Sample free classical music at the third annual Classical Revolution Phoestival, a casual, unique buffet of chamber, percussion, and choral performances held as part of Artlink’s First Friday on April 5. Shuttles stop conveniently at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, where ten ensembles play over the course of three hours. While all four stages are on the cathedral’s grounds at Roosevelt and 1st Avenue, they range from an upstairs auditorium to the outdoor Labyrinth.
Presented by Classical Revolution Phoenix (CRPHX), a grass-roots organization promoting free chamber music performances in unusual, non-traditional settings, the Phoestival offers a demonstration of the cathedral’s organ by Canon Musician Erik Goldstrom as well as an open rehearsal by the Grammy-winning Phoenix Chorale.
Other highlights feature opera scenes performed by Opera Revolution, flutist Jenna Daum with pianist Drew Quiring, a brass quintet, and a string quartet. The more unusual ensembles include the Arizona State University Pan Devils Steel Band, playing instruments painstakingly crafted from 55-gallon oil drums, and the Mana Saxophone Orchestra AZ, comprised of instruments from saxophone to bass.
The Classical Revolution movement began in 2006 in San Francisco and rapidly expanded to more than 30 chapters around the world, inspiring local musicians to create networks and spread their love of the art through high-quality, readily accessible performances. CRPHX co-founder, bassoonist, and recent ASU doctoral graduate Joseph Kluesener says, “Classical Revolution exposes new audiences to classical music styles and beyond…by breaking down…traditional expectation.”
As CRPHX’s main event designer and ensemble booker, Kluesener works closely with Phoenix Chorale Director of Marketing & Communications Jen Rogers, who says, “We call ourselves co-founders — kind of like charter members — but I think of us more as coordinators.”
Rogers continues, “The primary host and sponsor of the Phoestival is the Chorale, [which] provides the venue, design and printing of the flyer, piano tuning, other infrastructure…and helps secure partners.” CRPHX’s volunteer-driven cooperation continues to develop beyond the Phoestival to performances around the Valley, thanks to word of mouth and the wildfire effect of social media.
Among its occasional special events, CRPHX presents a regular monthly concert series at Trinity Cathedral each First Friday, and Second Friday jam sessions at Harley’s Italian Bistro. The Lost Leaf Bar and Gallery hosts 21-and-older shows on the third Wednesday of every month, and Bookman’s of Mesa offers Final Friday performances. CRPHX takes a break during the summers, since many of the movement’s volunteer musicians leave town for festivals and other opportunities.
“I’ve seen our impact slowly spread and grow among average community members and the finest classical musicians in the area. Anyone with interest in us…will find a willingness to produce projects and make an impact…in a very special, musical way,” says Kluesener.
Musician Katherine Palmer is relatively new to CRPHX; she began participating last August. “We’re lucky in the Valley,” Palmer says, “because there are a number of musicians with many different talents…finding performers has not been as challenging as one would think.”
Their mission continues to foster the Classical Revolution ideal, bringing the music of Haydn, Beethoven, and countless other composers old and new into bars, open spaces, public transportation, and any conceivable performance space, spreading the pleasures of classical music in unexpected ways.
If you go:
- Upcoming CRPHX events:
- April 12 — Harley’s Italian Bistro jam session (ages 21+)
- April 26 — guitarist Joseph Higginbotham at Bookman’s of Mesa
- May 3 — ASU Collaborative Piano Studio and Paradise Winds at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral for First Friday
- May 10 — Harley’s Italian Bistro jam session (ages 21+)
- May 31 — Phoenix Chamber Brass at Bookman’s of Mesa
The sound of the Phoenix Chorale can be something like an instantly addictive drug – often, listeners are hooked after hearing just a few notes sung a cappella, without accompaniment. In addition to winning Grammy Awards, the Chorale’s mesmerizing sound recently received even more recognition – iTunes named the choir’s recording Northern Lights: Choral Works by Ola Gjeilo as Best Classical Vocal Album of the Year.
Led by Artistic Director Charles Bruffy, the Chorale turns those clear, pure tones to holiday repertoire for a program scheduled for performances December 20-23 at venues around the Valley, including Brophy Chapel and Trinity Cathedral. While the concerts include traditional favorites like “I Saw Three Ships,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and the “Wexford Carol,” the centerpiece is a 10-movement suite called Gaudete! (“Rejoice”) written by former Phoenix Chorale director Anders Öhrwall, and performed by the Chorale in his memory.
Born in Sweden in 1932, Öhrwall founded the Bach Choir at Stockholm’s Church of Adolf Frederik, leading it for 36 years. He received a Swedish royal medal for his work, and conducted the Swedish Radio Choir and Youth Choir, the Stockholm Philharmonic Choir, and the Drottningholm Baroque Festival. Öhrwall was known not only for his meticulous rehearsal technique, but also for his numerous and popular choral arrangements and compositions.
Öhrwall conducted the Phoenix Chorale for two years when it was known as the Bach & Madrigal Society of Phoenix, leading the ensemble’s change of name to the Phoenix Bach Choir from 1990 to 1992. He died on February 4, 2012 at the age of 79.
The tunes of Gaudete come from a collection of Latin songs published in 1582 in Sweden, and while the melodies may be recognizable – from carols like “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” – the text is less familiar. Öhrwall’s work stands apart with its addition of a woodwind trio, featuring a local ensemble: the Paradise Winds. “It’s the clarity of the Phoenix Chorale that sets it apart, but also that they make such a warm sound,” Bruffy explains. “I think it’ll be a really nice and complete sonority in this pairing with instruments.”
Founded by bassoonist Joseph Kluesener, the Paradise Winds shape themselves into a flexible, varying ensemble depending on the requirements of the music. “For this concert,” says Kluesener, “there’s a combination of bassoon, oboe, and flute, and the repertoire divides the winds into different arrangements of those three instruments.” The oboist is Nikolaus Flickinger, and the flutist is Arizona State University professor Elizabeth Buck.
Kluesener, who also organizes Classical Revolution PHX, created the Paradise Winds as a genre-bending group in 2009 using ASU graduate students, alumni, and faculty. “That was the point,” he explains, “to control the programming, the repertoire we play, and to really get to know what our instruments can do together.”
As a testament to the group’s innovative and tight-knit sound, it’s been featured on American Public Media’s radio show Performance Today. Although the musicians don’t have a regular rehearsal schedule, they do enjoy a deep familiarity with their ensemble. “Everybody is really keenly capable,” says Kluesener, “so we don’t have to waste a lot of time mastering the vision of the presentation…because we’ve done so much together over the last three years.”
Beyond Öhrwall’s Gaudete, other holiday repertoire takes advantage of the Paradise Winds in different configurations – for example, Philip Stopford’s arrangement of “Silent Night” adds flute to the choir. “It’s one of my favorite songs throughout the year,” says Bruffy. “I love the melody of it, and the peace that it always evokes. It’s just quite lovely in its simplicity with an occasional fingerprint on the harmonies [from Stopford].” Born in 1977, Stopford has been compared to iconic choral composer John Rutter.
In the case of “Hark, the Herald Angels,” Bruffy says he told his friend Jim Taylor, “Hey, I like this piece, but I’m only going to have flute, oboe, and bassoon – can you hook me up?” Bruffy smiles and continues, “So he created this arrangement with the specifications of just the three instruments instead of a whole orchestra.” He laughs. “It’s the ‘Hark, the Herald’ that we know, but this time ‘Herald’ has a little more character.”
For contrast, the Chorale also performs three other arrangements of the classic Gaudete verse – one is from Phoenix Chorale soprano Kira Zeeman Rugen, who created her version for the male voices in a choir she conducted at ASU. Audiences even have the chance to sing along during a few favorite carols at each concert.
“One thing that I really like about the entirety of the program,” says Bruffy, “is that with the complexity and velocity…and even voracity of the season, the pieces we’re going to be doing are simply beautiful.”