- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - It’s a Friday evening in East Liberty, and guests at a small gathering are beginning to arrive. Some are acquaintances; some have never met. They find seats in the informal sitting area - an armchair here, a bench there - and settle in.

Their hosts welcome them, chat a bit, then make their way to the front of the room. Soon, every voice is quieted except one as Raquel Winnica Young’s mezzo soprano soars atop Billie Jo Miller’s accompanying piano.

Their audience is a mere few feet away, able to see every one of Winnica Young’s expressions, every movement of Miller’s fingers. They are enthralled, some closing their eyes as the music moves over them, others unable to keep their eyes off the performers.

This is what the Living Room Chamber Music Project is all about - bringing music into intimate settings and allowing performers and the audience to experience it in a whole new way.

“I love the vibe of playing that close to people,” says Miller, who, with Winnica Young and her husband, oboist Lenny Young; violinist Ashley Buckley; and pianist Jack Kurutz make up the Living Room Chamber Music Project. “I hope they get to enjoy music in a way they haven’t before.”

The group, now in its fourth year of performing in living rooms and other small settings around the city, started with the ensemble’s desire to bring music closer to people. They started in a friend’s home with about 50 invitees. They now perform several times a month and have a following of more than 400 people.

It’s up to the host how many people are accommodated during individual shows. Project members will help them plan and promote the event and a reception afterward. The performance does not cost the hosts anything, with free-will donations (they suggest $20 for adults, $15 for students) accepted at the door. Support for the project comes from the Pittsburgh Concert Society and other agencies.

Winnica Young says that, while she enjoys performing for theater audiences, she also appreciates the opportunity to “look into their eyes and tell a story.”

“I love how the closeness and intimacy generate the right energy between the audience and the performers,” she says.

A recent show at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Liberty attracted some loyal followers as well as some newcomers. Blaine Knupp of Blairsville travels to see the group as frequently as he can.

“You are up close and personal with the musicians,” he says. “They talk about the music and its history. The connection is better.”

That connection was evident at the Eastminster show, when Winnica Young sang Franz Schubert’s “An die Musik” and the mournful “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” From just a few feet away, the audience could hear her every intake of breath, see every furrowed brow. When they finished, Miller spoke a bit about Schubert’s bio before launching into Sonata “Duo” in A major with Buckley.

Over nearly two hours, the ensemble played various combinations, paying tribute to black composers such as Dorothy Rudd Moore, William Grant Still and Laz Ekwueme during the second half of the show. For Lenny Young, the most appealing part of performing this way is the “immediacy of feedback from the audience.”

“A concert hall can be very quiet,” he says. “You can’t see the audience.”

He hopes the format helps inspire more people to explore an interest in classical music.

“People have this idea of classical music being too boring or remote,” he says. “They need to get in front of the instruments. That’s why we don’t publicize our program. We want people to just come and experience the music.”

Dominick and Anne Pandolfo of Hickory, Washington County, did just that at the Eastminster show and described it as “lovely” and “spiritual.”

“You almost feel like you’re part of the music,” Dominick Pandolfo says. “You’re not detached, like in an auditorium. At times, it was like the musicians weren’t even there. The music became its own presence.”





Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

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