Live music is known to bring people together, but during the pandemic, events that bring people together must do so while being physically apart. As a result, the Absolute Chamber Music Series is hosting its first-ever virtual concert on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. via an online streaming platform.
The concert lineup includes Kimberly Kennedy (violin), Abraham Feder (cello), Zhuha Tang (piano) performing Beethoven Piano Trio in D major, op. 70 No. 1 “Ghost,” and Dvorak Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90 “Dumky.”
The concert series was founded by Michigan State University College of Music professor and flutist Richard Sherman back in 2009. Sherman is the Artistic Director of the recurring concert series, traditionally held at Urban Beat Events Center in Old Town Lansing. Guides from WKAR, the East Lansing-based radio station, introduced pieces.
The series launched at Absolute Gallery in Old Town, featuring piano chamber music. Marshall Music in East Lansing brought a piano to the gallery every month to make the music possible. Since then, the series has expanded to include musicians from Jackson, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ohio, and even New York.
“We’ve become a little bit more national,” Sherman said. “It’s kind of taken off like wildfire.”
Reeder Pianos sponsors the series, which features five or six concerts in a season — usually running from fall through spring and showcasing an eclectic mix of music and musicians. MSU graduate students and faculty have shared the stage with musicians from all over the country at the monthly events.
Sherman sees the goal of the series as outreach. “There’s already a lot of music at MSU with the various different series, and I thought it would be good to give people another outlet that was out of the ivory tower,” he said.
The transition to a virtual outlet for October’s concert is what Sherman calls an “experiment,” but one he’s happy to try out in order to keep patrons safe.
“This is a new venture for us,” he said. “I thought it was very important — our patrons are very loyal. There’s a lot of retirees who have been very much contributors to the community, whether they’re professors or lawyers or doctors. It’s been a very painful loss for the thought of not being able to gather in person. It’s a very close-knit group and very loyal. I thought because a lot of our patrons are over 65, that the safest thing for them would be to have a livestream platform.”
In the past, the event series featured a Q & A session between audience members and musicians but now it will include questions, fielded by WKAR host Jamie Paisley, from people at home via a virtual chat window. The decision to continue the event in a different manner is an effort to keep a certain sense of normalcy and routine for loyal patrons and music lovers.
Maintaining a sense of audience involvement and inclusivity was important to the series because it’s something they’ve focused on since the beginning.
“The whole interactive part has been a big signature part of what we do,” Sherman said. “It’s very much a place for people to get together, share a great moment with classical music, and great fellowship with each other.”
The virtual show may draw more attendees, who were previously unsure if the classical music scene had a place for them. “Classical music is not just for the over 60 set. This is for young people too,” Sherman said. “I think it goes across all age brackets.”
“The music doesn’t have to be strictly from Beethoven and Brahms and Mozart. We’ve had a lot of things that are sort of progressive or pieces that have been written more recently, that sort of walk the line between popular music and classical,” he continued
The concert is free as a “service to the community,” but donations are accepted. “I think we have always had an outreach dimension, bringing eclectic classical music to people who might otherwise not hear these pieces,” Sherman said. “I think that needs to continue. I think the series has a mission to continue that outreach, and I think artists have a responsibility right now because I think people need that nurturing and that nourishment musically as well as personally.”
“We’re trying to expand the horizons of people’s classical music experience, so maybe it reshapes their conception that it’s not a stuffy experience,” Sherman said. “It’s actually stimulating in a way they may never have imagined.”
Since the series’ inception, Sherman has seen the greater Lansing music community and arts scene continually grow. It’s an identity he hopes can flourish and live on, even post-pandemic.
“I think we’ll get back, and we’ll have learned a lot of valuable lessons about the true value of art — a true renaissance of art could really happen in this country … provided I hope … that there will be steps taken to make sure that the arts organizations continue to thrive.”
The concert will be available for free to stream live on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. here.
Correction: This post was updated with the correct spelling of the composer Johannes Brahms’ name.
Read ELi’s community-based reporting?