What happens when you take classical music out of its comfort zones of concert hall, opera house and recital platform?
Can it survive without the quasi-ritualistic trappings it has gained since mass culture developed in the 19th century?
At the Hook and Ladder Theater in south Minneapolis on Saturday evening, we got an interesting answer in an event curated by Outpost, a group dedicated to deformalizing classical music and inserting it into unfamiliar contexts.
Down the corridor in the main performing area, a Velvet Underground tribute was happening.
In the smaller Mission Room, a group of classical musicians and spoken word artists were mashing up a 90-minute sequence of poetry, stand-up comedy and storytelling with contemporary music.
The Mission Room is an intimate space with industrial venting snaked across the corrugated ceiling — and a whiff of beer in the air.
It’s probable that the British composer Sally Beamish’s music has not been heard in that kind of environment often, but her Fanfare for Solo Trumpet was a stirring call to attention as Minnesota Orchestra trumpeter Douglas Carlsen opened the evening.
A Pixies’ song (“Wave of Mutilation”) was the starting point for the Sarabande by composer Michael Kurth that followed.
Kurth spun a poetic meditation on the song for solo viola, and it was played with probing insight by another Minnesota Orchestra player, Sam Bergman.
Bergman co-founded Outpost a year ago with soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw, and their vision for provocatively mixing words and music brought comedian Ali Sultan, broadcaster and Lyft driver Bob Collins, and poet Sagirah Shahid to the microphone between sets of music.
With fellow soprano Liz Pearse, Shaw herself contributed Gilda Lyons’ “Bone Needles,” a jagged piece where two voices chant and ululate together.
Two pulsating, quicksilver works for string quartet led by Minnesota Orchestra violinist Susie Park — Reinaldo Moya’s “Dreaming in Waves” and Jessie Montgomery’s “Break Away” — also made a strong impression.
In an era where marketing departments are pressed to conjure up increasingly unplausible selling points for classical music, Saturday’s Outpost program was blissfully “themeless” — no facile claims that music can instantly change the world or carry a coherent social message.
What the evening did was free the imagination to follow the strands of suggestion that hung tantalizingly in the air, often unspoken.
Shards of broken melody fluttering to earth in “Break Away” seemed suddenly to fit Collins’ vision of an unhappy couple screeching southward in a car down Hwy. 7.
And Chinary Ung’s solo cello work “Khse Buon” — beautifully played by Kirsten Whitson — seemed impregnated with the sort of poignant personal memories that also lay beneath Sultan’s comedy and Shahid’s incantatory poetry.
We need more evenings like this, where long established lines of demarcation are breached and the apple cart is toppled — as D.H. Lawrence once put it — to “see which way the apples go a-rolling.”
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.