Last month, Wired published a story about a company called Groupmuse, calling it “Uber, but for millennials who want orchestras in their living rooms.” The company, which is based in the states, helps ordinary people organize low-cost house concerts using a roster of for-hire musicians. The concert presenters host the show at no cost to them, their guests pay a small fee to come to their house, and the musicians get the profits.
That company might be a young one, fashioned in a world of startups, apps, and made-to-order online services, but the concept—hosting live music in your living room—is as classical as it gets. That's where chamber music (as the name implies) is designed to be performed—and from the salons of Classical Europe’s wealthy elite to the infamous Schubertiads and similar series, the classical music house party is a centuries-old staple.
And in Ontario today, in an age where the traditional concert hall is starting to lose some its hegemony in the classical scene, the trend is again on the rise. I think immediately of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, run by Jean and Jan Narveson out of their living room, which presents around 70 professional chamber music shows each year; I also think of Pocket Concerts, which uses a Groupmuse-like model and presents public and private classical house parties out of host homes across Toronto. And next week, from November 20-27, there’s Toronto’s third annual Festival of House Culture—a headlong dive into what at-home concertizing can do.
Here’s how it works: the festival calendar online provides a summary of events, as well as details about each of their dozens of host houses. Naturally, what each event offers is highly specific to the homeowners: some shows are PWYC concerts, while others are free art exhibitions, workshops or social events; some houses welcome all ages while others prefer an adult audience; some shows are BYOB, with one homeowner even offering to cut the ticket price in half for anyone who arrives with a potluck item. With each, you can expect to get a sense of who the hosts are as people, and to connect with the musicians and other audience members in an openly social atmosphere.
Notable classical concerts at the festival include hillbilly swing duo HOTCHA! on November 24 at 6:30pm; Distant Skies, a sci-fi story reading with flute, violin and cello accompaniment on November 26 at 4pm; and, also on November 26 (at 8pm), a performance by Toronto-based flute quintet Charm of Finches.
It's an age-old formula in a new context, and it seems to be working. And whether the growing presence of concerts like these should be attributed to a modern musical revolution, or simply to a “return to roots” approach to chamber music, it promises something special—a type of concertizing that brings the people involved, and the spaces they create together, into a new kind of spotlight.
Toronto’s Festival of House Culture runs from November 20-27, at various homes throughout the city. For details and to see the festival calendar, visit www.housecultureto.blogspot.ca.
Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.