You say you want a revolution? Well, you know … there’s one happening downtown.
Once a month on a Monday night, musicians from the Tampa Bay classical community – professionals and orchestra members, retired teachers, amateurs and students – assemble in the basement performance space of the Iberian Rooster restaurant.
SubCentral fits an audience of perhaps 100 people, who enjoy an intimate evening of “highbrow” music in a decidedly “middlebrow” environment. Chamber music, in a cozy chamber. It’s all very casual – there’s not a tuxedo or an evening gown in sight. And admission is free.
As part of the city’s ongoing Shakespeare-themed Celebration of the Arts, the spotlight for tonight’s Classical Revolution program (starting at 7 p.m.) is a piece by Daniel Black, assistant conductor for The Florida Orchestra. Inspired by The Winter’s Tale, it’s played by a string quartet, flute and bassoon.
“Classical music has this stigma around it – but in the classical music world, I don’t think it’s really that way at all,” says cellist Cori Lint, one of the founders of the St. Pete Classical Revolution. “I think it’s more of a perception thing.
“And so if you remove that one barrier – being in a concert hall – then it just kind of opens people’s eyes to ‘This is actually pretty cool, and fun.’ And full concerts can be pretty expensive, so we’ve removed that, too.”
The idea, of course, is to make classical music more accessible. “You don’t have to dumb it down,” Lint explains. “People take from it what they want to take. It is what it is, whether it’s 300 years old or brand-new music. You don’t have to make it a big show, or anything weird or crazy, it just is inherently cool, I think.”
It’s not a new idea. Classical Revolution originated in San Francisco in 2006, and has spread to more than 40 cities around the country.
Lint, Operations Manager for the Florida Orchestra, latched onto the idea and thought it would be a perfect fit for St. Petersburg. “It was,” she says, “about 50 percent ‘I want to play with my friends, and maybe people will listen to us’ and 50 percent of ‘Probably other people feel this way too – that they don’t really have an informal outlet for playing.”
She explains that classical musicians “love to get together and have chamber music reading parties, but we also love to rehearse and prepare things, work on things and perform them. It’s like another level of the experience.”
She and several musician buddies launched St. Pete Classical Revolution in the autumn of 2017. “I’d been part of the one in Cleveland – not as an organizer but as a participant – and I had so much fun doing it,” Lint says. “And it brought together a different part of the community than I’d seen at classical concerts before. When I came here, I kept thinking about that.”
Exposing new audiences to the music is always a primary goal for professional orchestras. Although the Florida Orchestra is not officially associated with St. Pete Classical Revolution, Lint knows her group has the tacit support of TFO.
“I like to think – and I think that TFO feels the same way – that if one part of the local arts community is prospering and bringing people in, that we all win,” she says. “Because the more people are discovering about themselves, or about the music by going to these things, maybe the more likely they’d be to go to an orchestra concert, or an opera.”
She was a big fan of the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle (2014-2018), which dramatized (in a humorous way) the backstage goings-on of a fictional (if slightly dysfunctional) symphony orchestra. “It was pretty realistic,” Lint says, “but I felt like they didn’t give the characters any depth or real lives: The people that are playing classical music are regular people. And I look at the people around me, for example in the orchestra – and I’m not just talking about people in their 20s or their 30s, like I am – but everybody has a real life. They’re really cool people, they’re really multi-faceted people who enjoy a lot of things.”
Classical Revolution allows the musicians – who might play for several different area orchestras, for the opera, in chamber or small groups, or all of the above – to “let their hair down,” so to speak.
The ground rules, according to Lint, are simple and loose-limbed. It’s not an open mic night – every performance is curated by Lint and her cohorts. “My only guideline, basically, is that something has to make it quote-unquote classical,” she explains. “But the thing about that is classical music is really evolving to become something much broader than a lot of people think about. A lot of us are playing traditionally classical music, but if you come and play something on a traditionally classical instrument, like a piano, that works for me.
“If you’re a singer/songwriter and you want to come and play, there’s probably a better outlet for that. Or if you’re a jazz trumpet player, maybe it’s not quite the avenue for you. But I think the lines are pretty blurry.”
Tonight (Feb. 11), along with the Daniel Black piece, the audience will hear a trombone quartet inspired by Hamlet, and a movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major that was inspired by the Romeo and Juliet tomb scene.
The musicians have all been hand-picked – from an ever-expanding group of compatriots and friends. “We all kind of know each other, to some extent – but the more diversity, I think, the better,” Lint explains. “Because that represents what we’ve got going on in St. Pete with our classical community. And that’s where Classical Revolution comes in.”