Chamber-music aficionados might be accustomed to attending performances in the quiet of concert halls.
Seattle’s Parnassus Project, a 20-member ensemble of young rising stars in the music world, prefers to play with the sound of busy baristas, tavern clatter or street traffic in the background.
“The original idea behind chamber music was to take concerts into intimate, accessible venues, to bring the music to the audience,” says Brooks Tran, a pianist and co-founder and artistic director of Parnassus Project.
“We live in such a cafe culture in Seattle, where we always have live music at cafes. It’s usually random folk singers or jazz. We asked ourselves, why not do this with classical music?”
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The group, which specializes in playing in public spaces where people naturally converge to drink coffee or have a beer or peruse library shelves, has anchored a free, outdoor-lunchtime concert series this summer in Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park.
Parnassus Project performances, on alternate Tuesdays, are co-sponsored by Classical KING FM and ARTSparks, a program created by the city of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture.
Parnassus Project will play two more times — Sept. 9 and 23 (Trio Pardalote performs Aug. 26) — all beginning at noon, before the series ends.
“It’s been fun,” says Tran. “We always like to play outdoors. Each time we perform there, the audience grows. It’s been a novel experience for a lot of people, listening to live classical music in the middle of Pioneer Square.”
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Tran won the annual University of Washington’s School of Music Concerto Competition and has been a soloist with the University Symphony and the UW Wind Ensemble. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in musical arts at the UW, studying with Craig Sheppard.
Among Tran’s Parnassus Project colleagues are violinist Mitchell Drury, concertmaster for the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra; violist Clifton Antoine, founder of the Los Angeles-based Belden Piano Quartet; and cellist Sonja Myklebust, currently pursuing her doctorate at the UW and principal cellist for Seattle Collaborative Orchestra.
The ensemble was born in an appropriate setting: the Parnassus Café in the basement of the UW art building.
“[The original core group] went to the UW together,” Tran says. “We had the same teacher for chamber music. We thought Seattle would be a great place to bridge music with cafe culture.”
Parnassus Project became official in 2011. Tran and a co-founder, harpist Ruth Mar Tam, immediately began letting area coffee houses and other public places know they were available to play.
Parnassus Project indeed gets around, putting on concerts at Seattle’s Pink Door, Roy Street Coffee & Tea and the Blue Moon Tavern; the Bellingham Farmers Market; Zoka Café in Kirkland; and the Covington Library.
What is it like playing where, more often than not, there is a lot of noisy activity going on?
“We just have to adapt,” says Tran. “Playing in a cafe, you have to compete with white noise and the espresso machine in the background.
The best part is when we’re playing and people are walking by and looking in the window. They see us and afterward they’re always so grateful because most people don’t expect that kind of live music in that situation.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org