“The way we are presenting this wonderful art to people has to be a way they really connect with. That is our challenge. I don’t think there’s any doubt that classical music is here to stay.” – Rory McLeod
General ($40) / Student ($25) / Child ($10) at BeMused Network
This Saturday, at the home of Jan and Breda Matejcek (Avenue Rd. and Eglington Ave. W.), artistic director and violist Rory McLeod will mark the end of the inaugural season of Pocket Concerts in Toronto.
Pocket Concert launched their season back in August with a mission to dramatically reduce the distance between artists and audiences in the concert hall, without compromising one iota of the artistic excellence that Toronto has to offer. The seventh and last concert—It Must Be (Beethoven Gets the Last Word)—will feature violinists Csaba Koczo (founding member of the Tokai String Quartet) and Aaron Schwebel, cellist Bryan Holt, and McLeod himself on viola.
“Even before I started, I knew what a house concert could be. What’s been really great is how enthusiastically people have received it, both as audience members and the players and hosts who have gotten involved.”
The homes are made available by generous hosts who have found the experience of welcoming artists and audiences extremely rewarding. Their living rooms become a space where new musical and social connections are made amongst all the participants in these one-of-a-kind experiences.
While most Pocket Concerts performers are part of the young up-and-coming generation of classical musicians, there are often appearances by established performers such as Koczo in this concert. What is consistent is the high level of artistic excellence that they strive for, and how transformative that can be when experienced up close and personal.
“One of my main goals of this project is to break down the artificial barriers that separate audience from the performers.” Explains McLeod.
“To be in a room of artists who are just expressing themselves, to really feel like you are breathing the same air as them, I think that has transformative power. But also that social experience after the concert, learn each other’s names, what they know or don’t know about what we do, and also to learn what it’s like to be a teacher, or a lawyer! I’m trying to bridge those gaps.”
This level of personal audience engagement is a labour of love, but it is one that benefits the audiences as well as the artists and hosts who are expanding their personal networks. This first season has garnered positive responses from all, with a model that seems to be working, and growing faster than McLeod had ever hoped.
“Our next season is sketched out in that we have at least nine or 10 hosts signed up already, including quite a few of the people who hosted this year, and five new hosts who came to a concert and loved the experience. We will slowly build our community around the project, and grow without spreading us too thin.”
McLeod credits the hosts’ enthusiasm and support for laying an important foundation upon which Pocket Concerts is founded, many of whom are developing a special relationship with the series itself.
For example, Dvorák’s Terzetto for Two Violins and Viola, Op. 74 is part of the program because the host, Jan Matejcek, is a huge fan. When McLeod first met him, one of the first things Matejcek said — who was once a manager of an orchestra in the former Czech republic — was how much he loved Dvorák.
The charm of Pocket Concerts is in the details, and the unlikely connections that are made or, perhaps more accurately, discovered.
“I had a meeting with another potential host last week, she was in Cabbagetown, and we were trying to figure out if we could program a concert at her house. She told me the story of her grandfather’s violin and how she’s got it in the attic. I played a bit for her, and it sounds beautiful. Her grandfather was a musician, and her father was trained at the Paris conservatory but never became a professional. This instrument had tremendous sentimental value to her, and it was great to hear that story. I wish I had a microphone or camera with me!”
The rest of the program on Saturday also has a story behind it.
Beethoven’s Op. 135 was one of his final compositions, and described by McLeod as a “compact and powerful work”, was suggested by Aaron Schwebel. Cellist Bryan Holt actually has a personal connect with the hosts, who have known him since he was quite young. They requested a solo cello number to be included, and Holt picked the Allemande from J.S. Bach’s Suite #1 in G Major.
Matthias McIntire’s Tire-Flinging Auto Mechanic is short and rhythmic, with lots of humour. This is also an opportunity to introduce the work of a living Canadian composer whom McLeod knows personally, and present a sample of what the contemporary music scene has to offer.
“The way we are presenting this wonderful art to people has to be a way they really connect with. That is our challenge: To keep the art form alive. I don’t think there’s any doubt that classical music is here to stay. There is no shortage of interest. There’s so much good performing happening out there, so much to take in, maybe we are seeing fewer people at Roy Thompson Hall, but there are so many things to choose form on that night. The art form is not in danger, very much the opposite.”
The musical offering of Pocket Concerts is deceptively simple. The strength of the series lies in the spirit of its founder, and the ability to listen to lovers of this art form and deliver the experience that they want.
Don’t miss their final concert this Saturday which has only a few tickets left, and stay tuned for the announcement of their next season over the summer.