Imagine walking into a pedestrian tunnel to discover a string quartet playing classical music as fellow passersby journey through, each note more eerily beautiful than the last. That fully improvised soundscape is exactly what greeted travelers inside the W. 65th St. tunnel on Sunday, September 30.
Ariel Clayton Karas
"There was no game plan, there was no score, there was no sheet music," says Ariel Clayton Karas, director of Classical Revolution Cleveland
Though this isn't how most people experience classical music, that’s precisely the point. Karas seeks “to present classical music differently, in these genre-bending or less traditional contexts," and that's just what she plans to do as Gordon Square's first musician-in-residence. That tunnel performance was the first of dozens Karas has planned for her 10-week tenure.
For the past nine years, Karas and Classical Revolution Cleveland have been entertaining patrons of Happy Dog as they enjoy hot dogs and beer, but when she applied for the residency, she worried her long-standing Gordon Square gig might actually work against her: “Do they really want more of us? I wasn't sure.”
So to win the residency and funding that comes with it, Karas got creative. While a residency normally functions as a type of grant—with limited input on how the artist can use the money—Karas’ proposal focused on partnerships with neighborhood businesses. “I believe really strongly that the future of the arts has to intersect more with existing businesses," says Karas.
These partnerships would make classical music accessible to everyone, including performances at Superelectric Pinball Parlor, Ringon Criollo, Sav-a-Lot, and Ninja City.
Now that Karas' has officially been named Gordon Square's musician-in-residence, she's putting her vision into motion. Right now, she's planning another soundscape—this time, in an art gallery stairwell. Says Karas, "We're going to have musicians positioned on each landing so we won't be able to see each other, but the idea is [that] we’ll hear each other and respond to what we hear.”
She’s particularly excited about a flute and cello duo she describes as hip-hop and crossover, reminiscent of “everything from the English composer Edward Elgar to Kanye West," as well as the residency finale featuring local soprano Claire Connelly.
“We're going to do a string quartet - a compliment to her singing opera favorites and Broadway favorites and some art songs and some holiday music,” says Karas, adding that the December 8 concert will be part of Wintertide.
The next few weeks will be busy for Karas, but sharing her passion for classical music and shattering expectations of Cleveland audiences is clearly a labor of love. It's part of a wider movement that Karas says exists in cities across the country.
"There's a Classical Revolution [movement in places like] Detroit, Portland, and San Francisco," says Karas. "We're not beholden to an umbrella organization, but it's just this idea that classical music needs to be taken off its historic pedestal and reimagined and presented in a way that can reach anyone."
Kicking off the residency with a soundscape in the W. 65th St. tunnel: