On Tuesday night, Bridge the Gap Chamber Players put on their second free concert (The "White" Concert) in Heldt Hall at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary (MAC). I've seen Kitchen Dog Theater plays in this space but never considered the room as concert venue. It was a good choice for this program: intimate, unexpected, and acoustically alive.
The concert began with Alaskan-based composer John Luther Adams' 2001 chamber work, The Farthest Place, a minimalistic piece that bathed the audience in rich harmonic soundscapes and avoided clearly defined melodic or rhythmic motives. Five guys sporting earbuds connected to a MacBook on the floor performed the work on violin, double bass, marimba, vibraphone, and electric keyboard. Adams' piece was a sonic transporter, acting as tone-setter for the evening.
Let's back up a little and look at this unconventional scene. BtG is a group of classical musicians - several are SMU graduate students and several are local professionals - who seek to break down some of the existing barriers between mainstream audiences and this musical category many find so daunting. The group's mission statement outlines several "gaps" they are seeking to narrow, namely those "between performers and their audiences, student musicians and professional musicians, and between many genres of "classical" music."
Executive Director Maura Bellmio and Artistic Director and cellist, Zachary Reaves, share an energy and enthusiasm for bringing the music they love to new (read: younger) audiences. It's a vitality that you can feel when you walk into a show like this one where all are welcomed and newer arrangements mix with older ones.
Back at the MAC, the first half of the concert concluded with a beautifully performed set of Preludes for Violin and Cello (2007) by contemporary American composer Spencer Topel. Zach and Maura were engaging with the smallish audience, inviting them to mingle over cocktails after the show and letting us know where to see interviews with composers of note online. And, Maura pointed out, there were cookies ("just average ones!") available for snacking on during intermission.
Average or not, the cookies worked. Or maybe it was Maura and Zach's easy-going, inviting attitude that created the relaxed atmosphere. Either way, everyone seemed to be having a good time during the break and it felt comfortable.
The second half of the concert featured J.S. Bach's Partita for Violin No. 3 in E Major (1720) and Eugène Ysaÿe's Sonata for Solo Violin No. 2 (1924). The stage was empty except for two violinists. Brandei Phillips, who was recently named Interim Assistant Concertmaster of the Dallas Opera, began by apologizing for her bare feet ("It's been a long day and I can't wear those heels any longer"), and then she picked up her bow and leapt into the first movement of Bach's Partita. After a movement of the Bach, Dallas Symphony Orchestra violinist Miika Gregg jumped in with a technically and artistically superb rendition of the first movement of Ysaÿe's modernistic Sonata. The Sonata, nicknamed "Obsessions," was partially inspired by the Bach Partita. The pair of violinists effectively presented the two works in tandem, alternating between the Bach and Ysaÿe throughout the performance.
This concert was free and is one of three the group is presenting. Money for the endeavor was acquired entirely using the fund-raising website Kickstarter, a process which, by its nature, creates an invested audience from the get-go. As Maura put it during our pre-concert conversation, younger audiences are looking for "connections and social interactions in concert experiences, not just music." It is clear the group is working to create an engaging social environment in addition to presenting unique programs featuring skilled artists.
BtG's final concert (The "Red" Concert) will be held in the Taubman Atrium in SMU's Meadows School of the Arts (6101 Bishop Blvd., Dallas) this Friday night at 10:15p.m.. The program, which features performances by world-renowned soloist and Meadows faculty member, Chee-Yun Kim, as well as the Meadows Jazz Quartet promises to be a unique and engaging evening. The concert will include works by Michael van der Sloot and Piazzolla. For more information check out BtG's website.