Classical Music Makes Moves: The New York Chamber Virtuosi Is Hitting Carnegie Hall

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Get your kicks from a high-octane clarinet section? The New York Chamber Virtuosi does. This NYC-based organization has its own way of looking at classical music and bringing it into the spotlight.

The New York Chamber Virtuosi

Founded by Jessica Sibelman, the Executive Director/President, and Composer in Residence of New York Chamber Virtuosi (NYCV), the organization had its debut performance in 2009 and now regularly holds orchestral concerts in halls from the Upper East Side to the Upper West, plus a chamber music series that’s held at art galleries in Chelsea. This is a finely-tuned group — its members include graduates of Julliard, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes College of Music, and the New England Conservatory of Music, and are all active with solo, orchestral, and chamber music careers.

A classically trained clarinetist who herself graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, Sibelman actually quit music after school was over and entered Corporate America as a marketing assistant at a big ole’ company. But music still beckoned, and after she formed a group consisting of old music school friends “with their friends, and their friends” she knew she was on to something. They started creating concert programs that were more laid back — playing multiple music styles, and interacting with the audience in the interest of building a community.

The results speak for themselves. Relatively early in NCSV’s life, Carnegie’s Zankel Hall will host them performing a benefit concert on Wednesday, October 6th, for Best Buddies, which helps kids and adults with mental disabilities. Sibelman filled us in on how a performance-oriented musical non-profit builds a base of aspirations.

How would you describe the working focus of NYCV?
We are a newly-formed orchestra combining New York’s energetic young professionals with a fresh approach to breaking down musical boundaries between the performer and audience. In our concerts, we feature classic orchestral literature along with more mainstream musical genres to make classical music more accessible to a growing, diverse public.

That’s a great start. From there, how do you try and make sure that people know you’re out there?
A great deal of our effort is going into spreading the word about the NYCV.  We use Facebook, online newsletters, advertising in papers/blogs, as well as just word of mouth to get the word out.

It is hard to say which method works the best.  For example, people on Facebook– those who say they attend, don’t. Those who say maybe, might show up.  Those who don’t respond show up… or don’t.  The same thing goes with a good deal of online blogs and postings for concerts: people change their minds. The only 100% foolproof way of knowing you will have an audience, and to know how many will actually be in the audience, is to sell tickets beforehand.

This of course has been tricky as well, because most of my audience has always bought tickets at the door, especially for our chamber music series. Our orchestral concerts have been pretty well attended, with about 200-300 people in the audience, most of which bought tickets prior.  Our chamber concerts’ attendance is anywhere from 30 to 70 people, and it’s usually a guessing game of how many people to expect.  Fortunately, by having people sign in at concerts, we are able to keep in touch with our audience for future concerts.

Maybe SonicScoop can help! Tell us about what differentiates NYCV from other classical ensembles out there? Their numbers seem to be growing in NYC.
The NYCV’s goal is to break down the barrier between the audience and musicians — too many people avoid going to orchestral or chamber music concerts because they feel it’s for the upper class only, and that the experience is too impersonal.

In our series, the orchestra members build relationships with each other, as well as with their audience by bringing music back to its original state, and interacting with our audience.

That sounds like a worthy mission. Who do you see joining NYCV? What’s the common thread of the performers and composers you work with?

Jessica Sibelman founded the NYCV.

One of my favorite aspects of the NYCV Orchestral Series is that we give a wide range of performance opportunities to young professionals.  We’ve featured young soloists and composers in our past concerts, and in one of our upcoming concerts, Divertissement (Ballet in the Afternoon) we are featuring a guest conductor, narrator, two soloists (in the orchestra), and some of my original music with ballet!  It sounds like a lot going on, but it’s actually a very structured, and fun, concert.

Ambitious – what else has been particularly rewarding about NYCV in the year since you got it off the ground?
For myself as a composer, our Debut Concert (where three of my works were premiered that evening) in June of 2009 will always stick with me.  After leaving music for three years, this concert had given me so much hope and faith in pursuing my musical career again.

For the NYCV, seeing how our chamber music series has shaped up throughout the year was truly incredible.  The musicians all were starting to add a great deal of “artistic vision” into the concerts, and the audience was extremely responsive to our programming.

On the flipside, what makes this initiative a bigger challenge than you expected?
After obtaining our 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit status, it is now time to secure corporate sponsors, individual patrons, federal grants, government grants, etc… That’s a lengthy and difficult process that can be quite challenging.

My suggestion [to anyone interested in obtaining non-profit status] would be to look into which grants could be a good fit for you or your organization before you actually incorporate and obtain your (501) (c) (3).  The entire process of getting your status can take several months, and during the “waiting period” it’s a good time to get some research in.  You can also keep yourself organized by checking deadlines of applicable grants and programs, and maintaining a grants-database.  This way, if you miss a deadline the first year, you at least have an idea of when to apply in the following year.  In other words, PLAN AHEAD!

That’s great advice — congrats on getting through it yourself. So, tell us about your upcoming show at Carnegie Hall. How did you get a gig like that?
We are all very excited about our Carnegie Hall debut!  We were invited to play at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall this October 6. The performance is part of a charity concert for the organization Best Buddies, which helps kids and adults with mental disabilities.

The program features the NYCV in the “The Marriage of Figaro”overture by Mozart, which I will be conducting. Elaine Kwon will be performing the Rubenstein Piano Concerto, and Enrique Pina, tenor, is singing “E Lucevan le Stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca. There will also be a celebrity emcee plus other special guests for the evening.

This sounds like a fast start for your organization. Who are you getting your better ideas from?

There are so many incredible people who I admire in music business.  On a more personal note, however, I have been extremely influenced and inspired by Mark Volpe, the Managing Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and his wife Martha.

I was introduced to the Volpes while I was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music through a mentorship program.  They introduced me to the “behind the scenes” of orchestral performance.  Even though at that time my priority was playing clarinet in concerts, the experience was invaluable and has helped me tremendously in my own endeavors.

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