It’s 8 p.m. on Monday night at Revolution Café, and the thumping reggae beat usually emanating from the café stops.
Kristina Soriano sits down in front of the piano and begins to play an elegant Bach piece. The crowd continues chattering, flirting, sipping their drinks. The smell of pot continues to drift in from the patio.
Traditionalists could call this unorthodox environment disgraceful, but this is what Classical Revolution is all about — bringing chamber music to the people.
It’s about exposing people to classical who wouldn’t ordinarily hear it, says cofounder Adam Scow, 27. And Scow is no stranger to tough crowds — by day, he’s a campaign manager.
Classical Revolution has been playing at Revolution for over four years now. Many of the musicians who play with the group are classically trained, from schools like Julliard, Rice and Oberlin.
Usually the repertoire is more contemporary and avant-garde. But it is Johann Sebastian Bach’s 326th birthday — so tonight, it’s Bach. The group makes a habit of celebrating the birthdays of as many composers as possible. Mozart night, reports Scow, was a madhouse.
Next up is Dario Rados, a 29-year-old last-minute sign-in who sits down at the piano in a baseball cap. Rados has never performed in such a cacophonous setting, he says, but his playing exudes grace. The noise isn’t a problem, “but it might be hard if you play piano or flute.’”
Meerenai Shim, 34, is performing here for the first time. With a flute. Still, she’s unfazed.
“This is this generation’s classical culture,” Shim says, referring to the noisy but intimate ambience. “It doesn’t have to be presented for people in tuxedos any more.”
“It’s more democratic,” adds Rados.
Classical Revolution was founded in 2006, when Scow met musician Charith Premawardhana at the Mission Arts & Performance Project (MAPP), another event that breaks down the barriers between audience and performer. Scow, a regular at Revolution Café, began arranging performances every Sunday night with the help of Premawardhana and the café’s music coordinator, Joe Lewis. The event moved to Mondays after the Sunday concerts became too crowded and raucous for even Scow to handle.
Tonight is still pretty crowded. By the time the final hour is nearing, the café is crammed and a footpath to the outside is barely visible.
Pianist Ian Scarfe — a member since the group’s first concert at Revolution Café in 2006 — takes a break outside before he’s up again. He explains he never would have predicted that the weekly shows at the café would become such a self-promoting phenomenon. The group plays in venues all over the city now, and has inspired 12 other chapters. New York, Philadelphia, Berlin and South Florida are just a few of the places that have created their own classical revolution.
“We had to keep doing it because it got so popular,” Scarfe says. “People liked it because it hadn’t been done before. I guess it acquired its own momentum.”
When the last note is played, the crowd finally drowns out its own chatter — with the sound of thunderous applause.