Emerald City Music founders Kristen Lee and Andrew Goldstein aim to bring audiences and artists together in their new chamber-music series, which focuses on making each concert more of a social experience.
Think of Kristin Lee and Andrew Goldstein as the wizards behind Seattle’s new inclusive chamber-music series, Emerald City Music.
Instead of performing magic, however, as did the fabled wizard of another Emerald City, they devote their energies to transforming what makes classical concerts so off-putting for some. In the process of creating a welcoming and more inclusive environment for intimate music-making, they promote their series by chalking street corners in South Lake Union to get the word out, treating social media as their friend, staging pop-up performances at Microsoft and Google, hosting meetups and collaborating with young professionals.
Artistic director Lee, 30, is a Juilliard graduate and Avery Fisher Grant-winning violinist who regularly tours and records with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, performs at the Music@Menlo chamber-music series, and hangs with some of the finest chamber musicians around. Executive director Goldstein, 26, began interning at Music@Menlo while still a college student, and went on to work for chamber-music “power couple” David Finckel and Wu Han — artistic directors of Lincoln Center’s chamber society — before doing a turn at Seattle Opera.
Emerald City Music: ‘Darkness Visible’
8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, 415 Westlake, 415 Westlake Ave., Seattle; $45, includes one drink (emeraldcitymusic.org). Note: Program repeats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at University of Puget Sound, Tacoma; $28-$43.
“When we built Emerald City Music, we tried to get as holistic an idea as possible for why people do and don’t go to live classical-music experiences,” Goldstein said in a phone interview. “We began by talking with arts executive directors and board leaders, people in city government and granting organizations, as well as randomly surveying people on the street.”
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He and Lee decided to target one key reason why people said they stayed home: Concerts remain a very individualistic experience that often doesn’t offer an opportunity to socialize. Over and over, people they spoke with said they wished they had a space to connect with other music lovers and artists in a far more personal way.
Hence their choice for Emerald City Music’s main space, 415 Westlake in South Lake Union. Andrew describes it as “almost a speak-easy, a very tucked-away venue with a very chic coffee shop in front that is used as a community mingling space before, after, and during intermission.”
A glass of wine is included with admission, which you can bring — along with coffee, popcorn and more — into the concert. The intimate concert setting offers seating in the round, with none of the 180 attendees sitting more than three or four rows from the artists. Goldstein calls it a space “where art and audience collide.”
Not only do attendees socialize, but performers also make it a point to talk with the audience, tell stories and connect in a way that makes the musical experience, according to Lee, “very powerful and interconnected, and very human. Instead of a handheld program, we offer a conversation between artists and audience. The audience feels that they, too, have a voice. We give people freedom, and trust that they will be affected by the music. Our experience with our first two concerts is that that audience becomes part of the performance, and deeply immersed.”
“We look to attract people who may not think classical music first,” Goldstein says. “They may be musical omnivores who listen to maybe five or more genres, such as punk and rock. We don’t expect them to study beforehand or read the program notes or know anything in advance. It’s an experience where people of all backgrounds can come together exactly as they are.”
Even in Emerald City’s larger, more traditional performance spaces in Olympia and Tacoma, boundaries are broken. People discover welcome cards on every seat that encourage dialogue around the evening’s theme. “It was amazing to see people in Olympia talking to neighbors they ordinarily would never speak to, build community, and then use their exchange about the concert theme to inform their experience,” Lee says.
Emerald City’s forthcoming concert, “Darkness Visible,” which takes its name from a piano solo work by Thomas Adès, centers on the influence of French music on English music. “It’s sort of the brainier program of the seven we’re putting together this season,” says Lee. (Musicians include Lee, pianists Conor Hanick and Michael Mizrahi, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and cellist Jay Campbell.) Early works by Britten and Dutilleux join the Adès, and are framed by two staples of the literature, Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, and Ravel’s Piano Trio. In the process, the concert intentionally erases boundaries between traditional and new music programming.