adds variety: "After playing a Mozart quartet 100 times... or anything that’s been played a million times - it’s still great music, but it’s refreshing to play something new, that’s part of our time."

At the most recent show, after a few duets, a quartet played a contemporary piece, and then Niblack invited musicians who had come to listen to participate.

"We select musicians, if they show up. And then we put people on different parts, and say, hey, go, have a good time," she explains. In this case, it was an early Haydn quartet. The group had never played before, and not everyone was familiar with the music, a situation that makes many musicians uncomfortable.

"There are a lot of... excellent musicians, who when they’re asked to read something on the spot, freak out," she says. "So this is the place for us to first, practice what to do when you are freaking out, and second, get over it, and make music with other people anyway!"

>> Classical Revolution Paris on Facebook


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