Classical music is thriving underground in St. Petersburg.
On the second Monday of the month, local musicians get together to perform in Classical Revolution St. Pete, a night of straight-up, high-caliber chamber music in the Iberian Rooster’s basement lounge for whoever wants to listen. For free.
In January, a mix of professional and amateur musicians in jeans and T-shirts performed works ranging from a traditional Brahms’ horn trio and Mozart duo for violin/viola to a modern Philip Glass string quartet. The audience settled in a few feet away from the small round stage, lit like a jazz club in red, purple and gold. By midway through the two-hour session, every sofa, chair and high-top table were full — about 100 people. Most stopped by the wooden bar. Plates filled with Curry Fried Nuggets and Iberian Street Dogs wafted down the stairs from the restaurant. An emcee with questionable jokes set up the next performer. Casual. Loose. Free-form.
The concept digs into the roots of chamber music. “It was meant to be party music. It was meant to be fun,” said Cori Lint, a cellist and one of the organizers. “Haydn wrote jokes into all his chamber music.”
Classical Revolution St. Pete was started in October by musicians who simply wanted a reason to play chamber music together. Lint, also operations manager for The Florida Orchestra, and some friends had performed at similar events in Dallas and Cleveland. “I was very inspired and thought, ‘Why don’t we just do this?’”
She teamed up with a core group including Kristin Baird, Laurel Borden, Vivek Jayaraman, Jonas Benson, Yuan-Yuan Wang and Zubaida Azezi and contacted the non-profit group Classical Revolution, a network that started in a San Francisco café in 2006 and now has a few dozen chapters in the U.S. and Europe. The group provided a name and loose framework for the local effort. Lint isn’t aware of anything else like it locally.
Lint found a willing collaborator in the Iberian Rooster, a quirky restaurant at 475 Central Ave. with its SubCentral bar – one of the few basements in the bay area. Lint had her eye on the place back when it was Moscato’s and was heartbroken when it closed. Then she discovered she knew the new owner, Russell Andrade, from his vocal work with The Florida Orchestra. Not only are Andrade and events manager Lauren Lance dedicated to the local music scene, but Andrade also sings at Classical Rev sometimes. “It was meant to be,” Lint said.
Classical Revolution is not affiliated with The Florida Orchestra, but TFO fans will recognize many of the performers. Putting together the programs starts with TFO musicians, Lint said, because they all know each other. Performers also have included members of the Tampa Bay Symphony, a viola soloist from Spring Hill and a pianist from New Tampa, to name a few.
In the end, Classical Revolution can be a lot of work for the organizers and the musicians, who get together to rehearse. For many TFO musicians, they’ve just finished a packed week of rehearsals and concerts. So why do it?
“You can have fun with no fear,” said Lint, who also performs at the events. “No one is there to judge my performance. They are just there to enjoy it.” The experience also fills a void for Lint, who used to perform regularly as a professional cellist. “Playing is more than just a job. Without it, I feel like I’m missing a part of myself.”
For Benson, a violist who regularly subs with The Florida Orchestra, it’s about freedom, connection and a love of the art form. “It’s great to offer an experience where the audience can sit in comfortable chairs, with a good drink, within feet of the performers,” he said. “The performers literally join the audience as equals when they aren’t playing, and enjoy the same experience with no separation.”
“Classical Rev for me is a place to relax with my friends and remember why I do this in the first place,” said Baird, a TFO teaching artist who regularly subs in the orchestra. “It makes me a happier musician all around.”
Lint is eager to widen the field of top-notch musicians. For those interested in performing, Lint recommends coming to one of the events first to get a feel for it. So far, performers have come together by word of mouth, Youtube, and Facebook messages. The next Classical Revolution is 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 12. Check for the latest programs and dates on the group’s Facebook page.
Lint is encouraged by the turnout each month. “Everybody likes classical music,” she said. “When you present it in an accessible way, then everybody comes. Plus it helps that the Iberian Rooster is super hip.”
She is also hopeful about what Classical Revolution can do for the community.
“In the long term, I hope this ties together the overall music community. Instead of our classical bubble, their indie bubble, a jazz bubble. Let’s bring everybody in.”