Classical Music Finds a Home

Photography by Aeschleah Demartino

Love letters from a revolution

Art school boho-chic: meet the original acoustic sensation. Before indie rock, before punk, before rock ‘n’ roll; before anything you love right now, there was classical. And let’s be honest – old school revivalism has gotten a lot of play lately. But this music is old

old school, and it’s making a comeback. Now this isn’t just a matter of sporting a ‘stache and playing LP orchestral tuneage on those vintage teak McIntosh speakers of yours. No, this is a genuine, live acoustic revolution. This is “Classical Revolution.”

Tucked away on a graffiti’d street corner just west of Mission St. in San Francisco is an oasis for those tortured artistic souls who find comfort not in the tribalistic scene-hopping of some underground trend, but who instead revel in the simple pleasures of vice: coffee, cigarettes and booze. Now add to that heady mix the uprising of a band of musicians, and it will come as no surprise as you squeeze through the crowd at the café in question that you’ll hear a revolution going on.

Engulfed by the din of a classic Euroboho café—clinking glasses, the thud of a milk frother, the hiss of a beer tap—musicians with rock star status in the classical music world jam out to their favorite tunes by whoever happens to show up that night: Mozart early in the evening, Brahms in the heat of the moment, and perhaps Fauré to finish. Armed with nothing but an instrument and sheet music, musicians can take a seat when the time is right and make music with strangers for shits and giggles. This is music making by anarchy. There is no plan, no program—just come-what-may pickup jam sessions.

Loosely hosted by a band of regulars with the moniker “Classical Revolution,” the scene plays itself out in the most unlikely of spaces. Word-of-mouth may lead you to clubs like Amnesia, the Red Poppy Art House, Philz Coffee, or Revolution Café on any given night, depending on the collaborative juju of Charith Premawardhana—a violist-cum-civic leader who organized his friends to bring this music to the people. A labor of love project that originated in San Francisco, “Classical Revolution” now has compatriots leading underground chapters in Berlin and New York, among other music hubs.

Three or four beers in, the crowd, which by now spills through the doors onto the street, gets rowdy, applauds in all the wrong places, and hollers when it feels good (to hell with age-old customs). This is no place for stiff aficionados to listen patiently and diligently to these riotous acoustic classics. This is classical music liberated from the pretense of its past.

Taking classical music out of its stuffy context subversively challenges those very institutions that have built barriers to prevent people from claiming this music as their own. How else will the iGeneration listen to raw, unadulterated acoustic sets?

So, in the silent words of a painting hung casually on the communist-red walls above the gathered crowd, “Shut up and revolt.”

– Marcella Prieto