The Violin Channel recently sat down with Andrew Ousley, founder of the New York "Death of Classical" concert series.
Hi Andrew, tell us about ‘Death of Classical’. When was it founded and what are your hopes and goals for the concert series?
When I founded Death of Classical, the goal was to create a better experience around classical music and opera performances - an experience that would be exciting for both connoisseurs as well as newcomers, but without cheapening or dumbing down the music.
We've tried to do that by finding interesting, characterful spaces, and programming concerts in them with artists and music that I feel have a powerful emotional directness. We've also included pre-concert wine and whiskey tastings to allow our audiences to share time and break bread together before the musical experience, so that the actual performance have more of the feeling of a communion.
Your next initiative project, called ‘To America’, will combine different art forms. Where did the idea for those performances come from, and what can viewers expect?
The entire event grew out of the poetry of James Weldon Johnson, who's buried at Green-Wood and wrote the words to Lift Every Voice and Sing, often called the Black National Anthem. His poetry had such a deeply-felt relevance to the current moment in America, especially the first two lines from his poem that gives To America its name: "How would you have us, as we are? / Or sinking 'neath the load we bear?"
Audiences will walk in small distanced groups through the cemetery, stopping at certain monuments and graves to learn the story of them, and hear a performance that ties to both the specific site, as well as the larger themes of the evening as a whole.
What are the main historical topics the series will cover and what was your process for choosing the texts and repertoire?
The curation of To America explores both the history of our country while also tracing lines from the past to the present moment, and the myriad challenges we're facing.
From the scars of slavery to the ghosts of the Civil War to never-ending stream of senseless deaths at the hands of the police, the entire evening will be both a kind of lament and also a song of hope to what America has been, and what it might be.
Can you tell us more about the different artists who will be featured?
We'll feature a number of ensembles from our wonderful Artistic Partners, The Harlem Chamber Players - two string quartets playing in the Catacombs and the Historic Chapel, as well as a Brass Quintet that will perform with the marvelous singer Lucy Dhegrae.
Cellist Robert Burkhart will perform Caroline Shaw's In Manus Tuas accompanied by a newly-choreographed dance by Selina Hack. Violinist Lady Jess will play her signature improvisations under the glow of a Weeping Beech tree.
Cellist Jules Biber will perform under a tree beside the grave of Margaret Pine, the last living slave in New York, while a pair of singers sing Handel's Ombra Mai Fu and then Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit. It's a special group of people and a special set of performances.
What are you hoping your public will take away with them?
Reckoning, reflection, catharsis, communion, and ultimately hope...
How can we book tickets for the events?
Tickets are sold out at the moment but we're hoping to release a few ahead of each performance so sign up for the wait list!