For a long while now, times have been tough for classical music in the United States. Concert audiences are declining in many cities, and a classical album that sells a few hundred copies in a week is a chart-topping success.
But in every creative arena, art and artists will always want to be heard and seen. Ambitious independent promoters, artists, and labels are busily keeping classical music alive and thriving, typically in “downtown” or underground scenes whose dimly lit, outrageous rainbows of creativity are somewhat analogous to the theater world’s Off-Off-Broadway. While statistics may be grim, sounding a death knell for the classics is very premature.
A case in point: Based in New York City but with a world-spanning perspective, music journalist and pianist Ilona Oltuski’s GetClassical concert series and website brings classical and classical-crossover performances to a variety of venues, including some nontraditional ones, and publishes profiles and interviews online, like this one with Sir Andràs Schiff on “building bridges for the next generation of pianists” and this one with pianist Viktorya Yermolyeva, better known as Vika, or “vkgoeswild” to her over 350,000 YouTube subscribers, on tapping into her passions for rock.
On October 29, 2015, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall will host a GetClassical concert featuring chanteuse Adrienne Haan and entitled “Tehorah,” a collaboration of German and Israeli artists presenting contemporary, klezmer, and 1920s Weimar Berlin music. At the other end of the spectrum, pianist Zsolt Bognár will perform on November 12 at Greenwich Village’s Zinc Bar, which I would like to note used to be the Baggot Inn, and before that the Sun Mountain Cafe, at both of which dives I spent many a late weekend night playing in a scruffy rock-and-roll cover band in the 1980s and ’90s.
Then, on November 30, GetClassical will present “With You Armenia” at trendy downtown venue (le) poisson rouge, a room that joys in booking a super-eclectic variety of acts ranging from Keep Shelly in Athens and Meshell Ndegeocello to the Juilliard String Quartet and the Hugo Wolf Quartet, not to mention “Back To The Eighties Show with Jessie’s Girl, the world’s hottest ’80s tribute!” The concert features world-renowned cellist Mischa Maisky and a group of young European artists including Lily Maisky, his daughter, who perform regularly at Progetto Martha Argerich. And on December 17 the Zinc Bar will host GetClassical’s artist in residence, pianist Vassily Primakov, with a trio. Visit the GetClassical website for details on all these concerts.
In interviews, Oltuski is humble about her accomplishments with and ambitions for GetClassical. As a writer, she says, “I’m reinventing my creative side by writing about my diverse encounters in the world of music, about inspiration and artistic expression, and the very human side of these endeavors, reaching right under the musician’s and my skin – that’s my shtick.” And as she told the American Israeli Cultural Foundation, “I hope to continue to build more love and understanding for classical music and musicians wherever possible. Let’s see if I will succeed through my continued efforts as a journalist, concert producer, here [in New York] or elsewhere.”
Let’s see indeed. My money’s on her. And as long as people like Ilona Oltuski are “on the job,” I’m also betting on an indefinitely extended delay in the “decline” of classical music.