Audience Engagement, Community Outreach, Ensembles, Future of Music, Music for Social Change, Opportunity

Music in Familiar Spaces: January Update

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By Michelle and Steuart Pincombe

When people ask how our tour is going, I usually answer with some combination of the following: it’s incredible, super challenging, really rewarding, totally exhausting, pretty crazy, the ultimate marriage test, a total blast! For those of you don’t know, my husband Steuart and I (and our pup Lucy) have been traveling the country in a 1959 travel trailer, presenting classical music concerts in places like cafes, breweries, homes and churches. A couple of months back Musicovation introduced our project Music in Familiar Spaces to you with this post and we’re happy to report on our progress here.

Three months into the tour something clicked, right around the time we were in Austin, Texas (December, just before the holidays). Steuart played a Bach & Beer concert at the Hops & Grain brewery and it was packed. People were talking about the concert on Twitter and posting pictures on Instagram. We’d just had a few concerts in a row that were full of enthusiastic and engaged audience members. That week we had received emails from venues asking us to come to them (usually I’m the one asking them to host us), and from musicians asking for advice about presenting their own concerts. “I think we’re actually doing it,” I whispered to Steuart, “I think we can do this!” Though there was still some fear and hesitation behind those statements, I hadn’t felt that confident since we started this crazy project.

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I keep finding myself trying to measure the success of each concert. Do I measure it in the number of tweets or Facebook likes? Or the response from local media? How about how much money we made, or the number of people who came?

What I keep coming back to are the conversations Steuart and I have with audience members after each concert. We’ve been surprised at how many people tell us that the concert had been their first time hearing classical music live (and that they want to hear more!). One person said to Steuart after a recent concert in Missouri “… if you’d asked me a week ago if I was gonna be here, I woulda said ‘hell no’, but here I am. You sold me, I love this stuff.” We’ve been humbled by people saying how much it meant to them, to hear Steuart play Bach, as if they were part of a private conversation. We’ve been encouraged by fellow musicians inspired to do similar concerts and actively engage new audiences. And we’ve been astounded by the diversity of each audience, filled with children, retirees, students, young professionals, members of the local symphony, classic rock fans, and everyone in between.

Folks in Columbia, MO showed their support at Cafe Berlin's very first classical music concert.

Folks in Columbia, MO showed their support at Cafe Berlin’s very first classical music concert.

It’s hard to believe we’ve already played concerts in 9 different states. We’ll finish the winter in Texas and Oklahoma before heading up to Missouri in March. For the spring months we’ll be in the Midwest and East Coast, first to Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, before heading to New England. Our route (where we’re going when) is all planned out but we’re still setting up concerts for later in the tour. This tour is an experiment in building an audience for classical music from the ground up. If you’d like to help us and be involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re always looking for venue suggestions, hosts, people to help spread the word, driveways for parking our trailer, dog park recommendations…! We’d love to hear from you. Write to us: info@musicinfamiliarspaces.com. Follow us: @mfstour or on Facebook: Steuart Pincombe.


Audience Engagement, Community Outreach, Contemporary Music, Ensembles, Opportunity

Ear Taxi Festival

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By Stephen Burns

The State of the Union…of New Music in Chicago…is Strong!

Did you know there are dozens of composers, hundreds of performers and over 30 ensembles specializing in new music in the Windy City? This fall you can take a musical joyride through Chicago’s contemporary music scene during the Ear Taxi Festival October 5-10, 2016.

Celebrating the vibrant and robust classical contemporary music scene in Chicago, Ear Taxi was created with seed money from the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia University. Co-curators Augusta Read Thomas and Stephen Burns have assembled a creative committee of curators, intellectuals and supporters to shape the festival and nurture its content. With the fiscal partnership of New Music Chicago Ear Taxi has been able to apply for grants and receive tax-deductible donations in order to establish a production team headed by Festival Manager Rebecca Cafarelli.

Searching for a central location that shares Chicago’s reputation for innovation and contemporary style, the curators approached Michael Tiknis at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance who immediately and enthusiastically offered the Harris Theater as presenting sponsor and host for the main-stage concerts, forums, performances in their newly renovated lobby bar and interviews with artists—for up-close and personal conversations with composers, nothing can beat New Music Box who’ll bring their show to Chicago during the festival. Upon hearing the scope of the programs, Michelle Boone Chicago’s Commissioner of Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) committed the Chicago Cultural Center for two days of concerts, free to the public.

With over 300 performers, 75 composers, and 25 ensembles Ear Taxi features the creativity of Chicago’s emerging and established composers with over 50 world premieres, 4 sound installations, daily artist receptions, forums, and a 2-day marathon. From Mana Contemporary and the University of Chicago on the south side to a blowout Sunday party/performance at Constellation on the north side, take the Ear Taxi ride through the whole city and hear the future of classical concert music.


Co-curator of the Ear Taxi Festival with Augusta Read Thomas, Stephen Burns is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Fulcrum Point New Music Project in Chicago. An internationally acclaimed solo trumpeter, conductor, and composer Prof. Burns is a visiting lecturer at Northwestern University and the Amici della Musica Firenze. Winner of the Avery Fisher Career Grant, the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and the Maurice André International Trumpet Competition, Stephen is a Yamaha Performing Artist.

Community Outreach, Education, Ensembles, Future of Music, Interdisciplinary, Opportunity, Orchestras

Starting the Vibration: Earth and Air’s First Season

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By David B. Ellis


Strings in the earth and air

Make music sweet;

Strings by the river where

The willows meet.


There’s music along the river

For Love wanders there,

Pale flowers on his mantle,

Dark leaves on his hair.


All softly playing,

With head to the music bent,

And fingers straying

Upon an instrument.


-James Joyce


Earth and Air: String Orchestra started as an interesting combination of circumstances.  I really wanted to start a group in Cleveland.  This was partially because I am from here originally, but I wanted to contribute to what has really become an exciting growth in recent years.  But it needed to be a group which Cleveland did not already have.  Between the various chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras, youth orchestras, baroque ensembles, and everything else in between, Cleveland already has many exceptional groups it can showcase.  But what Cleveland also has is an almost infinite amount of highly talented string players.  Not only are they technically proficient, but they play in a manner that is distinctly Cleveland, with a sensibility and nuance which could only be derived from our own Cleveland Orchestra.

So the idea of a purely string orchestra came to fruition.  As I researched more and more repertoire for this ensemble to play, classics naturally came to the fore, such as Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and Strauss’s Metamorphosen.  However, what was most intriguing was finding an enormous wealth of pieces by Penderecki and Xenakis which had rarely been recorded, if at all.  And gems would appear even from less avant-garde eras as well.  For example, one of the pieces we played on our first concert, Suk’s Serenade for Strings, is a piece I have never seen on a program before, and the orchestra found that, as technically difficult as it was, it is a truly wonderful piece.  So the mission of this orchestra evolved.  This was no longer a group that would simply perform music for string orchestra, but one which adventurously explores music for this ensemble, be it rediscovering interpretive and historical nuances in Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht or playing exciting, yet seldom heard works by composers such as Enesco, Lutoslawski, or Schnittke.

The Earth and Air String Orchestra. Photo Credit: Alex Belisle 

The Earth and Air String Orchestra. Photo Credit: Alex Belisle

2015 marked our first season, and we have had one concert and have two more upcoming.  Our first, entitled Prague Serenades, was performed this past October, and featured Dvorak’s Op. 22 and the aforementioned Suk Op. 6.  Our next concert, on January 29th, will feature a fantastic piece called In the White Silence by John Luther Adams.  This hour and fifteen minute long work features vibraphones, a celeste and a harp in the mix of string players.  And our third concert, which is on April 8th, de las Americas consists of Latin American music of Carlos Chavez, Villa-Lobos and Ginastera.This is the first of what I hope will be many seasons to come.  We do not intend to remain a purely classical ensemble, but rather we hope to explore other genres, such as jazz, R&B, hip-hop, rock, metal, and many more.  We hope to look into ethnic music.  Not just classical music inspired by ethnic music, but ethnic music at its roots, featuring all kinds of nationalities.  We plan to work with more living composers, both inside and outside of Cleveland, to try and expand the repertoire possibilities for this unusual ensemble.  But most importantly, we intend to be educators, not just by performing for local schools, but also by building programs and presentations to develop adventurous listeners of all ages.

Hope to see you around.



A conductor, cellist, and viola da gambist, David B. Ellis serves as the Executive and Artistic Director of Earth and Air: String Orchestra.  A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, David has performed with ensembles around the United States, including Apollo’s Fire, Catacoustic, The Newberry Consort, Les Delices, and the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra.