Bringing classical music to clubs in San Francisco

A pioneering new enterprise aims to change the way young people view classical music

Classical music is pretty divisive: people are either really into it, or really not. It’s usually seen as a genre reserved for the older, upper-middle class crowd: you don’t normally see teenagers going wild for Bach’s Prelude. Going to the symphony even has its own specific code of conduct: dressing up respectably and being on your best behaviour are expected. In other words, it’s not exactly a young person’s scene.

The classical music establishment has been trying to figure out how to attract younger audiences for years. In the past, this has sometimes led to embarrassing missteps (for example, the collaboration between Sir Mix-a-Lot and the Seattle Symphony for Baby Got Back).

But Michael Tilson Thomas, music director for the San Francisco Symphony, seems to have broken the curse with something called SoundBox – a performance event space that makes going to the symphony more like a loose, experimental party than a formal performance.

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There are many aspects that help SoundBox stand out: attendees are encouraged to mingle, there’s unallocated seating, and tickets are just $25 (£16) a pop. SoundBox also boasts a state-of-the-art Constellation system, which makes it possible to re-tune the acoustics throughout the entire space with a computer. It’s possible for the audience to experience a completely different sound from each performance without ever leaving the room. There’s even a bar where people can get drinks and snacks to munch on during the performance.

But it’s not just about amping up the fun – it’s about art, too. Scattered throughout the space are several screens with video art to accompany the live music. At the first SoundBox show in December 2014, called Extremities, composer Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood was performed alongside a minimalist video. Rightly marketed as “unique and stimulating and totally different,” Soundbox is changing how classical music is consumed and understood in today’s culture.

First published by Ignite Channel