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Birdfoot Festival Brings Chamber Music to New Orleans
A chamber music festival has begun in New Orleans, but you should probably leave your tuxedos and evening gowns at home.
Between May 19 and May 25, the second annual Birdfoot Festival will be bringing to New Orleans live performances of some of the most celebrated chamber music ever written and presenting innovative programming in unexpected and easily accessible locales. Venues include Snug Harbor, the recently opened Little Gem Saloon, and Tulane University’s Dixon Hall. Featuring works ranging from Bach to Brahms, Mozart to Messiaen, and Ravel to Reich, this festival has something for classical aficionados and dilettantes alike.
There was once a time when classical concerts weren’t the formal, staid affairs many have come to expect today, with reticent patrons only applauding in accordance with some outdated rules of etiquette.
Take, for example, the premiere of Mozart’s “Paris” Symphony in 1778. In an ensuing letter to his father, the gifted composer spoke enthusiastically of the boisterous crowd in attendance: “Right in the middle of the First Allegro came a Passage that I knew would please, and the entire audience was sent into raptures...” The emphatic response was so affirmative that Mozart treated himself to some ice cream on his way home.
For Jenna Sherry, artistic director and contributing violinist for the Birdfoot Festival, her retelling of Mozart’s experience highlights the intimate bond between musician and audience and the problem with formality surrounding classical music performances.
“Does that sound like a classical music concert? If I applaud during concerts, I get glared at,” Sherry said with a laugh. “The term ‘classical music’ makes it sound like it belongs in a museum. And it doesn’t. It’s live. And never the same twice.”
“I want the performance experience to be a living thing.”
Though now a resident of the UK, New Orleans-born Sherry understands the power of live music in the city and the openness of local audiences to new and eclectic music. This is one of several reasons, Sherry explained, that she was so eager to establish a festival in her hometown. It also explains why Birdfoot will be offering its concerts in relaxed, atmospheric spaces typically occupied by jazz or blues bands. With crowds physically closer to the stage, and by presenting chamber music in a setting that may challenge listener expectations, Sherry hopes that audiences will be so engaged as to start asking questions about their relationship with the music and how the space and presentation of the music shapes their experience.
“In order for art to be alive and thriving in this age, it has to keep asking these questions,’ she said.
With less than two weeks of joint rehearsals, sixteen highly regarded musicians from across the globe will be presenting the evocative chamber works. Included in this company is acclaimed British pianist Danny Driver, who performed just last March with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and has a long association with New Orleans. Also featured is Borromeo String Quartet violinist Kristopher Tong and Israeli clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein.
On Sunday, May 19 at 5:30 pm Birdfoot will be granting access to an open rehearsal at Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville, followed by a big-ticket dinner with the musicians featuring the cuisine of Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon, 2011 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South award.
Back in New Orleans on Tuesday, May 21, at 7:30 pm is “Birdfoot Backstage with WWNO 89.9 and Gwen Thompkins” at the Jewish Community Center in Uptown. This event will feature the host of Music Inside Out engaging in a discussion with performers about their craft and insights about their relationship with music. This will be taped live for a later broadcast on WWNO. Admission is free, though reservations are highly recommended.
For additional information on this and upcoming events in New Orleans, visit the Birdfoot website or call 504-451-6578. Also stick with the NOLA Defender for previews of upcoming Birdfoot events.
Sunday, May 19: A Musical Feast, Madewood Plantation House, 5:30pm-9pm
Tuesday, May 21: Birdfoot Backstage with WWNO 89.9FM, Jewish Community Center, 7:30pm
Thursday, May 23: Night Train at Snug Harbor, 8pm & 10pm
Friday, May 24: Salon at the Little Gem, 8pm
Saturday, May 25: Final Gala Concert, Tulane's Dixon Hall, 8pm
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